June 2004





The DNR uses sound rather than sight to count and determine the ruffed grouse population. How accurate is this in estimating whether the population is up or down, especially since recent ruffed grouse population counts are down?

Counting by sound is accurate to detect longer-term (three years or more) trends in grouse populations. This method has very clearly depicted the well-known 10-year cycle in grouse over the last 50 years. As with sight counts, there is, however, much more uncertainty in determining the exact percent change from one year to the next. For example, a 35 percent increase in drumming counts compared with the previous year likely means the population increased. However, a small percent change, say a 5 percent decline, creates uncertainty in predicting whether or not the grouse population is up or down and by how much. In these cases, the DNR will look to other information such as weather, past history, and other field observations to help draw conclusions. Finally, the number of birds available to hunters in the fall may not always correlate with changes in drumming counts. If summer nesting and brood-rearing is superb, bird numbers in the fall could be higher even if the spring drumming counts were lower.

John Erb, DNR research biologist


Because of their flat hulls, canoes and kayaks can navigate just about any body of water, but are there trails specifically designated for these types of activities? If so, where are they located and where can a person find information about them?

Minnesota has 26 state designated canoe and boating routes, one kayak route (Lake Superior Water Trail) and over 1500 water access sites across the state. Many of these routes may require a certain level of experience, and should not be attempted by all watercrafts. Rivers and rapids are rated by Class level according to the International Scale of River Difficulty. In Minnesota, the lowest class level is Class I, easy; the highest is Class VI, which cannot be attempted without great risk of life. The free canoe and boating guides, which includes a map and description of public access points, campsites, rest areas, navigational features and river miles, are available through the DNR Information Center. Information regarding canoe and boating routes can be found on the Minnesota DNR's Web site for state canoe routes.

Peter Hark, DNR River Recreation Specialist


Fireflies should start lighting up the night sky within the next week or two. What makes them glow? And, is it ok to catch them?

Fireflies produce light through a chemical reaction similar to the way chemical lightsticks light up. Light is produced without heat through reactions of chemicals called luciferin and luciferase. If you watch fireflies closely, you may see that some fireflies make one short flash, while others make a long flash or a series of short flashes. Each pattern of flashes indicates a different species. Flashes by male fireflies attract females of the same species. Catching fireflies in order to get a close look at them can be fun and educational. But letting them go again afterward is best. That way they can then return to their home habitat to mate and begin a new generation of fireflies to light up the night sky.


There are a large variety of bird species that either call Minnesota home or pass through every fall and spring. Where can a person go to watch these birds in action?

More than 420 species of birds have been documented in Minnesota. Of those, just over 300 are either resident or migrant birds that can be expected to be seen annually in appropriate habitat. Of all 50 states, Minnesota ranks second in the number of people who participate in bird and wildlife watching. Birdwatching can be done nearly anywhere, but some great places include Blue Mounds State Park in the southwest, Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge in the northwest, Sax-Zim Bog (St. Louis County) in the northeast and Frontenac State Park in the southeast. With the help of famed ornithologist Bob Janssen, the Minnesota DNR has been inventorying the different bird species that call state parks home. These bird checklists are currently available for 45 Minnesota state parks, and can be picked up at park offices or downloaded from the DNR's Web site for the bird checklist.


Finding a place to ride an ATV or other OHV machine takes a little research. And, Minnesota offers different riding opportunities. Are there different levels of riding opportunities - from novice to adventurous? And, how can riders find the trail that fits their needs?

Minnesota is using the standard ski hill symbols to identify level of difficulty. The symbols are:

  • green circle - easy
  • blue square - moderate
  • black diamond - technical or advanced

Most public OHV trails are green with some blue levels available. The Red Dot and Spider Lake systems are two sites that have some blue level trails. At this point, the only public riding area with black diamond level opportunities is the Iron Range Off Highway Vehicle Recreation Area in Gilbert. It is important for riders to know their abilities and know their machines. Most of these trails do not provide alternative routes - once the course is started, it must be finished. The more advance trails are generally one-way as well.

Ron Potter, DNR OHV coordinator