“In recent years, we were starting to trend earlier and earlier in the springtime migration,” Vacek said. “This year, with a longer winter, the migration came later.”
About 10 miles south of Appleton, Minn., I found a federal waterfowl production area that was stuffed with ducks.
Mallards preened alongside bobbing bluebills, with wigeon and gadwall nearby. Also present were shovelers, grebes, goldeneyes, canvasbacks and redheads.
For a long while, I watched the birds through binoculars while parked in my truck on a gravel road adjacent to the perhaps 30-acre marsh. Then I walked nearer to the wetland’s shoreline, disturbing the birds only briefly before watching them settle again into their routines.
For the next half-hour, I enjoyed a visual spectacle I hadn’t witnessed before.
No doubt some birds I saw on that marsh have since moved farther north — many perhaps flying nonstop to make up for lost time, and to reach their nesting grounds soon enough to bring off a brood.
Even so, plenty of birds and other wildlife remain in the area, and will throughout spring and summer. A journey westward whenever time is available will be rewarded.
Looking ahead, bird watchers might particularly want to check out the 2014 Salt Lake Weekend (www.moumn.org/saltlake), sponsored each spring by the Minnesota Ornithologists Union. The outing’s guided tour of the area results in a nearly countless array of bird sightings.
Last year on the tour, 75 bird enthusiasts found 133 different species on their daylong excursion not only to Lac qui Parle but to nearby Salt Lake and Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge.
Birds chronicled included cinnamon teal and Wilson’s phalarope, golden eagles, lesser and greater yellowlegs, white-faced ibis, long-billed dowitchers, a marbled gotwit and various grebes and terns, among other species.
Tour participants also get to sample life in small-town Minnesota — always a bonus — dining in a Legion club and a Sons of Norway hall. Camping among like-minded people is also an option.
“My fascination with spring migration is from a biologist’s perspective, as a naturalist,” Vacek said. “In fall, when the birds migrate back south, the predator in me switches on, and I watch the sky as a hunter.”
Both seasons have their advantages, and both are necessary for the survival of migrating birds.
Neither should be missed.
Dennis Anderson • firstname.lastname@example.org