Friday, April 10, 2009

Goethite WMA

I decided to take advantage of my part-time work schedule this Friday morning and go on a little birding trip. After reading several of Troutbirder's blog posts about Goethite Wildlife Management area in southern Fillmore County, I felt the need to check the area out for myself. Mr. Johnson and I used to pheasant hunt this area in the late 70's and early 80's, but I've never been down there specifically for birding.

Goethite WMA is south of Spring Valley, Minnesota (about 30 miles from my house). After I turned off the main highway, I traveled past several ponds close to the road, and managed to spot these Greater Yellowlegs at one of the ponds.

A couple more miles down the road brought me to my final destination. I didn't remember this area being so large!
(If you're interested in learning more about this area, Troutbirder did several posts in June of 2008 that you might want to look at. I'm feeling lazy tonight and since he's already done the research and written about it, I didn't see the need to duplicate the information and would rather send you over to his blog -- I hope he doesn't mind!)

Here's the first view I saw after parking and getting out of the car -- a big pond that was an open pit iron ore mine back in the 20th century. No waterfowl on this pond, I guess I must have missed most of the migrating ducks and geese that Troutbirder saw last week when he was down here.

Since I was wearing my boots that were made for walking, I took off down a fairly well traveled trail to see what kinds of birds and other cool stuff I could spot. While watching a pair of Eastern bluebirds, I happened to notice this sweet little goldfinch nest that had survived the winter. Isn't it neat how they can fit their nests into little trees like this?

Oh cool, what's this? It looks like a beaver dam on one of the ponds. You probably can't tell from this picture, but the dam is almost 5 feet high and if you click to enlarge it, you might be able to see just a little bit of the pond on the other side (right in the middle).
I could see that the pond on the other side was right to the top of this beaver dam and I wondered if I could get across this little stream by following the deer trail. That little stream isn't very wide and it doesn't look too deep either, does it? OK, let's try's too wide for me to jump across, but maybe just one quick step through the middle of the stream should be OK.

Shee-it! That water was WAY DEEPER than it looked -- and really COLD too! Oh well, I had my wool socks on, so at least my foot didn't get cold (and my pant leg was just about dry by the time I got home!)

So here's the beaver dam from the other side, with the pond right at the top edge. I didn't see evidence of any recent beaver activity, so I'm not sure if they're still present in this area, but it was nice to see that their sturdy dam is still intact.

I was glad I made the crossing to this area because while I was over there, I had the great fortune to spot two sandhill cranes walking around in the tall grass. I tried to sneak up on them to get some pictures, but had no luck with that. I did however, spot this large raptor (juvenile red-tailed or juvenile bald eagle?) with a red-winged blackbird monitor nearby.

I continued to wander around this area looking for birds and I hoped I was traveling in a big circle and would eventually find my way back to the road. After coming out of a little woods, I was relieved to spot the car right where I had parked it (of course, that huge pink arrow in the sky was a big help too!)

Now that I knew for sure where I was, I could continue with my explorations and not worry about being lost. I watched this Canada goose for awhile....I thought maybe it was injured or something because I've never seen a goose lay its head down in the water like this, have you?
After a few minutes, I walked a little bit closer and the goose finally perked up after seeing me and eventually flew away with no apparent injuries. I breathed a little sigh of relief seeing that.

Because Goethite WMA was once an iron mining area, you can still see chunks of iron ore while walking around here. Some are small, like this piece I found on the trail.....
and some are pretty huge, like this big chunk near the parking area......
(I would love to have this chunk of ore somewhere out in my backyard landscape!)

Here's something I've never seen before in the wild: Pussy willows! There were several large plants around the edge of the pond close to the parking area, so I cut a few sprigs to take home.
Some of the pussy willow shrubs had these really large growths that looked like buds on them. Does anyone know what these are? I tried "googling" pussywillows, but couldn't find any information on these large growths. Some of the plants had them but others didn't. I wondered if they were some sort of indicator of a male vs. female plant?
Update: I sent an e-mail to WinterWoman and she confirmed that this growth on the pussy willow plant is indeed a gall--a Willow Pine Cone Gall (Click here for the link she posted on insect galls to learn more about it). Thanks for your help Jennifer!

Back at the car, I watch a black-capped chickadee checking out a possible new home across the road.

Finally around noon, I decided it was probably time to head for home. I could easily have spent most of the day here at Goethite WMA, and I left knowing that what I didn't explore today will still be there next time I come down for a visit.

Here's a list of all the birds I saw (or heard) this morning:
Tree Swallow
Eastern Meadowlark
Common Merganser
Song Sparrow
Golden Crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird
Black-Capped Chickadee
Eastern Phoebe
Greater Yellowlegs
Belted Kingfisher
Red-Winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Canada Goose
Red-Tailed Hawk
White-Breasted Nuthatch
American Robin
Sharp-Shinned Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Ring-Necked Pheasant
American Goldfinch
American Crow
Eastern Wild Turkey


cindy said...

I had no idea iron ore was mined in S.E. MN!!! Now I have to learn more. Thanks for Troutbirders' link. Looks like you had fun. Oh, yeah, we have grackles too. Need I say more? Happy Easter!!

Gaelyn said...

What a good way to spend time off Ruthie. Amazing the net survived winter. Cool beaver dam, glad you survived the cold water. Great car marker! I'd want that iron boulder too. Love the pussy willows, don't know about the growth. Thanks for taking us to Goethite.

Kallen305 said...

You saw some great birds! Congrats on the Meadlowlark. I saw my first yellowlegs for the first time last weekend and they are such funny birds with their quirky moves.

I can't get over your shoes! That must have been quite the muddy adventure.

Jayne said...

Yes, always look for the huge pink arrow...lololol. You are such a hoot Ruthie! What a good outing you had! Cool beaver retreat!

Anonymous said...

I think that growth on the stick is called a gall and could be the home of a type of wasp. You can check that out on google or Ask,com and they would be able to tell you about galls.

Kelly said...

...what a great trip!! Lots of birds and beautiful scenery. I just "love" it when I step into a cold bath unsuspectingly!!! You look like you had fun...

Richard said...

Just imagine how it will look after all things green up. Tip...take a stick and find out how deep the water is before you step in it...:-)

Anonymous said...

I never heard of that place, and it is so close to home. I think there may be a wildlife area south of us on County #5. People do fish there because of the iron mining pits.there also. You sure saw enough birds for a half day to last until next time.


Anonymous said...

i forgot to tell if I saw a goose in that position on dry ground, I'd sure be moving away, because it would be coming after me. It would be hissing too. Maybe she had a nest there.


RuthieJ said...

Hi Cindy,
Yeah, I think the iron ore mining was a pretty big deal in Fillmore County back in the 60's. I remember more than one of my grade school classmates had open pit mines on their family farms.

Thanks Gaelyn. I'm glad you enjoyed some of the geological and other natural wonders at Goethite too. I can't wait to go back and see what else I can discover (taller boots next time though!)

Hi Kim,
My boots are waterproof, but that only applies if water doesn't go over the top! I'll remember Richard's advice for my next water crossing adventure.

Hi Jayne,
I did have a great time. I really enjoyed the solitude and just being in a place where it's quiet and I heard nothing but birds and wind.

Hi Dad,
I pulled one of those growths apart and it's definitely not a gall. I've got an inquiry in to another blogger who's an expert on plants and I'll let you know if she's able to tell me anything about it.

Thanks Kelly. I always have a good time on these exploring trips--even when a wet foot is involved. At least it made for an entertaining blog post, right?

Thanks for the tip Richard. I never even thought of the stick test and I will definitely remember it for next time!

Hi Mom,
If I drove you out to this place, I think you would remember it because there's a river nearby and I think I took you out there years ago to show you a beaver dam on the river. I knew the place, but never knew it had a name either until I read Troutbirder's blog last fall.

The goose was sitting next to a small island in the middle of that pond. I wondered if there might have been a nest there too, but there was no other goose nearby either.

Lisa at Greenbow said...

It looks like you had a great day out and about Ruthie. I must say I HATE wet feet. Brrrrr I bet it did feel chilly.

Karen said...

You were lucky to get to see the beaver dam. We saw one in New Mexico up in the mountains about 15 years ago.

That was a very impressive list of birds for one day. I love birdwatching.

Marsha said...

What a fun trip! You really saw a lot of birds and I had to LOL at the shee-it part ;)

Red said...

Well, better late than never I finally read your post... now on to the next four.

Awesome job taking us along on your adventure for the day Ruthie! Sorry the creek fooled you. Sneaky water, lol.

I'm glad I got to read this after the update... great info on those galls!