Nobody likes losing things. Everyone enjoys finding something. Discovery feels like winning, a bonus. This issue highlights some of the season's best prospects for exploring outdoors and finding wild things. These opportunities depend on places we have already saved and protected—public waters and natural lands.
Fishing is the quintessential spring pursuit. Beyond the May walleye opener, anglers ply lakes and rivers for all kinds of game fish. In the murky waters of the Minnesota River, they hunt for flatheads. Minnesota's largest native catfish hide out in deep holes under boulders and fallen trees, as "Flatheads!" tells. DNR fisheries biologists have sampled flatheads for several summers and concluded the river offers "one of the highest-quality flathead catfish fisheries in the country."
"Cast Into the Past" presents the prospect of fishing from a rowboat or canoe on a secluded spring-fed lake surrounded by forest. Lester Lake near Walker has surprisingly big bluegills, as well as largemouth bass, northern pike, and wilderness quiet. The story explains how this once privately owned lake and shore land recently became public, protected as a state scientific and natural area and an aquatic management area.
With 9 million visitors a year, state parks are among our most popular public lands. And geocaching has become one of the most sought-after adventures there, as well as in state forests. As "The Seekers" shows, this carefully orchestrated game of hide-and-seek appeals to people of all ages. The "trophies" are actually trinkets. The outdoor game itself is the pleasure geocachers seek.
State parks draw photographers in search of wild beauty. One spring day in Fort Snelling State Park, Chris Thayer chanced upon a white-tailed deer giving birth. From his hiding spot, he photographed a series of shots featured in "Fawn's First Day." Wildlife biologist Gino D'Angelo interprets the unfolding drama for Young Naturalists.
Like an angler reeling in fish to marvel at shimmering piscine beauty, a birder chases avian splendor. To glimpse a flutter, hear a call, or spy a brilliant bauble on a branch, then quickly lift binoculars, focus, and get a glass on that jewel-like warbler—that's a thrill. But to name that bird in an instant is another challenge. To better identify birds, David Brislance began photographing them. This issue showcases his photos of warblers that abound on his wooded ridge above Lake Superior. Birders who visit North Shore state parks in season also have excellent chances of spotting these species.
"The Warbler Capital" describes the place to begin looking for warblers in May. This piece on birding in Frontenac State Park is taken from the recently published Birds of Minnesota State Parks. For more than a decade, birder extraordinaire Robert B. Janssen did bird surveys and reviewed studies done by park managers and other birders. Using this data and his fieldwork, Janssen wrote the guide to birding in our 75 state parks and recreation areas.
"If you want to see birds in Minnesota, visit the state parks," says Janssen in the book's introduction. That's because the parks protect a diversity of habitats. "Many of the parks preserve habitats not present anywhere else in the region," he writes. But Janssen cautions, "Most bird species and populations are declining—many in serious decline."
Loss and degradation of habitat loom large. To help raise awareness of vanishing species and habitats, artist Maya Lin initiated a multifaceted project called What Is Missing? Architect of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., Lin calls this her last memorial. Visit whatismissing.net and you'll encounter a Map of Memory: Birds call and a black screen populates with dots, popping out like stars in the night. Together, the dots form a world map. Click on Minnesota pinpoints to reveal images and short passages on losing jackrabbits, western meadowlarks, and forest. You can also share a memory of a species or place you are missing.
The website invites us to rethink priorities by offering a list comparing where our money goes ($25 billion on perfume worldwide, for example) and estimates of what we would need to commit to restore fisheries, for instance ($13 billion).
Conservation action looks like a bargain. Money spent on Minnesota's public lands and waters is an investment in our true treasures. By protecting wild and natural places, we boost everyone's future chances of finding wild things.
Kathleen Weflen, editor