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Last year at this time, hundreds to thousands of southern Minnesota lakes lost their ice covers during the last part of March.

Ice-out for Rose Lake, located south of Fairmont, was March 18. Lake Pepin at Lake City lost its ice cover March 20. Lake Harriet and Lake Nokomis in Minneapolis and Lake Como in St. Paul on March 24. Ice-out for Lake Minnetonka was March 30. (With a history of ice-outs for this lake going back to 1855, the average is April 13). Also, in 2021 we had our first of year 70 degrees on March 29 and at that time bloodroots bloomed in the woods, and grasses greened on south-facing slopes.

Now here it is April 1, and we have no reports of MN lake ice-outs. Still, the process is underway, with rings of open water and rotten ice. We have experienced many cold air masses lately and temperature highs in the 30s and 40s, so it may be difficult to find spring signs. But they abound. Here are a few examples:

Spring bird migration in southern Minnesota began about March 10, with migrating American robins and Canada geese. I didn't see my first migrating American robins until March 14 and first red-winged blackbirds until March 16 here in the Lake Waconia area. Soon we were observing killdeers, sandhill cranes, common grackles, song sparrows, fox sparrows, tundra swans, hooded mergansers, northern shovelers, redhead ducks and many others.

The mornings now are filled with much bird music. American robins and song sparrows singing, red-winged blackbirds trilling, mourning doves cooing, Canada geese honking, woodpeckers drumming, and even the double squawks of male ring-necked pheasants.

Eastern bluebirds and black-capped chickadees have been checking nest boxes. So have wood ducks. Russ Rippberger, who has 45 wood duck nesting boxes on a half-acre lot in Brooklyn Park on the edge of Bass Creek, reports that the first-of-year wood ducks, two pairs, swam up to the yard March 17 soon after the creek opened. Now there are about 40 wood ducks, and many of the females have been going in and out of the boxes trying to choose the right one.

Great horned owl pairs continue to feed young nestlings. They are the first nesting bird each year in our state. A few bald eagles also are now feeding nestlings.

Canada geese have been seen in pairs, standing on ice of marshes and ponds and claiming nesting territories since March 10.

Jim Gilbert has taught and worked as a naturalist for more than 50 years.