John Cross

The growing periods of daylight at the start and end of the work day, the cardinals singing their spring song, the early-arriving Canada geese, all are pleasant signs of spring’s approach.

And this is a time when those of us whose passion happens to be wildlife begin to relax a bit.

That’s because the more severe the winter, the higher the level of wildlife mortality.

And higher winter mortality levels of adult wildlife translate to less spring reproduction and logically, fewer fall hunting opportunities.

Fortunately, by most measures wintery conditions thus far in much of Minnesota, particularly in farmland areas, have been pretty benevolent and mild.

True, we’ve been colder than in recent years. But the truly arctic blasts have been brief and mitigated by the lack of snow and more importantly, the high winds that create blizzard conditions.

So with spring only a couple weeks away, some of us might be tempted to write winter off and now begin to fret about such things as spring nesting conditions. Those of us with a few miles on our odometers know better.

Forty-one years ago, many of us undoubtedly were thinking the same thing, that the worst of winter’s bite was behind us.

Nature soon taught us otherwise.

The winter of 1964-65 certainly wasn’t the mildest on record, but it wasn’t all that much of a bear, either.

Through February, winter across south central Minnesota was what most of us would consider average.

Save for an eight-inch snow that fell Feb. 11, a storm described in the Free Press as the worst in four years, snowfalls were generally light and infrequent.

But then in the first week of March, a couple of snowstorms swept through the area, leaving residents digging out from more than a foot of new snow.

But the worst was yet to come. It began snowing on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, and by the next day, accompanied by strong winds, much of the state was engulfed in a full-blown blizzard.

When the storm abated by late Friday, more than 19 inches of wind-blown snow had fallen in many areas. Driven by high winds, houses and cars were buried to their roofs.

And so were many of Minnesota’s pheasants.

As a teenager, I can remember going to a shelter belt on the weekend following the storm. A friend and I walked through the farm grove filling a pail with pheasants that had sought shelter. Most of them were dead, their nostrils clogged with ice, others that were barely alive, their feathers frozen, offered only feeble struggles as we picked them up from the lee sides of trees.

According to estimates by the Department of Natural Resources, the state lost half of its pheasant population in that single storm.

Adding insult to injury, a week later as winter-weary Minnesotans continued to dig out, another storm dumped yet another foot of snow on the area, making March 1965 one of the snowiest on record and setting the area up for a springtime of battling floodwaters.

So far this winter, we have had plenty of cold, not a whole lot of snow. And from all indications, south central Minnesota’s wildlife populations are doing just fine.

But then, this is Minnesota ...

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John Cross is a Mankato Free Press staff writer. Contact him at (507) 344-6376 or jcross@mankatofreepress.com.

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