BY LEE MILLER – GUEST COLUMNIST
Aflock of a hundred, or so, ring neck ducks visited Long Lake on their way to the Gulf coast. They nest in northeast Minnesota and Canada in small ponds and shallow lakes where wild rice and sago pond weed provide food. They are seldom seen nesting due to the remote areas but flock together in large flights for migration. They are also called ring bills due to the highly visible rings on their beaks. It is a delight to watch a large flock with double-time wing beats, as they veer in for a landing on the lake.
The switch from Daylight Saving Time in November yields 5 p.m. sunsets … and the urge to hibernate. Monday’s sunset tried to give us a spectacular red and blue show, but the clouds at the far horizon blocked the sun’s rays and gave us a blue sunset, instead. Still, the tops of the clouds became pink at the very last, just as a bald eagle flew over the lake, portending our storm to come. In spite of a warm fall, we have now gotten our first significant snow two weeks ahead of the average. Fortunately, the ground and streets are not frozen, so the snow was doomed to melt.
In the lake shore woodlot, the high bush cranberries and native rose are laden with fruit that will provide winter food for the critters, and the hazelnuts are covered with catkins that will open in late March to pollinate the flowers. The hazelnut bushes responded well to the added sunlight after we thinned out some of the dense shrubs last spring. For many thousands of years, hazelnuts provided food and building materials for our Native American and European ancestors. Europeans used the tall stems to build mud-wattle shelters, as well as hedgerows to delineate property lines in old England. Ground into flour, the nuts contain 60 percent fiber! Year-old seedlings are available for order in January from the Washington County Soil and Water Conservation District, and pick-up at the fairgrounds in April for planting. Consider planting some.