Local Flora and Fauna
Our lakes are located in the unique ecotone transition zone between the warmer deciduous forests to the south and the cooler coniferous forests to the north. Scientists measure the northward extent of the range that southern deciduous forest species thrive, and the southern extent of the range that northern coniferous forest species survive. Where those ranges meet is called the transition zone and an unusually high number of plant and animals species can be found there. 67 different species reach their maximum range in Polk County where the northern and southern ranges meet. Northern plants and animals found commonly here, will not be found just a few miles to the south and visa versa. The dominant native trees in the area are northern red oak, white oak, ash, white pine, paper birch and sugar maple. Common shrubs include hazel, dogwood, pin cherry and blackberry. Water plants like bulrushes, cattails, water lily, American lotus, arrowhead and blue flag iris line the lakeshores. Under the water you’ll find coontail, pondweed, northern milfoil and water celery.
Contributed by Stephen Kramer, Big Lake
Anglers will find a lot of fishing action out on the water of all three lakes in any season. These lakes are most noted for their consistent pan fish production, largemouth bass action, the occasional whopper, and can generally provide a fun filled outing that equals any of the big fisheries in the area. The lakes have been tested for toxic levels of mercury, but no consumption advisories have been issued. Most people fish in the summer from a boat, but many folks try their luck in the winter too. Fish houses appear on the ice soon after freeze up, and folks scurry from hole to hole checking for bites. One has to be careful while walking out on the ice not to step into any unattended fishing holes. In the warmer months, fishermen are usually the first ones out on the water in the morning staking their hot spots, and the last ones to go home at night. Although serious fishermen with their depth finders, underwater cameras and scented lures might be trying to land one just a little bit harder than the kids on the dock using bamboo poles and corn for bait, they often seem just as successful. The annual game fishing opener is the first Saturday in May. Residents and non-residents 16 and over must carry a license to fish. One of the busiest fishing weekends is the annual free fishing weekend, held the first weekend in June each year. No license is required and it’s a perfect opportunity for anybody to wet a line. On this weekend you’ll often see boats loaded to the life jacket limit with eager anglers hoping to catch their first fish. Fresh fishing bait is available at the Big Lake Store.
The most sought after fish in the lakes are:
- Northern Pike
- Largemouth Bass
- Bluegill Sunfish
- Pumpkinseed Sunfish
- Green Sunfish
The bird watching on the lakes and throughout the area is exceptional. A large number of interesting species are year round residents. Sparrows, dark eyed juncos, black capped chickadees, nuthatches, northern cardinals, doves, house wrens, crows and downy, hairy and pileated woodpeckers are very common and can be found all winter long. Summer residents include various finches, grosbeaks, warblers and thrushes. Look for bluebirds, red winged blackbirds, robins, blue jays, grackles, belted kingfishers and tree swallows by the lakeshore.
In the springtime, as the insects hatch, the migrations begin. The warmer southerly winds bring migrations of dozens of bird species that are just passing through, and others that come to stay just for the summer. Most summer songbird visitors eat insects exclusively. The lakes attract water birds of all kinds that arrive just as the ice goes out. Herons, Canada geese, egrets, kingfishers, various ducks, coots, mergansers, swans, loons and cormorants have all been observed regularly passing through, and sometimes staying on for the summer. As spring progresses, newly arriving songbirds begin staking their territories, singing their songs, seeking mates and building nests.
Larger birds of prey like bald eagles and red tailed hawks are also common. Soaring eagles can spot a fish in the water from a mile away, and can carry away up to five pounds of fish at a time. Owls do most everything in the dark and can be heard year round making some of the most outrageous nighttime hoots, wails and shrieks. Listen for the gobble of wild tom turkeys gathering their flocks early in the mornings. Look for waves of tiny tame golden kinglets arriving on warm, moist spring mornings, searching for newly hatched insects. Stick out your finger and they’ll land on it. Watch out for swallows building mud nests on steep banks along the shore, sometimes even under the bridge. Ruby throated hummingbirds and northern orioles readily visit nectar feeders. Bright yellow goldfinches travel in small flocks and seek ripe seeds, not insects.
The fall migration for some species really begins in July as soon as the nesting season is over, and picks up in intensity as the days grow shorter. The gulls that flock on the lake late each summer are actually on their way south, after nesting in the arctic. Most songbirds stop singing by mid July, and are gone by mid to late September. After the first freeze the insects are gone and birds move south on cool northerly winds. The lake usually freezes over in late November or early December, chasing away the last of the water birds and bringing an end to the birding season.