An iced-over pond and milkweed pods and seeds were found at the Goethite Wildlife Management Area (WMA) of the Minnesota DNR, located near Etna in Fillmore County. 
An iced-over pond and milkweed pods and seeds were found at the Goethite Wildlife Management Area (WMA) of the Minnesota DNR, located near Etna in Fillmore County. LISA BRAINARD/BLUFF COUNTRY READER

We've been lucky — at least as I see it (and yes, your opinion may vary) — in that we haven't had a major snowfall yet this year. That's good news to me, even if we have had unseasonably cold temperatures and even a little ice.

One day when the temps were in the 40s I took a drive to the Minnesota DNR's Goethite Wildlife Management Area (WMA) northwest of Etna. Haha, I like to throw out names of vague locations in Fillmore County and perhaps get you scratching your head. Or, maybe it inspires you to hit Google or Google Maps in a search for Etna... evil grin. And to those of you living around Etna, well, I bet when you tell people where you live, they go, "Huh?" And you have to provide more directions to get them there. At least some of them, am I right?

I'd been to Goethite WMA before to explore the water-filled ponds left by iron ore mining in pits in the 1940s through maybe sometime in the '60s (Google is your friend, so Google it; I've written on the mining a few times in the past.)

For some, this mining hint will let them know it's in the vicinity of Cherry Grove, a tiny Minnesota burg (but a metropolis compared to Etna) known for a Fourth of July parade; the DNR's Cherry Grove Blind Valley Scientific and Natural Area (SNA) and Cherry Grove WMA; and the home of the inventor of Pietenpol airplanes (see a model or two at the Fillmore County History Center in Fountain). So many things for such a small burg — I tell you, ALL of Fillmore County's got it going on! Do a little research.

Remember — Google is your friend, as well as local history books in Fillmore County libraries. Take a tour!

Enough teasing. Here's a link to the Goethite WMA website, plus directions to get there, From Spring Valley, go 4 miles south on US Hwy 63 then left (east) for 1.5 miles on 190th St., then right (south) on 141st Ave. The WMA is right there, although parking is soon found in a lot on the right (west) side of the road. But that's not how I get there, oh no! I head west of Preston on 12 to 14, continuing straight ahead over 5 (these three are Fillmore County highways), past the one building and stream (Etna Creek) at Etna (don't blink!!), and within a mile or so, take the gravel, 141st Ave., right (north) until reaching Goethite with parking on the left (west). See, just getting there is an adventure!!

One time — seems like a summer past, perhaps — I'd heard a swan of some type was in a pond at Goethite. I never got there in time to see it, but I have seen other birds there before, like noisy Canada geese. I wondered recently if some of the migrating birds landing in pools on the Mississippi to feed might — just might — use the small, shallow ponds at Goethite?

So off I went, heeding my own advice from right here in this column (patting myself on the back, haha). Pretty sure that deer hunting season was on, I decked myself out with a cornea-burning orange jacket and bright yellow daypack. I saw two vehicles in the lot and a hunter in orange heading east. My eye-popping ensemble was indeed called for. Also, I brought out my fairly loud singing and talking-to-myself voice. It couldn't hurt right? And since I'm writing this from my home — my real home and not in a spiritual, other-worldly sense — it appears I survived my gimpy, cane-aided trek of maybe one-quarter mile, tops!

Last year on a Goethite visit I took pictures of milkweeds seeding out in the west unit. I did the same this year. I can only imagine that place attracts a lot of monarch butterflies. People have started planting milkweed to provide for the alarmingly low numbers of the butterflies these days; at Goethite it grows wild. I need to get there earlier in the fall and hope to see the monarchs.

But there's one thing I didn't see at Goethite and that was bigger migrating waterfowl. No Canada geese, no sandhill cranes, no pelicans, no ducks, no swans.

I was surprised to see a light, but substantial covering of ice on the pond on the west side. Maybe it's a case that the migrating birds never stop there. Maybe the ponds don't have the type of plant food they need to bulk up fat reserves before the rest of their long flights. Maybe — this time (if indeed they ever stop there) — the ice-up could have caused them to move on?

So I need to put a reminder on the handy-dandy calendar of my new handy-dandy smartphone to stop there earlier next fall.

Meanwhile, there are still lots of migrating birds to see on the Mississippi pools. The river has moving water that's not icing up yet. I've seen four different posts on my Facebook feed with nice photos of birds taken from the overlook by Brownsville. If a big weather system moves in, they might head out. That might have occurred in between when I write this and when it runs in the paper (and appears a few days after that online)... I hope not for all our sakes! Enjoy the non-snowy weather while it lasts.

Lisa Brainard still enjoys lifelong pursuits of the outdoors, history and travel following a serious accident and stroke in September 2012. She’s written this column weekly for about 15 years.