Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Waterfowl Update

PhotobucketTemps went into the 20s last night. The ducks and geese appear to have moved out, again. The Pond seems so lonely without them.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

They're Baaaaaaaack!


Thanks to unseasonably warm weather, a dover of Bon Bon Pond's migrated ducks, plus the resident family of Canada Geese, have returned.  ???  Hmmm.  I wonder what they know?  Apparently my web-footed friends do not travel far for the winter.  I'd love to discover where they go?  Anyway, it's off to Fleet Farm for more corn.

Farewell to Fall (column reprint)


On November 15th, the last of Bon Bon Pond's resident Canada Geese and their faithful duck followers flew away for the winter.  Godspeed my beloved web-footed friends!  Stay safe, warm, well-fed and hurry back next spring!

Another hunting season has come and gone without incident. But that hasn’t always been the case. My family moved to Stillwater in 1969 and at the time it was more like the Wild West. I remember my mother telling her friends where she was moving and they all broke into tears.Only recently had the town been added to the twin cities toll-free calling zones but it was still considered the hinterlands. Transplanted city folk, mom, dad and I didn’t know much about country ways--and that included the farmers’ attitude toward animals. Additionally, some folks out here were pretty much of the mindset that you could shoot practically anything you wanted, whenever you wanted and wherever you wanted.

And then came Lee LaBonne. My mother had the hugest heart. Kind, compassionate and a friend to many, she loved all God’s creatures. It had always been her dream to have a place in the country where she could enjoy nature. Imagine her surprise when our idyllic peacefulness was repeatedly invaded by lawless marauders.
Two particularly vivid memories remain. Just a few months after we moved in, my father was working nights and mom and I were home alone watching TV in the living room. Suddenly, our dog pinned back her ears, bared her teeth and began to bark. We walked out onto the deck and heard men hollering and banging on pans. Plus a pack of what sounded like bloodhounds were baying. Terrified, mom ran for the phone to call the police. When the Hellish sounds drew closer, she ran back out onto the deck and screamed at the top of her lungs “I have an axe and I know how to use it. Get off my property!” The clattering ceased, the hounds were hushed, and the next sound we heard were car doors slamming. When the police arrived around a half hour later we were told the trespassers were hunting raccoons.

Another incident occurred when mom was home alone one sunny summer afternoon.She was out hanging clothes when a volley of gunshots erupted. Running toward the pasture she spotted a man standing on the railroad tracks that border our property, brazenly shooting at pheasants, directly over the heads of our four terrified horses. Mom watched one bird fall and nearly hit my mare as she ran for the safety of her shelter.Throwing caution to the wind, mom turned around and ran for the house, grabbed her car keys, jumped in her V-8 Plymouth and took off in hot pursuit after the poacher. As his car came toward her she made a hard turn and blocked his vehicle. With her car still running she flew out the door and approached the shocked hunter.Mom read him the riot act then demanded he give her the pheasant. 

As a testament to our decades long struggle, my house still bears the bullet hole that tore thru the garage window and lodged in the house wall, right above my parents’ bed.

These close encounters of the third kind were an all too common occurrences around Bon Bon Acres in the early years. Mom got to know the local constabulary quite well and all were concerned for her safety.

So much stress. So much tension. So much trouble. It was never our intent to deprive people of a legal pastime. All we wanted was our little piece of land, and its wildlife, to be left alone.

We talked about moving but it didn’t seem fair to have to give up our dream.Instead, we stayed and kept up the good fight.

As years went by and more people moved into the area—many building upscale homes with huge barns that housed expensive horses—no hunting/trespassing laws became stricter and better enforced. Soon, the land itself was safe, but the pond remained a problem.

Sometime last century—no doubt before there was a DNR—some public official got the bright idea to put a road thru a lovely small lake. Said politician must have soon decided he hadn’t done enough damage so he signed off on the decision to build a huge embankment for a railroad track.Thus, what had once been a lovely little lake was now three ponds. Although my family bought all the land on the west side of the largest pond there was a problem when it came to preservation: that damn road. Minnesota law allows hunters to shoot over water from a public thoroughfare.

Mom and I struggled to protect the ducks and the Canada Geese, as well as the muskrats, for years. Annual hunter/police confrontations made us dread the fall. In the autumn of 2002, after mom and dad had both died, I met my Waterloo after confronting two angry teenage boys who had launched a boat onto the pond. The next morning I discovered six poached deer with nooses around their necks dumped at the foot of my driveway. At this point my neighbors became concerned for my life and contacted the Washington County Sheriff.

Finally, after years of strife, the situation had come to a head. Enter, the cavalry. A phone call to Washington County Parks Director of Operations Mike Polehna changed my life. In charge of the neighboring Pine Point Park, which manages the south pond, Polehna is an expert on hunting laws as well as area topography. Armed with aerial park maps that proved anyone hunting on the road, or the railroad bank, would violate Minnesota law, which prohibits shooting within 500 feet of any domicile—in this case, my house, or my neighbor Bonnie’s—Polehna met with the sheriff and thus provided the police with the facts they needed to keep the peace.

Also at this time, the May Township Board got involved, determined to end the trouble once and for all. “No Parking” and “No Watercraft Launching” signs were erected on the road.Since then, there has only been one incident and that was easily and peacefully resolved.
I owe a deep debt of gratitude to Mr. Polehna and the May Township Board for their invaluable assistance, plus my wonderful neighbors—especially Bonnie, who stewards the east portion of the water. With their help, Bon Bon Pond has turned into the waterfowl sanctuary of my mother’s dreams. Eagles have been spotted and this year we even added a pair of Trumpeter Swans to the visitors’ list!

I hope the story of Bon Bon Pond can help other lovecanadageese readers who might be experiencing similar problems with unwanted hunters. Take my advice and do NOT ever confront people with guns, as my mother did for many years. Become knowledgeable! Look for allies! It took me years to find Mike Polehna, but there are other good people out there. Talk to local law enforcement--but remember they must enforce the laws, even if we don’t like them. Get to know the local game warden, conservation officer or parks official.Work with other preservation groups.Enlist the backing of your neighbors.There is strength in numbers! And don’t forget to lobby your local government for better privacy and preservation policies. Be polite, be patient, but be persistent! Sometimes something as simple as “No Parking” or “No Watercraft Launching” signs can make all the difference in the world.

Legacy of the Swan Lady (column reprint)

On October 14th, Stillwater, Minnesota was treated to a most extraordinary occurrence: a visit from two majestic Trumpeter Swans. Such a sight would have been unimaginable twenty years ago. But today, thanks in large part to the efforts of one incredible woman, many bird-loving Minnesotans are experiencing the joy of swan sightings.

In the mid-eighties, central Minnesota resident Sheila Lawrence was winter feeding Canada Geese and ducks along the Mississippi River in Monticello--which doesn’t freeze due to the local nuclear power plant's constant discharge of warm water--when a handful of endangered Trumpeter Swans, two of which had been previously neck-banded by Hennepin Parks, showed up. Determined to learn more about North America’'s largest waterfowl species, Sheila soon made contact with Donna Compton, a Wildlife Technician and resident swan specialist with Hennepin Parks (now called Three Rivers Park District) whose job was to manage the breeding and raising of the swans, plus, compile critical data. Together, the two women dreamed of the day when the Monticello Trumpeter Swan flock could possibly reach a then-unthinkable 300 birds.

To help move toward that goal, Sheila totally devoted her winters to all things associated with the swans. In addition to spending from 6-8 hours per day hauling shelled corn from a 200 bushel gravity wagon in her driveway, she took calls from Conservation Officers and private citizens, who reported sightings of injured swans. Often with nothing more then verbal directions, Sheila located and captured the birds and delivered them to (most often) the Raptor Center in St. Paul for diagnosis and treatment. 

In addition to her caring efforts, Sheila kept meticulous records detailing important information (banding from various states, brood sizes, cygnet numbers, returning birds, etc.) about the wintering swans which she provided to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Hennepin Parks/Three Rivers Park System.

In a surprisingly short time, Sheila earned the trust of these human-averse avians, which allowed her to walk among them at will as if she were part of the flock. This trust allowed her to capture birds and remove tangled fishing lures, fishing line, pop cans and other trash that had become attached while foraging for food. Sheila's efforts saved many birds from an almost certain death.

Today, thanks in large part to Sheila'’s conservation activities, Minnesota'’s population of Trumpeter Swans has grown from the point of statistical extinction to around 6000. It's a phenomenal success story marred only by the April 2011 untimely passing of Sheila Lawrence a.k.a." The Swan Lady." 

 Sheila Lawrence "The Swan Lady" has earned her wings in Heaven. 
Photo appears courtesy of Chris Lommel Photography, Big Lake, MN 

Last winter, with his wife weak from cancer and unable to feed or even view her beloved flock, Sheila's husband Jim took on the task of feeding her 2200 Trumpeter Swans, plus over a thousand Canada Geese and as many ducks. With the help of a gravity wagon and an auguring system which delivers the corn from the driveway to the river, Jim disseminated over a ton of corn each day from the end of November till the birds left in March.

The daily mass feeding is an undertaking that needs to be seen to be believed. Jim Lawrence and the city of Monticello, known as "Swan City," invite all LoveCanadaGeese readers to visit Swan Park, located next to 117 Mississippi Drive, and observe something truly extraordinary. The best time to come is in early January when the winter flock is at peak. People come from everywhere in the US and from all over the world to observe and appreciate the Midwest's--and possibly the world's--largest Trumpeter Swan flock, in addition to many ducks and huge numbers of our beloved Canada Geese. Visitors are asked to respect the waterfowl and stay behind the park's fence as directed by signs. The viewing is fabulous and the picture-taking opportunities are limitless.

Funding for the purchase and delivery of corn fed to the Swan Park waterfowl continues to be paid for by the Lawrence family, with supplemental donations from animal lovers and a few close and loyal friends.

For those interested in viewing the Monticello swans, geese and ducks, please visit and browse for the latest info. Prior to a park visit, or to learn more about "Swan Season," phone the Monticello Chamber of Commerce at 1-763-295-2700. Jim Lawrence provides regular updates to the Chamber as to swan numbers and information pertinent to viewing.

In honor of Sheila’s memory and to help continue her legacy, the Monticello community has established a fund which allows wildlife lovers to contribute to the Lawrence's massive feeding efforts. Last winter alone Jim spent $20,000 on corn. LoveCanadaGeese readers who would like to help can send donations to:

Monticello Trumpeter Swan Fund
c/o US Bank
307 Pine Street
Monticello, MN 55362

Greetings! (column reprint)

Hello Fellow Canada Geese Lovers! Greetings from Bon Bon Acres, Stillwater Minnesota’s official Honky Tonk. Located just a few miles west of the scenic St. Croix River and situated on 13 acres, my hobby farm/wildlife refuge includes a body of water. Bon Bon Pond is proud to provide a safe and hospitable habitat for many species of waterfowl including ducks, egrets, green herons, and, of course, the majestic Canada Goose.

Each year one pair of Canada Geese nests on the pond and raises their young. This year I was privileged to watch two goslings grow from yellow balls of fluff into elegant and graceful tuxedos.

In August, after the molt, their extended family from area lakes and ponds will often come to visit and enjoy the cracked corn that is always available. This is when the fun really begins! This season a gaggle of 42 gathers almost daily, and with them, an equally large sord of Mallards.

Often times I stop working and just sit with the geese and observe their interaction with each other, as well as with the ducks who seem to look up to them. Each day when the smaller flocks of geese fly in they go thru the same noisy pecking order ritual. But while they peck and pinch and chase each other, they are always kind and patient and paternal toward the ducks.

A couple weeks ago, I witnessed the most amazing and entertaining interspecies display! This might sound crazy but I know what I saw and believe my interpretation is correct. One morning two young Mallards put on some sort of competition/sporting event for the geese. In what could best be described as “Animal Olympics” one duck swam to one side, the second duck to the other side, then they engaged in a wild display of diving and racing around. They would charge toward each other, then swim back to their respective starting point. After each demonstration the geese would shake their heads and necks and make noises. The geese were "judging" the competition. When it was over, the “athletes” took a celebratory lap around the “sporting arena” then climbed up on their favorite log for some well-deserved R & R. What a wonderful show of good fun and camaraderie among animal “neighbors.” 

Every day is an adventure at Bon Bon Acres. There is so much we can learn from the wildlife, if we just pay close attention. I look forward to sharing more of my “wild goose tales” with you regularly. Next time, protecting Bon Bon Pond from hunters—a success story!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Welcome to My World!

Greetings from Bon Bon Acres, my 13 acre hobby farm/wildlife refuge located just a few miles west of Stillwater, Minnesota in the scenic St. Croix River Valley.

Included with my property is Bon Bon Pond, which is home to many species of waterfowl, including ducks, egrets, green herons, and Canada Geese.   Eagles have been known to visit and this summer two majestic Trumpeter Swans stopped in for the day.

This is my little corner of the world and I would love to share it with you. I write for a wonderful website where I contribute regular columns about Canada Geese.  These stories will also appear here, as well as more frequent and detailed observations about the flora and fauna of Bon Bon Pond.

Thanks so much for stopping by.  I hope you will bookmark/follow my blog and visit regularly.