Archived Story

The flight of a May honeybee leads to red-headed woodpeckers

Published 9:00am Sunday, June 8, 2014

Nature’s World by Al Batt

My neighbor Crandall stops by.

“How are you doing?” I ask.

“Everything is nearly copacetic. I’m thinking of getting organized, but it’s a difficult task because I’m still not too lazy to look for things. I thought I’d broken a couple of ribs, but my doctor told me to loosen my belt and I’m fine now. I held the door open for the town mime. That was a nice gesture on my part. I called a patent lawyer about my latest invention — bacon-flavored toothpaste. His office told me that I’m not just a number there. I’m two numbers, a dash, three more numbers, another dash and yet another number. That was reassuring. He has a black belt in billing and is mean enough to steal swill from a blind hog. On my way to his office, I had three cups of strong coffee and a bran muffin the size of my head before becoming stuck in heavy traffic. That was enough stress to make a puppy pull a freight train. Oh, I need to thank you.”

Baby great horned owls sit in a nest. – Al Batt/Albert Lea Tribune
Baby great horned owls sit in a nest. – Al Batt/Albert Lea Tribune

“For what?” I ask.

“Remember when I asked you if I could help you fix your fence? And you said, ‘No, but I appreciate your offer.’”

“I remember,” I say.

“Well, I appreciate you saying ‘no.’”


An education of owls

Kelly Preheim of Armour, S.D., is a kindergarten teacher and a birder. Kelly may have been spending a lot of time talking to her kindergarten class about birds. When she asked her students if they could name the five vowels, one boy answered, “Great horned owl, barred owl, screech owl…”


Nature by the yard

A bee buzzed by me on a late May day. It wasn’t a bumblebee. I find bumblebees on flowers and pet them. Maybe you shouldn’t. They don’t seem bothered by it. The bee that flew past was a honeybee, a definite May bee. I followed it with my eyes to the bird feeders festooned with feathered creatures. I heard two red-headed woodpeckers doing “churr” calls. Sometimes called a “flag bird,” the red-headed woodpecker was the “spark bird,” the bird that initiates a person’s interest in birds, of the legendary ornithologist Alexander Wilson in the 1700s. I watched the woodpecker pair chase one another through the yard. I used the five senses I have to enjoy their presence, plus a couple of other senses that I’d borrowed. I thought of Betty Smith’s quote, “Look at everything as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time. Then your time on earth will be filled with glory.”



“What kind of a plant is a ramp?” Ramps are wild leeks, pungent members of the lily family. They form dense stands in rich damp forest soils. If you find trillium, bloodroot or mayapple, it’s an area where you’d expect to find wild leeks. They grow rapidly for a short time in the spring. Leeks were once considered a tonic after months of cold winter weather without fresh vegetables. They are an excellent source of vitamin C. I visited West Virginia and folks told me that they were excited about feasting on the ramps. As a boy, I happily slapped a blade from a wild leek onto a hotdog. The odor lingered on my breath for days. That was OK, as it kept the girls away. As I grew older, I quit eating wild leeks because they kept the girls away. They might be a natural form of birth control. If a man eats enough wild leeks, no woman would come near him.

Joyce Street wrote, “What do you call a batch of grackles? I know it’s a ‘murder’ of crows, ‘bevy’ of quail and ‘flock’ of turkeys. Is there some special designation for grackles? A ‘strut’ would seem appropriate.” A flock is most common. The only other thing that I have heard a group of grackles being called is a “plague.”

Donna Swenson of Waseca asked when mallards start flying. A mallard hen lays one egg per day and produces between one and 14 eggs. She incubates the eggs for about 26 to 28 days. She leads her brood to a wetland within 24 hours of hatching and stays with them until they are able to fly at about 8 weeks of age.

Jeanie Siewert of Albert Lea asked at what point in the year could one safely live-trap raccoons without worrying that their young might be left orphans. The mating season is February to March and there is a 63-day gestation period. Once they reach four to six months of age, raccoons live on their own.


Nature lessons

I am thankful that the pilgrims opted for the turkey instead of the opossum. Otherwise, we’d be stuffing opossums every Thanksgiving. The opossum got its name from Capt. John Smith of the Jamestown colony in Virginia in the 1600s. The name is derived from aposoum, an Algonquian word meaning “white beast.”

In 1995, an Argentine biologist banded red knots in Tierra del Fuego. One was labeled B95. Each year, B95 makes a roundtrip of 18,000 miles from Hudson Bay in the Canadian Arctic to the tip of South America. Eighteen years later, he was still being spotted along his migration route. The average distance to the moon is 238,857 miles. This 4-ounce shorebird had flown at least 324,000 miles in his life. That equals a flight to the moon and a good start back.

The Waterford, Wis., Village Board voted to partially close a street to help frogs safely cross the road.


Pelican Breeze

It’s my pleasure to host a float on the boat on Albert Lea Lake on Friday, June 20; Friday, July 25, and Saturday, Aug. 23. To book a seat, please call the Albert Lea CVB at 507-373-2326 or 800-345-8414. I’d treasure your presence.


Thanks for stopping by

“Eagles may soar, but weasels don’t get sucked into jet engines.” — John Benfield

“Few things in the world are more powerful than a positive push. A smile. A world of optimism and hope. A ‘you can do it’ when things are tough.” — Richard M. DeVos


Do good.


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