Sharptails provide winter photo opps

The cold weather that has descended with a vengeance the past few days has wildlife scrambling to consume enough calories to keep warm.

That can present some great opportunities for wildlife watchers.

A sharp-tailed grouse feeds on frozen berries in the yard of Gary and Phyllis Lund, who live near Roseau, Minn.

Gary and Phyllis Lund of rural Roseau, Minn., have sent me several photos the past couple of days of sharp-tailed grouse in their backyard — and sometimes right on their deck.

The prairie grouse, which can be notoriously skittish, don’t seem to mind the human company and have been feeding on frozen high-bush cranberries and other foodstuffs that have been set out for the birds.

This sharptail definitely rules the roost.

Gary Lund said the photos have been taken out the house windows, anywhere from 50 feet to farther out, using a Pentax with a 12- to 48-mm zoom lens. They’re fun shots that are worth sharing.

A plump sharptail roosts on the deck of Gary and Phyllis Lund’s resident near Roseau, Minn., on a cold Tuesday morning.

It’s not common for the sharptails to perch on the deck.

“We’ve had them land on top of our other bird feeder,” as well, Lund writes. “Quite comical.”

Roseau and other parts of northwest Minnesota are situated in a unique region between the prairie and boreal forest, which provides the opportunity to see not only prairie grouse such as sharptails, but woodland species such as ruffed grouse and spruce grouse, as well. The abundant snow that’s fallen to date is a boon for all three species, which burrow into the snow to escape the cold. All three are able to withstand cold northern winters providing they’ve got enough food and places to roost. The sharptails obviously have found the Lunds’ yard to their liking.

What a difference a year makes

The temperature hovered near 0 degrees Tuesday morning, and I couldn’t help but think back on what I’d been doing a year to the day earlier.

On March 26, 2012, two friends and I launched my boat at the Wheeler’s Point access near the mouth of the Rainy River to fish walleyes in Four-Mile Bay, the part of Lake of the Woods that picks up where Rainy River leaves off.

Bob Glassmann (right) of Roseau, Minn., and Jason Laumb of Grand Forks weathered the cold and a stiff southeast wind to catch walleyes from a boat March 26, 2012 near the mouth of the Rainy River. This year, the same area remains buried under a thick layer of ice and snow. (Brad Dokken photo)

The weather wasn’t particularly nice that day, and a stiff southeast wind kept us bundled up against the cold, but we were in a boat on Lake of the Woods in March, barely a long cast from the Ontario border.

This year, by comparison, we could have driven to the spot with a snowmobile. Perhaps even a truck, if the snow had settled enough to keep us from getting stuck.

The winter of 2012 was a nonevent as North Country winters go, and spring came earlier than usual. But I couldn’t help but marvel at the contrast in conditions.

I also found myself longing for the opportunity to fish from a boat again, the relaxing sound of the water lapping against the hull.

Despite the blustery weather, fishing was pretty darn good during last year’s March open water debut. Anchored in about 10 feet of water, action was just fast enough to keep things interesting and we didn’t move the entire day. We boated about 20 walleyes up to 27 inches in length and missed our share of others.

Spring seems a long way off as I write this, but a report I saw this afternoon on the Clementson Resort website offered cause for optimism. Ice-out on the Rainy River is way behind last year’s early start, but the resort, located along the river east of Baudette, Minn., posted photos on its website showing anglers dragging small boats across the ice at Birchdale, Minn., about 30 miles upstream from Baudette, to access open water.

No word on the fishing, but the sight of open water, even though it was only a sliver, was encouraging just the same. With warmer weather in the forecast and ample flows, open water on the Rainy should work its way downstream at a steady clip during  the next few days.

See for yourself by clicking here.

Going to the snow

If the snow won’t come to you, go to the snow.

That’s what I did this past weekend, when I trailered the snowmobile north to the cabin near the Canadian border to finally put on some miles. So far, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing or just about any other winter activity that requires snow hasn’t been an option here in Grand Forks, where conditions are absolutely dismal. Again.

Driving north Saturday morning on Minnesota Highway 220 near East Grand Forks, I was struck by the near complete absence of snow in the fields. The ditches were filled with “snirt” that appeared to be rock hard, and the countryside looked more like something you’d expect to see in late March than in late January.

Fortunately, snow conditions improved as I drove north and east, and by the time I got to the cabin, the countryside actually looked like it is supposed to look in winter.

Even here, though, the snow’s relatively late arrival has delayed the process of trail grooming. So, we spent most of our time “breaking trail” in ditches, on a small river that flows through the area and on state land where snowmobiling is allowed.

Snow conditions might be dismal in Grand Forks, but there’s some good riding to be had within a couple hours’ drive.

Conditions, for lack of a better word, were spectacular. And barring a warm snap, they should get even better as more of the land trails in the region are groomed.

There’s something magical about driving a snowmobile in fresh powder, and the snow literally floated off the skis Saturday and Sunday. At times, I wasn’t sure whether I was driving the snowmobile or whether the snowmobile was calling the shots.

Farther back in the woods, the sun shining through the pine and spruce trees and their snowy branches was a welcome contrast to the barrenness of the snowless countryside that greeted me as I drove out of town Saturday morning.

Who knows how long the snow will last? In the meantime, if your snowmobile is collecting dust from lack of use, I’d recommend hitting the road and going to the snow. There’s good riding to be had within a couple of hours’ drive.

Here’s hoping it’s not like last year, when winter was all but over by the middle of March.