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Superior National Forest Update - April 19, 2019

National Forest Update – April 18, 2019.

Hi, this is Steve Robertsen, education and interpretation specialist, with the National Forest Update, letting you know what’s up in the woods in late April.

Mud season continues, but while there is still ample snow on the ground, spring has really turned a corner.  Why do we say this?  It is because migrating birds are suddenly returning in abundance.  Yellow-rumped warblers, grackles, tree sparrows, hermit thrushes, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, red-winged blackbirds – they’ve all returned in the past two weeks.  Many of them showed up just after our recent winter storm, riding the coattails of the storm in the form of southerly winds on the back side of the low pressure system.  These early spring birds are those that rely partially on insects for food, but also can survive without insects.  Later arrivals may be more reliant on insects and need a steadier bug supply than is available in April in Minnesota.  Migration is hard on a bird, and you can help them refuel after their trip from the tropics by putting out bird feeders.  Remember though, that birds aren’t the only ones showing up this time of year.  Bears are waking from their winter hibernation, and are also looking for food.  It may be time to feed the birds, but it is also time to start taking in feeders at night, and making sure your bird seed is stored in a bear proof place such as a garage.  The first bears to venture out are the males.  Females with cubs are the last to leave their dens, protecting the cubs from the wide world for as long as possible.

When people hear the word ‘hibernate’, they usually tend to think ‘bears’ or ‘chipmunks’ or ‘woodchucks’.  Not as many think ‘butterflies’, but if you go outside right now, you’ll see a lot of butterflies that spent the winter hibernating in the forest.  The anglewing butterflies, a group that includes the dark colored ‘mourning cloak’ and the orange and black ‘comma’ and ‘question mark’ butterflies, overwinter as adults tucked under bark or in crevices.  They have to survive subzero temperatures, winter storms, and hungry woodpeckers in order to emerge as our first flying butterflies of spring.  Anglewings get their name from the ragged look to their wing edges, which may help camouflage the hibernating insects.  This time of year, they might also have truly ragged edges as well due to the harsh winter.  You’ll find these butterflies grouped at mud puddles in a behavior called, not surprisingly, ‘puddling’.  They are finding both water and nutrients at the puddle, as well as basking in the sun.

Many of those puddles are in the road, which isn’t good for the butterflies.  If you are driving and see them, and it is safe to do so, slow down and let them fly off.  Hitting a butterfly isn’t going to send you to the body shop like hitting a deer, but from the butterfly’s perspective, it is pretty much a disaster.

Going slow is a good idea this time of year anyway.  Not only are there plenty of deer along the roads, but in the Forest, our roads are soggy and soft.  Main roadways are in good shape and mostly free from snow and ice, but side roads still have surprising ice or snow patches in shady areas, and almost all the roads have soft shoulders.  If you do need to pull off the road, proceed with caution.  A shoulder that looks nice and flat and firm may be mud that will give way under the load of your vehicle.  Roads are soft enough that there is no log hauling being done right now and there are weight restrictions in place in both Lake and Cook counties.

While it is wet out there now, spring fire season is coming up soon.  The period between snow melt and spring green up can be a dangerous one for fires.  Dry grasses and leafless brush are excellent fuels, and it doesn’t take much for a fire to get going.  Right now is a good time to do some Fire Wise pruning and clean-up around your house to help protect it in case of a wildfire.  Burning permits are required, so if your clean-up involves burning, pick up a permit and keep an eye on conditions and the fire when you burn.  Make sure all fires are dead out and soaked with water when you are done.  Don’t rely on a fire to ‘burn itself out’, always put it out and leave it cold.
Between spring rain and snow showers, there are some gorgeous sunny days this time of year, so watch the roads but do get out to welcome back the birds and butterflies and join them in enjoying some of the warmth of spring. 

Until next time, this is Steve Robertsen with the National Forest Update.