This scene with migrating waterfowl and birds was taken at the Mississippi River Pool 9 overlook south of Brownsville last week while it was still fairly warm. 
LISA BRAINARD/BLUFF COUNTRY READER
This scene with migrating waterfowl and birds was taken at the Mississippi River Pool 9 overlook south of Brownsville last week while it was still fairly warm. LISA BRAINARD/BLUFF COUNTRY READER

I was able to get outside recently and enjoy the reasonably nice weather for this time of year. It’s such a treat!

Although let me note right here, when there’s appealingly bright sunshine, no snow on the ground, and temperatures in the 40s… well, you still better dress pretty warm. Especially if there is wind… and for darn sure if there are gusting, strong winds.

My first trek was south of Harmony into Iowa, to the Iowa DNR’s Plymouth Rock canoe launch on the Upper Iowa River and wildlife management area (WMA) there of the same name. It’s in extreme northwest Winneshiek County — very close to Howard County.

To get there take Highway 139 south of Harmony. On the big turn where the road’s orientation changes from south to west (toward Kendallville), instead continue south by making a left turn onto Winneshiek County gravel W14. Within a mile or two, turn left (east) onto Cold Water Creek Road. Then look for and turn left (north) by a DNR sign and take the first right (east) to go to the river, which is very close. Or use these directions given by the Iowa DNR from Burr Oak:  “6 miles W. of Burr Oak on A18, 1.5 miles S. on Oak Ridge Rd, 0.8 mile SW on Coldwater Creek Rd, 0.2 miles N. on 303rd Ave.” Apparently the last road – basically a driveway – is 303rd Ave.

I realized just how windy it was when I got out, but I was bundled up. Winds were from the north, so I figured the valley and surrounding bluffs would help protect me from them. Yes and no. I’m sure they protected me some, but I sure could hear the wind roaring through surrounding trees.

Per usual, I had to take photos of Plymouth Rock, a tall chimney rock rising from the limestone bluffs on the river’s east side. I hobbled along with my cane in the woods north along the river as I’d done before much more easily when I lived in Winneshiek County 20 to 30 years ago (yikes, the years are adding up – gulp!). The WMA is only 65 acres, so a person isn’t going too far. But it was a great nature connection once again.

Another day I followed my own advice given here and went to the Mississippi River Pool 9 overlook south of Brownsville to see the fall waterfowl and bird migration. Luckily, there were still plenty of tundra swans, ducks and more to observe, as well as a couple trains that went by on the tracks between viewing platform and river’s edge. The sound of all the birds is one-of-a-kind amazing.

People were sure bundled up, I saw as I pulled in and stopped. My thermometer in the truck said it was 41. Despite my recent involvement with winds, I thought to myself, “What the heck?? It can’t be that bad out… wimps!” I guess somewhere in my mind, after reading and hearing that the age of 60 is the new 40, or however the saying goes, I’ve reversed and equated that a temp of, say, 41, is the new temp of 61 degrees??! Haha! That’s the only way I can account for my thinking… or maybe I’m just overly optimistic knowing what awaits when snow and winter weather really arrive?

After a very few minutes of watching the birds outside on the overlook, I decided I was plenty cold and retreated to the confines of my truck to observe in relative warmth. Still, I was amazed as always at the wonderous migration. So are a lot of other people, many setting up with big spotting scopes and huge telephoto lenses on tripods. It was funny because whenever a bird or birds flew or landed, you could see all lenses swing that direction and hear the clicking of shutters as a bunch of photos were taken.

There were a lot of vehicles with Wisconsin license plates there. Then a big, yellow school bus pulled in, finally finding a place to park, and a bunch of University of Wisconsin – La Crosse students piled out. (Yes, I asked them where they were from; I’m curious that way.)

When I finally left, I continued south on Highway 26 along the river a short distance, turning right (west) into the burg of Reno, and then north of town to the Reno Unit of the Richard J. Dorer Memorial Hardwood State Forest of the Minnesota DNR. I got out of the truck in a couple spots to gaze around, picturing all the crazy terrain there – and recalling happy memories of backpacking and car camping weekends, climbing into bluffside caves, and taking the path friends and I called the “goat trail.”

Maybe someday I’ll hike some of it again? I definitely have work to do to attempt to reach that possible goal. And even with the work, my stroke-affected limbs may not respond favorably. But I can work and think positive. After all, look how far I’ve come from a wheelchair for some time after my accident and stroke five years ago.

Considering at all that, let me advise you to get outdoors and discover its wonders for yourself. Make some memories!

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.