Sunday, March 13, 2011

“It all happened so fast”

I find myself saying this each spring and think I will catch more of it next year.  Spring is a time when everything happens at once in the natural world.  By comparison, summer is a lazy time; fall is sleepy and winter, comatose.  The stage is already set in early March for the coming two months.  By the time the ice melts, the cold lakes and brown wetlands are in high gear.  As I type this, many of the mammals we know are pregnant, and some are even giving birth under the snow.  Otters, for instance have been pregnant for 9 to perhaps 12 months, and may already be nursing their young.  Otters and other weasels have delayed implantation; the fertilized egg is in suspended animation for months.  If otters had a three month prenatal visit the doctor would say something like “Mrs. Otter, everything is just fine.  Your babies aren’t growing at all.”

Canvasbacks and other ducks on Lake Winnebago, Oshkosh, Wisconsin March 31, 2009

The birds are getting anxious.  The migrants are starting to return, the redwing blackbirds are back and the sandhill cranes too, and a dozen others will soon follow. Diving ducks will congregate in the first patches of open water on Lake Winnebago.  Some birds are staking out nesting territories, but great-horned owls are already sitting on eggs in mid-March.  No doubt in our swamps there was a snow-covered owl earlier this week protecting her eggs from the cold.  In my own backyard the crows have reclaimed last year’s nest, but probably won’t lay for several more weeks. 

Even more is happening under the ice.  Lake sturgeon are swimming up the Fox and Wolf Rivers to prepare for their spawning runs.  Walleye will soon abandon Lake Winnebago for their ancestral marshes of the Fox and Wolf Rivers.  A lazy and unique population of walleye will stay behind and spawn on the rocks and cobble of Lake Winnebago.   It is the northern pike which are most ready to get underway.  The moment the ice goes out they will be cruising flooded marshes and emergent vegetation within the lakes to spawn. They must attach their eggs to vertical vegetation.  Without our marshes, there would not be a good walleye or northern fishery.  Yellow perch will also lay their eggs as soon as the ice goes out.  All this happens before the fair weather fisherman even contemplates drowning a worm. 
Bob Olynyk of the WI DNR with a female Northern Pike caught via fyke net as
part of 2009 population survey. Yes, I used a wide angle lens technique to exagerate size, like any good fish magazine photographer. This was a good fish however at 38 1/2 inches.
This year I will once again make an attempt to get out more, see more, hear more and photograph more.  I’ll do my best to keep you informed through this blog, and facebook, so that you might be able to get out and see some of these events too. No matter how well I do this spring, there is no doubt that sometime in May I’ll be muttering “It all happened so fast” in my sleep.  

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