Frogs, feathers and ticks, oh my!

What do you get when you pack up the car with a power drill, a pooper scooper-type device and a quartet of kids?

An adventure of epic proportions, of course!

On Saturday, a couple of the 4-H’ers I mentor teamed up with my niece Katie and nephew Zach to close up bluebird houses located on Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) in Bigelow Township, just a mile or two from the farm where I grew up. There are 22 bluebird houses and a few wood duck houses on the parcels, and this is the earliest we’ve been able to get out to them and close them up for the beautiful bluebirds to build their nests.

Feathers in a wood duck house.

On our very first stop we realized we needed to stand up-wind from the birdhouses. Some of houses didn’t get opened last fall, and Saturday’s gale-force winds caused feathers, dust and nesting material to quickly sail into the air.

The second stop gave the kids a chance to peer into a couple of wood duck houses. These were built and erected a couple of years ago by 4-H’ers, with help from Pheasants Forever, the Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District and a Minnesota 4-H Foundation Helping Hands grant. One box had obviously been used at some point, but the other was just as clean inside as it was on the day we put it out there.

On our way back to the car, I pointed out the rocks placed along the cement culvert and told the kids I lost a few fishhooks on those blasted things when I was a kid about their age. The water is low enough now that it would have been easy to see any lost lures, but I’m sure the hooks I lost there as a kid have long since rusted away.

A giant frog.

We’d climbed out of the ditch, only for the kids to oooh and aaah over a set of deer tracks and then delight in finding a giant frog resting nearby. Alyssa picked it up, and then let out a scream when it jumped to freedom.

Yes, my citifed neighbor kids were connecting with nature at the WMAs.

Stop three was just as exciting, as Scott Des Lauriers and his gang were pulling in nets from Lake Bella. They’d harvested nearly 7,000 pounds of buffalo fish on Friday, and were gearing up for yet another haul. The crew had a successful harvest from the same lake last fall.

The kids watched the guys work the nets for a while, and then Scott told them he had a couple of buffalo fish in a bin if they wanted to see them. As expected, they bolted toward the box on the shoreline to see the massive fish. I’m pretty sure there were more ooohs and aaahs.

Deer tracks in the gravel road.

Eventually, we climbed back in the car and drove to our final destination — a WMA with 12 bluebird houses that requires crossing a creek — twice. By the time we reached the second birdhouse, leader Zach had stepped into a rather large critter hole and came up hobbling on a sore ankle. We thanked him for pointing the hole out to us, and then continued on our journey. At the third house, the girls and I were ready for a break, so we sent the boys off with the DeWalt drill and a “Good Luck!”

The boys cleared 12 nests from 12 bluebird houses — three or four of which showed promise as having actually been used by bluebirds — and had managed to cross the creek twice without getting wet or muddy.

As we pulled the car out of the last WMA and headed back to the farm, I was thinking about all the fun we had on our outdoor adventure. And then, breaking into my thoughts, came a scream from the back seat. Niece Katie found a wood tick crawling on her.

I guess I should be glad it was only a wood tick catastrophe when I think of all the things that could have happened. At least we didn’t scare up a skunk, the boys didn’t fall in the creek and I didn’t see any snakes!

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