Archived Story

Falling leaves begin to dance as autumn rushes in

Published 9:35am Saturday, September 22, 2012

Column: Nature’s World

My neighbor Crandall stops by.

“How are you doing?” I ask.

“Everything is nearly copacetic. If my life could be watched backwards, I’d be a Jenny Craig success story. My allergies act up this time of the year. Harvest means that I am out standing in my field. I must be allergic to corn or soybeans.”

“Or work,” I interject.

“Ha! If I owed the devil 1000 liars, he’d take you as payment in full. I have been a working fool all my life. You know that. Remember when I used to rake Grandma’s leaves when I was but a lad?”

“I remember. Your grandmother paid you. You raked all the leaves onto her neighbor’s lawn and then charged the neighbor to rake his leaves,” I add.

“Grandpa called Grandma ‘angel’ because she was always up in the air harping about something. I’m trying to change my life. I took a driving course on the racetrack at Brainerd. It was fun, but I left my blinker on the entire time. I thought about buying a dishwasher after I get the crop in, but I bought paper plates instead. I can buy a lot of paper plates for the price of a dishwasher.”

“Are you going to do any traveling this winter?” I ask.

“I don’t see any need for traveling. I’m already here.”


At the end of the drive

There is a hint of a chill in the air. It’s both ominous and refreshing. The falling leaves begin to dance a dance choreographed by the wind. The landscape takes on a golden brown hue. I spotted an abundance of tree swallows perched upon utility wires. World famous avian artist and naturalist Roger Tory Peterson wrote, “I have seen a million flamingos on the lakes of East Africa and as many seabirds on the cliffs of the Alaska Pribilofs, but for sheer drama, the tornadoes of tree swallows eclipsed any other avian spectacle I had ever seen.” The swallows, as if on cue, burst into flight from the wires. I heard a red-breasted nuthatch singing its odd call as if it were a feathered Felix Unger from “The Odd Couple” attempting to clear his sinuses. I watched a young red-headed woodpecker fly into the feeders. It had a gray-brown head instead of the red head of an adult. According to Lakota legend, the red-headed woodpecker taught a poor young suitor how to make and play the first flute. Because of that, the man was able to win the respect of his tribe and the hand of the chief’s beautiful daughter. That is why their flutes are made to resemble this bird. I don’t see nearly as many of this species of woodpecker as I did when there was an abundance of snag trees in the aftermath of Dutch elm disease. I saw red-headed woodpeckers in good numbers when we had some of the world’s largest bird feeders–ears of corn stored in wooden cribs.


Roger Tory Peterson redux

Barbara Franklin of Minneapolis, daughter of Walter and Dorothy Breckenridge, told me a story of when Roger Tory Peterson was a houseguest at the Breckenridge home. Walter Breckenridge was one of Minnesota’s legendary naturalists who used his incredible artwork to advocate for the preservation of our natural world. Dorothy saw some birds fluttering outside the window. The birds had been there before and there had been some question as to the identity of the birds. Who better to ask than the author of “A Field Guide to the Birds” — a book that is so famous that it is known fondly as the “Peterson’s.”

“Roger, what kind of birds are those?” asked Dorothy, pointing towards the feathered beings in question.

Roger took a good look at the birds before saying, “Get me the Peterson’s.”


Q and A

“Not long ago, you wrote a column about what kills birds. Could you repeat those statistics?” I’ll throw some figures from The Wall Street Journal at you. In the June 2012 issue, they presented these numbers. Airplanes contributed to 25,000 bird deaths, wind turbines 400,000, communication towers 6.8 million, automobiles 60 million, pesticides 67 million, hunting 120 million, power lines 130 million, windows of houses and other buildings 1 billion, and cats 1 billion deaths.

“What should I do when a bird hits my window?” The Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Roseville recommends the following. If the bird is near a low bush, pick the bird up and place it at the base of the bush. If it’s cold outside or you’re worried about feral cats, you could place the bird in a shoebox and put the shoebox in your garage or an unused room. Be sure to close the door and keep the room quiet to help reduce stress on an already stressed bird. After two hours, take the shoebox outside and lift the lid. At this point, a healthy bird would fly away. If not, the bird has either died from extreme internal injuries or it has substantial injuries (such as to a wing) and you could bring it into the center that is open every day of the year, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. The phone number is 651-486-9453. Please do not offer the bird any food or water.

“Why do we have robins here during the winter?” There are robins that migrate and there are those that do not. Scientists studying robins are finding that the two groups don’t customarily interbreed and suspect there may be genetic differences. Robins overwinter in ravines and other wooded areas where there is an open water source. They feed mainly on buckthorn berries, crabapples, cherries, mountain ash berries, etc. during the winter. There may be other robins that don’t migrate for reasons known only to them. Migration is a perilous journey.


Thanks for stopping by

“You need to learn how to select your thoughts just the same way you select your clothes every day. This is a power you can cultivate. If you want to control things in your life so bad, work on the mind. That’s the only thing you should be trying to control.” — Elizabeth Gilbert

“Humility does not mean you think less of yourself. It means you think of yourself less.”— Ken Blanchard



Al Batt of Hartland is a member of the Albert Lea Audubon Society. Email him at