St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Saturday, February 1, 2014

Hunting Pheasants

The old cranberry bog is split by Evergreen Av -- NS and turning west at the end of the swamp.  Over the hill on the right is Bass Lake. It drains down through a notch in the middle of the photo and comes through this swamp on the way to the St Croix River.  Emil Nelson, one of the 21 Nelson kids who grew up on the farm and whose Dad built the buildings, said in the 30s it was so dry the swamp was plowed up for potatoes.  In the early days, someone took advantage of naturally growing cranberries and tried to farm them here -- flooding them from Bass Lake.  Emil said his grandfather, who came to the farm in the 1880s, was used to burning peat in Norway, and cut a little from the swamp to burn until he realized that with no shortage of wood, that worked much better.
Back in 1970, a very dry year, when I was last at home, I drained the lower swamp and we got it bulldozed into Dub lake, a few acre nice pond.  I also drained this one and turned it from a marsh with standing water in the early part of the season into a mostly dry swamp.  Everett and I had upstairs windows that opened to the east and all spring and summer we heard the frogs, blackbirds, ducks--a real symphony.   I really should plug the drain again and turn it back into a marsh instead of dry swamp.  Even have brush growing up that the cows always kept down.  

A few pheasants scratch around the orchard most days looking for apples in the area under the trees where the deer have tromped the snow down in their own hunt for apples and browsing on the tree branches.  

Feeling somewhat sorry for the pheasants, we bought some wildlife corn at Burnett Dairy (a mixture of shelled corn, stalk pieces and broken kernels probably derived from screening corn for storage).  It was $7.50 per 50 lb sack, and I figured if I spread a little each day  very thinly over a large area, it wouldn't attract deer and might help the pheasants get through a very cold and snowy (2-3 feet here) winter. 

This morning there were 10 pheasants out there scratching around by daybreak.  They hung around until I went out of the house to feed my regular birds, and then they flew to the east, disappearing down over the hillside where I assumed they must have gone in the big cattail swamp.  But did they?  Where do they hang out when they aren't in our orchard, and do they stay as a flock?  I spread another ice-cream pail of shelled corn for them--but the blue jays and Fluffy the fawn seem to insist on getting their share and are not so wary as the pheasants so hog it for themselves. 

After getting the house cleaned and helping with some baking for Sunday when my brothers and sister-in-laws are coming over to help celebrate sis-in-law Sheila's 2nd day of Medicare (today is her first--her birthday is not until next week--and of course I would never tell how old she is, but Medicare and SS start the first of the month for folks reaching a certain age), I put on the cross country skis and headed in the direction I last saw the pheasants. 
I think there are 4 male pheasants and 6 female who come in.  The males eat corn by themselves, first to move into the area, and then the females come in--waiting either until it is safe, or until the males let them.  The males watch the females feeding, and if a female appears to find good pickings, he rushes over and pushes her aside to claim the spot.  The males seem to spend more time rushing around then eating.  
    The longer the tail, the more appealing he is to the female --a sign that he is healthy and well fed enough to grow plumage that has only display value.  Very much like the human species, where the females are taken in by long tales quite often. 

Heading out through the orchard, I first noticed there were no pheasant tracks walking into the northernmost row of trees where they first show up.  Must fly in and land there.  Pheasants are heavy enough to leave clear tracks in the fluffy snow, so you can easily track them now.   

The skiing was very difficult--snow depths varies from 2-3 feet with drifts higher, and no crust, so I sank down deeply into it.  Realizing I forgot my cell phone, so I couldn't dial 9-1-1 for a heart attack, I took it easy, stopping to take photos often.  No tracks on the lower hillside nor on the edge of the swamp, where I assumed they were seeking cover. 

Were the pheasants seeking cover in the cattails?  Only way to find out is to go look. 

I headed into the cattails from the north end, planning to cross the 1/8 mile swamp looking for tracks.  Ten feet into it, I realized the snow was mostly 3 feet deep or deeper with my skis hitting bottom.  I turned around and wallowed back out, and made the tour of the west side instead, looking very carefully for any tracks or maybe a live pheasant.  Nothing at all.  Several cars drove by, slowing down greatly when they saw me, probably wondering if they were seeing an Abominable.  I tried to pretend I was gracefully swishing along, making the right pose, pumping my arms and sliding my skis back and forth in place--graceful but going nowhere until they were out of sight.  

After skirting the swamp with no sign of pheasants, I headed west up across the corn field behind the barn and made my tour into the house from the southwest side.   When I came into the yard, took off my skis and came in the house, Margo said "you just chased up the pheasants again--they flew off to the east."  My guess--they are in the swamp across the road, further north or maybe over on Gullickson's corn stubble or maybe in the swamp north of me.  This area is part of the pothole country, with every low spot a swamp, many not drained, and many hills and spots in the fields that can't be farmed and provide cover for wildlife.  

Deer trail from the creek coming to the farmyard

Every farm has a bone-yard out behind the barn where the old machinery goes to die.  Nearly buried in the snow is Brother Ev's 1968 Rambler American that was injured at Hwy 87 and 70 and drug itself here before expiring. 

Two single row corn planters have box elders growing through the frame.  A cattle watering tank waits for Margo's herd of bull calves to be back in use.  

The old wood grain drill slowly rots away while the corn wagon adds gravity to the scene.  

Approaching the house from the SW (looking NE) one can see the fuel oil tank along side--only $900 to fill it on December 30th and still half full a month later.  The yard trees on the left are black walnuts, and keep a red squirrel busy digging through 2 feet of snow to find another nut and.  He brings it over to the storage shed behind the tree in the photo.  Heavy crop this year so the building is probably full by now.