Archived Story

Lose the goofy glasses and just watch nature in 3D

Published 6:06am Sunday, September 1, 2013

Column: Nature’s World, by Al Batt

My neighbor Crandall stops by.

“How are you doing?” I ask.

“Everything is nearly copacetic. It’s a good day. I drove three miles to town today. I did so because I love to travel. I just made the final payment on my toothbrush. I’ve been figuring my costs to farm. It gets up into trigonometry. Life is hard to fathom. I’m trying to spend less and tighten my belt, while eating more and loosening my belt. This is one of those days in which I’d like to put my feet up on the desk and gaze off at the horizon. Of course, with feet my size gazing is impossible. You know, working with cows can be difficult. You need to know more than the cows. My sister Cruella’s oldest boy Gnarly is helping me. He’s trying to get over the heartache of his goldfish running away from home. He isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer. By the time he graduates, he’ll have more high school yearbooks than he could count. His family is so lazy that when someone knocks on the door, they take turns saying, ‘What?’ I want him to learn, so I’m having him do all of the chores.”

“Careful. You don’t want folks thinking that you let other people do all your work for you,” I say.

“Yes, I do.”

 

Nature called

I looked out at unplanted farm fields that resembled pizza with everything on it.

I watched a cliff swallow fly overhead.

I swatted a fly on my arm.

Like everyone, I have a complicated relationship with nature.

I saw a small tree suckering up from its towering parent. A tree rising from the ash.

Several turkey vultures circled above a dead animal on the road. Their flight is beautiful, an aerial ballet. The birds’ mastery of the air makes me think that it would nearly be worth being a vulture to be able to fly like that.

Nature provides a show in HD. It’s in 3D, too, and there is no need to wear those goofy glasses.

 

Q&A

Tom Belshan of Glenville asked why we see more turkey vultures than we did in the past? There are a couple of reasons for their abundance. The banning of DDT and as deer and small mammal populations have increased, there has been a corresponding increase in the number of wildlife carcasses. The vultures’ food supply has become plentiful, especially roadkill.

“Why don’t turkey vultures stay here all winter?” The turkey vulture lacks the heavy bill necessary to pierce the hide of dead animals. Since most road-killed creatures suffer wounds that create large gashes or openings in the body cavity, the mangled remains are an ideal source of food for this bird. When coyotes tear open the remains of a deer, it prepares a carcass for a vulture’s visit. When the weather is freezing, the bills of the vultures aren’t powerful enough to break into frozen carcasses in order to feed. Vultures migrate south to warmer temperatures where food is available to them.

“Does a bird sweat?” No, it controls its body temperature by panting with opened mouth and via heat loss from featherless legs and feet.

Bill Courter of Jolley asked where our resident bald eagles migrate. Bald eagles have a complex migration pattern dependent upon age, breeding location and food. They begin migration when waters freeze, usually migrating to open water. They return to breeding grounds when weather and food permit. Young eagles spend their first four years in nomadic exploration, some Florida birds wandering as far north as Michigan.

“How many bald eagles live to be a year old?” Mortality is highest for eagles during their first years of life. Research estimates mortality as high as 72 percent within one year of fledging and that about 1 in 10 eagles survives five years.

Tom Jessen of Madelia finds a bat in his house every August and wonders why. The most common time of year for bats to get inside a home is in August. The reason is because that’s when the baby bats start to fly. New to that world, they can become confused and take a wrong turn. The mother bat follows her baby’s cry and could get into the house, too.

Daniel Otten of Hayward asked how wild cucumber spreads. Have you noticed white-flowering vines covering small trees and shrubs? Wild cucumber is a warm season, native annual that becomes conspicuous in late summer. Its native habitat is along streams, swamps, moist thickets and roadsides. It self-seeds readily, germinating after the last frost. The large, alternate leaves are palmate with three to five pointed lobes. The vines can grow up to 30 feet, climbing onto foliage with curling tendrils rising from leaf axils. The tendrils coil when they touch anything, grabbing it for support. The plants are monoecious (male and female flowers on the same plant) and insects pollinate the flowers. The fruit resembles a small cultivated cucumber, but with spines. The fruits aren’t edible, but can be used in dried flower arrangements. Each pod contains four flat black or brown seeds.

“Is the carp a native fish?” The common carp is native to Europe and Asia. It was introduced into Midwest waters as a gamefish in the 1880s. Their feeding muddies water and causes the decline of aquatic plants needed by waterfowl and fish.

“Why are house flies biting my ankles?” It sounds as if your tormentors are stable flies. They are about 1/4-inch long and gray with four dark stripes on the thorax (behind the head). It resembles a housefly, except for the pointed proboscis it uses to suck blood. They are most abundant in late summer and fall, and bite livestock (hence the name), pets and people. They typically bite in early morning or late afternoon and often attack the ankles, causing a sharp pain.

 

Albert Lea Audubon

The next Albert Lea Audubon meeting will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Christ Episcopal Church. Dustin Demmer will do a program on birdscaping.

There will be a tour of Oxbow Park and Zollman Zoo in Byron on Sept. 28. Call 373-5080 for information. The park got its name because the Zumbro River nearly bent onto itself, forming a near circle that reminded early settlers of an oxen harness or oxbow. The Zoo showcases more than 30 species of native animals.

 

Thanks for stopping by

“Rules for happiness: something to do, someone to love, something to hope for.” — Immanuel Kant

“It’s wonderful that we live in a world in which there are things that can eat us. It keeps us from getting too cocky.” — Gary Larson

 

DO GOOD.

 

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