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Anything outdoors!  Tornadoes, eagles, blizzards, or auroras.  If it is in the sky, running through the woods or swimming in the water, I'm there!

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Sunday, March 22, 2015

Early Spring at the Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge - Otter vs Eagle

I wanted to get out and do something the weekend of March 14-15 and was torn between heading up north and camping on the shore of Lake Superior (little to no competition for campsite) or heading out west to see what, if any, of the waterfowl migration was underway. I chose west and thought the Lac Qui Parle State Park would be a good base camp to work the river bottoms and Big Stone NWR from.


On way out, I made a stop in Montevideo, MN. Usually this time of the year this town would be making the news due to massive flooding. Not this year. The Chippewa River near it's confluence with the Minnesota River.


Nice sign...


The DNR had other plans. The website said the campground was open but the road with the locked gate said otherwise. So, this trip now became a day trip with a little hiking instead.


A sign of spring in the state park.


With no real snow pack this winter, the land was very dry and the lack of run off left the back waters of the Minnesota River very low.


The Lake That Speaks....pretty quiet since it was still totally encased in ice.


I swung into the park's access to take a look to see if there were much for ice heaves. Did you know a sheet of ice will expand 3 feet for every one mile wide when it warms to 32 degrees?


The only thing I thought was interesting there was this huge granite boulder about 50 feet off shore.


What a perfect day to take a picture of a rock. It was 65 degrees out at the time.


The rock.


A selfie off the GoPro for perspective.

My food friends, Nick Elms and Amanda Hill, had been following the snow goose migration north in the Dakotas and were on their way to stay with family nearby so we made plans to meet the the Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge as portions of the refuge had just opened to public use for the season. The said they had heard there were river otters being pretty active in one area so I headed northwest to the refuge near Ortonville, MN.


This refuge is a beautiful mix of wetlands and river bottom. Huge granite outcrops and boulders dot the landscape. If you are in that area of Minnesota, definitely worth your time in the spring or fall to take a swing through.


I arrived before Nick and Amanda so I had time to do a quick pre-scout for the otters. I didn't see them but I was shocked to see 25-30 eagles. While usually found near the lakes and rivers of central and northern Minnesota, they looked a little out of place on the prairie. LOTS of geese, mallards, and a few pintails around.



By now I was getting hungry and all my food I had brought with was for camping and required some degree of preparation so I opted to run into town quick. On my way out, I met Nick and Amanda who were going to go look for the otters. I told them I was going to swing to the east and check the outlet to see if there were any eagles by the river. After a couple of ham and cheese sandwiches and nothing going on by the river, I got a text form Nick they found an otter so back west I went.


The otter was in the same spot I had seen the juvenile bald eagle sitting on the ice earlier. Fun to watch it jump into the water and come up with a fish.


We weren't the only ones watching the otter devour it's evening meal. One certain juvenile bald eagle would attempt to get the otter's fish but the otter was too fast and too smart. It would take refuge in the water and take it's fish with. This game played out for well over an hour.


It was a great time sitting on the side of the trail taking in all in.


As the sun started to dip below the horizon, we knew it was time to go. Nick and Amanda were heading for the farm and I needed to turn east for the 2.5 hour drive home.


One last view of the fading light over the refuge.


Really dark out for this shot of a few whitetail deer on the way out. An fitting end to a great day in far western Minnesota.




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