The Minnesota Rive valley, adjacent bluffs and prairie lands in the Mankato area are an interesting spectacle. There are biblical amounts of water flowing and pooled in flooded fields, ditches, ravines, and low-lying areas. Surprisingly, amongst the ravage and devastation, there is abundance of wildlife afoot and in flight. Taking an afternoon or evening drive can be an excellent opportunity to observe their habits.
Just to the northwest of Mankato is the Swan Lake Wildlife Management Area. The 10,000 acre lake itself is commonly a hotspot to glass and observe waterfowl, yet this spring, simply driving anywhere in the area and looking across flooded fields will reveal the splendor of the spring waterfowl migration.
Just off county road 5, to the north of Swan Lake, there was a stream which overflowed its banks and had flooded the adjacent farm field. Ice capped approximately half of the waters surface leaving the remainder a virtual haven for waterfowl. Mallards and Canada geese are common in our area yet countless flocks of snow geese, wood ducks, ringnecks and others were observed resting in the shallow waters. Interesting enough, there was a bald eagle perched on the edge of the ice, keeping a watchful eye like a lifeguard at the community pool.
Continuing along county road 21 near New Ulm you can follow very close to the Minnesota River’s main channel. The tar roadway eventually turns to gravel west of Fort Ridgely State Park. Following the river bottom one can’t help but notice how the winter snow has crushed the perennial tall grasses to the ground, matting it down like a carpet. A casual gaze across the terrain revealed a consortium of deer picking and choosing their way through the matted grasses scavenging for something to eat. Seldom was a single animal noted, but rather, small groups of three to seven deer at the time. The dull gray color of their hide still offers ample camouflage and it takes a keen eye to distinguish their body silhouette intertwined amongst the twigs, branches and other monochromatic cover. A pair of binoculars would prove beneficial.
Near the town of Morgan, lying motionlessly in the ditch was a deer carcass. The victim of some motorist’s unfortunate mayhem. Feasting on the remains was large raccoon. The diet of the raccoon is extremely diverse; common belief is that the raccoons are fundamentally herbivores, with a secondary obsession for anything in a trashcan. However, that day he definitely had carnivorous tastes and was anxiously devouring his diner. Sitting on a nearby branch was yet another bald eagle patiently awaiting his turn.
To the west of North Redwood turkeys were prominently strutting and parading in grassy areas and ravines along the river bottom. Turkeys mate during the months of April and May and the females lay 10 to 12 eggs, which hatch in about 28 days. Gazing along bordering bluffs, more turkeys were observed, presumably looking for food. Turkeys eat almost anything. They eat grasses, berries, insects, frogs, snakes, and farm crops.
Numerous other creatures, critters, and birds were observed on my two hour drive in the country. When you venture out, chances are you will run into closed roads and bridges. So allow some fudge factor if you need to stay on schedule. But if you can swing it, throw your schedule aside, drive slowly with plenty of pullovers, and just enjoy the splendor of nature.