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Knapweed is unwelcome visitor in these parts

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When driving around the countryside, keep an eye out for the purple flowers that have started to bloom along roadsides. It is the spotted knapweed and it is not a welcome addition to our area.

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It is an alien visitor, native to Europe and western Asia, which has become well established in this region. It flowers in late July and early August and as a perennial will live up to nine years forming dense stands that will force out other native vegetation. It is very aggressive and produces a compound in the soil that will inhibit the germination of some grass species and other native plants.

Its stiff stem can reach a length of one- to four-feet and the purple flowers are produced on the tips of branches. The seeds can survive in the soil for eight or more years.

Hand pulling of this invasive is difficult due to a deep taproot but herbicides have been shown to be effective in its eradication. The release of certain insects has been used as a biological control also. The spotted knapweed is another indicator of approaching fall.

Well seasoned goose

On our daily dog runs, we frequently drive down Sixth Street in New Richmond and pass a unique goose that inhabits the driveway of a house in the 900 block. Depending on the time of year, the goose is decked out in the appropriate apparel. It must be a girl goose because presently she is sporting a yellow bikini. During the Easter season she sprouts rabbit ears and for the Yuletide she is dressed in a red Santa suit. A Halloween costume is her attire at the end of October. She truly is a goose for all seasons!

Power line ornaments

On a road trip recently, we were driving down 220th Avenue in vicinity of the Oakridge Waterfowl Production Area, east of Star Prairie, and noticed some strange circular objects hanging from the power lines. They seemed to be clustered in this area and we were at a loss in ascertaining what they were, how they got there and what was their purpose. Our guesses ranged from indicators for crop dusting airplanes to alien spacecraft landing markers.

If anyone knows anything about these objects, give me a call and I'll report on them in the next column.

Fall turkey permits

If you missed the deadline in applying for your fall turkey permit or wish to receive a second permit, keep in mind that permits not taken in the early drawing will be available for purchase Aug. 29 (Saturday) at noon at Department of Natural Resources Licensing Centers. One permit per day can be purchased until they are gone.

Our area is now considered Unit 4 following the consolidation of several units last year. We have 15,000 permits available in 2009 which is the same as in 2008. The fall turkey harvest last year was 2,175 for a 16.4 percent success rate.

Of the original 15,000 permits available last year, 10,012 were sold early and 3,242 permits were sold later over the counter. Permit availability following the initial drawing for the 2009 fall turkey season will be posted on the "wild turkey" page of the DNR Web site.

Wildlife observations

A few columns back I wrote about our duck surveys on area WPA and described a pair of trumpeter swans that had five small, fluffy cygnets with them. We had seen them on a small pond in the middle of a section off the northwest side of Bierbrauer WPA. I had never seen more than two young with their parents before.

While out last week touring, we had the good fortune of sighting the group again but this time on the much larger Bierbrauer Pond, which is located a good half mile to the east of where they first were sighted. The young swans were much larger now and had the dark coloration which separates the cygnets from mom and dad.

All five had made it through and appeared very healthy. How they were able to get from the smaller pond to where they were on that day remains a mystery. It certainly is a long walk through some dangerous territory to arrive at the safety of the larger pond.

A couple of days ago, Sal and I had the good fortune of sighting a gray fox ambling through the park area behind our house in New Richmond early one morning. It was following the natural corridor along Paperjack Creek.

This was the first gray fox I had seen in town having seen red fox on a few occasions previous to this. Gray fox have increased in numbers due to an increase in the coyote population. Coyotes will compete with the red fox as both use the same food and resources.

Gray fox are more of a "woodsy" animal and will even climb trees. I have seen a gray fox on Erickson WPA climb up into an old oak tree upon the approach of my dogs one winter morning a few years back.

As red fox populations decline, the gray fox will expand in their place. Coyotes and gray wolves also compete. The larger wolves will come out "top dog" when the two species share the same habitat. This is a good example of the ups and downs experienced in animal populations.

Driving the back roads lately, we have seen quite a few hen pheasants with broods. The chicks have appeared quite small for this time of year and would indicate a late successful hatch.

If, for whatever reason, a nesting effort by the hen is interrupted, she will try again and again until she can pull off a successful hatch. The hens will successfully brood once each year. Timing is very important because older pheasants have a better chance of making it through the winter. Hopefully these little guys can put on some girth through the rest of the summer and fall.

We have seen lots of does with fawns lately also. Most of the does observed had twins following them, but we did observe a doe with triplets near the intersection of county roads T and K east of New Richmond. Most fawns are born in early May so they still are sporting their summer spots.

Oak Savanna

USF&W Manager Tom Kerr's WPA of the Week

Several months ago, I wrote about oak savannas in Polk and St. Croix counties. These savannas, consisting of open grown burr and white oaks with a ground cover of grasses, sedges, wildflowers and some brush are relatively rare.

With the suppression of wildfires, many of these savannas have been taken over by invasive species such as buckthorn, Siberian elm and box elder. Very few savannas have been managed with fire and it often takes several years and lots of effort to restore these rare communities.

The Fish and Wildlife Service at the St. Croix Wetland Management District is restoring several oak savannas, one of which is located on the Kostka Waterfowl Production Area, located north of Deer Park.

This WPA, purchased with duck stamp dollars, is 225 acres in size and has more than 35 wetlands. Part of the WPA was overgrown with invasive trees which were removed last winter.

This summer, the Service began mowing much of the WPA to control the brush and tree re-sprouting that occurs after tree harvest and removal. Depending on weather conditions, we will be burning the WPA next spring to control brush and stimulate the growth of grasses and flowers.

Some harvested areas of the WPA will also be planted to local ecotype seed which may take several years to become established. The two pictures from the Kostka WPA show the same oak tree before and after harvest.

After several more years of management our goal is to have an understory of grasses and flowers that are representative of the vegetation that historically occurred on the site.

To find the Kostka WPA or any of the other 41 WPAs in St. Croix, Polk and Dunn counties, visit our Web site at http://www.fws.gov/mid west/stcroix/ and check out our aerial photos of these WPAs.

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