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Wildside: Snowbirds return to the snow

Otter slide on the bank of the Rush River near El Paso. (River Falls Journal photo by Dan Wilcox)

Carol and I were in Cedar Key on the Gulf Coast of Florida last week, enjoying weather in the 60’s and paddling around the offshore islands and the inshore maze of mangroves and salt marshes. The fishing was poor due to a succession of cold fronts that had marched through in the last few weeks, but it was a fascinating place to be with tide changes and all the shorebirds, ducks and wading birds to watch.

When the weather forecast called for more than a week of cold weather, we decided to go home and face the real winter. We left Cedar Key on a morning when it was 34 degrees and windy. We drove into a northerly headwind most of the way home. It was snowing south of Nashville and minus-7 degrees with a 30 mile-per-hour wind last Friday morning in northern Illinois.

Fortunately, it was a relatively balmy 30 degrees last Friday when we got home. The lady who had stayed at our house while we were gone had stoked the fireplace with wood, kept the birds fed and the plants watered. Our neighbor had been diligent in keeping the driveway plowed out, so I didn’t have too much new snow to clear with the tractor. After picking up a bushel of mail on Saturday, we settled in at home to get acclimated to the winter all over again and to get ready for the arctic blast of cold air that arrived on Monday.

The stalled position of the jet stream this winter has left California in drought and sent frigid arctic air south into the eastern U.S. down into Florida. When we visited Key West a couple weeks ago, it was 60 degrees and windy. That was OK for us but the Conchs were shivering. The sunset performers at Mallory Square were playing with fire to stay warm.

The Great Lakes now have more icy cover than in any of the last 25 years. Lake Superior is currently about two thirds covered with ice. An ice bridge may form between Isle Royale and Canada, which could provide opportunity for wolves to migrate from Canada to the island and bring new genes to the remnant population of wolves on Isle Royale.

We met our friends, Dale and Amy Hafeman, in River Falls who said that the ice on Lake Superior has frozen strong enough to allow people to hike out to see the mainland sea caves north of Meyer’s Beach near Cornucopia. Dale had taken us out fishing in the summer and drove his boat into the Keyhole sea cave there. I’m not sure that we are up to a long hike on the bumpy shore ice of Lake Superior to see the frozen sea caves in way-below-zero weather. A trip north to see the sea caves and do some cross country skiing would be fun when the weather moderates.

There is still beauty in the winter scenery around here and some creatures seem to be enjoying it. Near El Paso last weekend, I noticed that the otters had been having fun. If they can enjoy sliding on the snow and swimming in the Rush River, shouldn’t we enjoy the winter too?

Please send any comments and suggestions for this column to me at

--Dan Wilcox, outdoor columnist