Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

What’s the deal with all the flies at Valley Grove? April 27, 2018


The historic Valley Grove Churches, rural Nerstrand, Minnesota.


ALL YOU SCIENTIST, ENTOMOLOGY, biology types out there, I need your input to solve a mystery. I suppose I could google the topic, but I’d rather read your theories or fact-based conclusions.


The buzzing started once we stepped inside the front gate and onto the grass between the two churches.


Last Sunday afternoon while walking on the grounds of Valley Grove Church, rural Nerstrand, I heard a buzzing. Like a zillion bees. At first I thought I was hearing things because, when I would stop, the droning also stopped.

I questioned whether I could be suffering from tinnitus, an occasional issue given my hearing loss. I’m nearly deaf in the my right ear which causes all sorts of problems in determining sound sources and in hearing in general.



But this buzzing seemed real. I risked asking my husband if he heard what I heard. He did. We paused on the dormant dried grass. No buzzing. Then we took a few steps and the irritating hum resumed. Then my observant husband, with the way better vision than me, saw the flies. Everywhere. Infinite numbers settled on the grass as if sunning themselves. I strained to see the camouflaged flies and then photograph them. I managed one image of a single fly. Whenever either of us moved, they, too, moved. It was the craziest thing.


One of several birdhouses located on the grassland hiking area.


I’m a woman who has a history with flies. They were part of my growing up environment on a southwestern Minnesota dairy farm. A fly swatter was always at the ready. Sticky fly traps dangled from ceilings in our farmhouse; one even hung over the kitchen table. Not at all appealing. But I’d rather see a dead fly than have one land on my dinner plate. In the barn, biting, swarming flies were a constant problem. For cows. And for humans.


This aged, massive oak is a focal point in the corner of the cemetery.


But why were these thousands (maybe even millions) of flies here, on these church and cemetery grounds on a sunny late April afternoon, the first warm weekend of the season in Minnesota? There were no cattle (although the occasional piles of deer and other animal poop). There was no food.



The insects didn’t swarm the entire grounds—mostly just the area between the two historic church buildings and along the edge of the adjoining cemetery.



Once I got past the fly territory, I enjoyed my time at Valley Grove. It’s a beautiful place of quiet, of peace, set high atop a hill with lovely rural vistas. There are hiking trails and history in the cemetery (and churches when they are open). Generations of families are buried here. And there are oak trees, including one held together by thick chains in the corner of the cemetery.

This place holds stories. And now it holds one more story—the mystery of the fly invasion.


© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


22 Responses to “What’s the deal with all the flies at Valley Grove?”

  1. Littlesundog Says:

    I tried googling this phenomenon and came up with “cluster flies”, which seem to be common in the north in the autumn and spring. I wonder if that is what you experienced? It’s always interesting to discover these oddities that we come across at times. Probably most people wouldn’t even ponder it.

  2. I think they come out in droves when it warms up. The wasps down here have been pretty bad – I have seen big clusters on sides of buildings and making nests as fast as possible too. At least these flies are not in your yard or home – YUCKO! All beings have a purpose and a cycle. Happy Weekend – Enjoy 🙂

  3. Eugene Bertrand Says:

    So what’s with the two church’s right together and that evergreen tree
    has a baby tree growing out it’s side with no trunk or roots?

  4. Almost Iowa Says:

    Maybe this is a bit off topic but one of the signs that the Mississippi was recovering from years of pollution was the return of the may fly. The swarms get so bad that MNDOT has to use snowplows to clear them from the bridges.

  5. Jane duckett Says:

    As usual,I don’t have a clue.been awhile since I have been there.time to go check it out.

  6. Jackie Says:

    The fly’s question is intriguing, but you know those 2 churches side by side really caught my attention. I really want to know more about that….. why 2 churches side by side, I assume different denominations? I will need to go to this place called Valley Grove, maybe AFTER the flies leave.

  7. a johnson Says:

    The Valley Grove Prairie fly.
    And when did former Gov. Al Quie die????? Today??? I know his wife has passed away a couple years ago and they have their grave stone off in the far left corner of the cemetery. aj

  8. valeriebollinger Says:

    This is interesting…let us know if you discover the reason. Hopefully it’s temporary.

    • I expect it’s a temporary thing. You spend a lot more time than me hiking outdoors and have apparently then never witnessed something like this fly invasion. I was thankful they were clinging to the grass rather than swarming.

  9. Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

    Those are some beautiful pictures. So peaceful and serene minus the buzzing of your flies

  10. The photographs are lovely. I love country churches and the cemeteries which are often close by. Not sure about the buzzing flies, but your description of them reminded me of the movie, ‘The Birds.’ I’m glad the day didn’t end in a Hitchcock nightmare.

    • Since you mention, “The Birds,” I am reminded of the circles of turkey vultures (about two dozen to a group) swarming the sky early one evening in western Faribault. I commented to Randy that I felt like we were inside the movie set of Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” I am not a fan of that movie.

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