Blane Klemek spent three summers in a row working on wildlife research projects within the prairie pothole region of the Great Plains near Woodworth, North Dakota. This is the final article in a series devoted to selected journal entries from those summers.
June 15; night survey, ¼ moon, mostly clear, high 50s. Night sky bright with stars and a milkyway stretching across the sky. Frogs are no longer vocalizing. The scent of field mint, Mentha arvensis, is prevalent around the wetland perimeters.
June 16; night survey, calm, clear, cool, low 50s. I was amazed I could still read my watch at 11:30. The moon, low in the west, couldn't have cast much light--it was only a slice. The sensation of being all alone on an expansive prairie pocked with wetlands full of bird life and surrounded by rolling hills and a still-glowing western skyline made for a very inspiring and pleasurable moment in time. I gazed across the flooded basin, listening to the many different species of birds, some in flight, some on the water. I studied the stars and found the Big Dipper, nearly straight above my head and positioned upright in the sky. I found the North Star and traced an imaginary line to the Little Dipper.
June 28; sunny to partly sunny, breezy, low 60s. A heck of a blow ripped through the area when I was gone. I think Friday night. Looks like a tornado went through town. From Bowden to Carrington, winds in excess of 90 m.p.h. Signs and powerlines and microwave towers are down. Lots of damage.
June 30; clear, low 60s, breezy. I'm noticing blackbirds flocking outside the wetlands now. Most species of ducks are undergoing molts. It's difficult identifying some of the drakes.
July 1; mostly cloudy, low 70s, calm/light breeze. Laid back for a spell and listened to the upland sandpipers. What a sweet and mellow and pleasing whistle.
A doe with no ears walked up on me as I reclined. She looked odd. She looked like a goat. When she winded me she bounded away. She couldn't have been anymore than 15 or 20 yards from me.
July 2; partly cloudy, high 70s to low 80s, breeze. Everywhere I look are vast fields of dense, blooming sweet clover. The dull yellow blossoms are a quite a sight. And of course, ducks. Ducks everywhere.
July 5; windy, sunny, mid 70s. It was a beautiful evening on Hawks Nest. Grasses are tall, thick, green and headed out. The wind, sweeping over the prairie, stirred the grasses ever which way. The scent of clover is wonderful, the view on top of wetland-pocked hills, spectacular. I will never grow tired of the wide and open Plains.
July 27; hot, sunny, around 90. An interesting plant, curly cupped gumweed, Grindelia squarrosa. Indians used it and extracted the gummy resin to treat respiratory ailments. I guess it's commercially grown for the extract and used in cough drops and soothing syrups.
August 1; partly cloudy, nice, mid to high 70s. The lake was virtually white with pelicans. I observed adult birds riding the apparent cooperative thermals. So high they were, spiraling effortlessly up and up, that I needed the binoculars to see the highest birds. I know that some were in the clouds. I couldn't help but think that the only benefit to those soaring pelicans was plain and simply self-gratification. It must be fun! Why else would they be doing it?!
August 3; mostly sunny, mid to high 70s, 50% humidity. Sweet clover scent perfumes the air and their patches buzz with insect activity. Maximillian sunflower, cone flower, goldenrod, and others are blooming. Hawks Nest is a beautiful site. The south view is splendid--the distant hills, Barnes Lake and beyond. The WPA's wetlands are numerous and productive. It's nice to know they'll not be drained again.
August 4; mostly sunny, hot, 80s. Can it really be expected that a restored wetland return to its original condition? I'm not so sure. I see an ever-changing system(s) full of diversity that seems to be providing adequate food and shelter. How can we expect a severely disturbed complex of wetlands which has undergone years of drainage, agriculture, and finally, a slapped together system of dikes repair the damage done? It's impossible, I say, to return them to what they were. But given the immensity of Father Time they will breathe life back into the landscape . . . it seems wildlife are particularly adaptive to our attempted restorations. And given that fact--that wildlife is there--our efforts are not in vain.
August 11; cloudy, cooler, windy, maybe 80. Cottonwood is a beautiful complex. I'll miss the rolling topography and native forbs. The uplands are dazzling with yellows, blues, purples, and pinks of blooming Solidago, Liatris, Helianthus, and others. Couple this with lake-like blue wetlands and a panorama stretching for 25 and more miles, it's easy to stop what I'm doing to just stand and gaze. Some passerines are still singing: sedge wrens, marsh wrens, common yellowthroats, grasshopper, clay-colored, and song sparrows. However, the wetlands have been less musical for a long time now. Things are winding down, birds are flocking and dispersing, broods are growing, grasses are dying back, forbs are blooming and shedding seed. It's an endless cycle and of which I have had a close association with and have enjoyed immensely. Oh, there were days though. Some days I was tired of the work, but it was rare. I've been doing what many people sit and dream about. I've been observing wildlife and "smelling the roses."
Indeed, I smelled the roses, and then some, as I got out and enjoyed the great outdoors.
Blane Klemek is an assistant wildlife manager with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.