Natures happenings

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 15, 2008

Column by Al Batt, Nature’s World

My neighbor Crandall stops by.

&8220;How are you doing?&8221; I ask.

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&8220;Oh, I&8217;m taking Angry Jack to town. His car is in the shop and no one else will take him. He can be a hailstorm on a hayride.&8221;

&8220;I wonder if Angry Jack has always been so enraged?&8221; I say.

&8220;I think it&8217;s a lifelong thing. His brother said that when Angry Jack was a baby, his mother propped him up in a corner and fed him with a slingshot.&8221;

&8220;True, spending time with Angry Jack is like pouring water gravy on real mashed potatoes. Those eight years of clown college didn&8217;t help him much. He had it good growing up. His father was state Senator,&8221; I add.

&8220;Yeah, and he served two terms&8212;one in the Senate and one in prison. Oh, I bought a new refrigerator. Global warming did in my old fridge. They were supposed to deliver it today, but I got a call from the appliance store and he complained that I had a previous bill that had not been paid.&8221;

&8220;That&8217;s hard to believe,&8221; I say.

&8220;He went on. Those kind of guys always do. He told me that they couldn&8217;t deliver my new refrigerator until I paid for my old refrigerator.&8221;

&8220;Wow! What did you say?&8221; I ask.

&8220;I told him to cancel the order. I can&8217;t wait that long for a new refrigerator.&8221;

One day she will be a doctor

My wife and I were along the Platte River near Kearney, Neb.

We were watching sandhill cranes. Watching the sandhill cranes coming into the Platte River at night and leaving their watery roost in the morning is perhaps the greatest wildlife spectacle in North America.

The famed naturalist, John Burroughs, was often accused of using the word, &8220;glorious,&8221; too often. I understand why he did as I watched the cranes soar overhead. The crane is famed in parts of the world for being a symbol of longevity. Countless paper cranes are folded each year in the art form origami.

We hadn&8217;t seen many of the large birds before we received a phone call from my son. He told us that our month-old granddaughter, Everly, had been airlifted from New Ulm to Gillette Children&8217;s Hospital in St. Paul. Everly had pneumonia and some other respiratory problems. One small lung had become completely congested.

My wife and I cried. We sobbed out of pain and out of fear.

I looked to the sky through reddened and teary eyes. I saw a number of cranes on our journey home.

Each of them carried my prayers on its wings.

What is going on in nature

Raccoons and skunks begin their mating season in February and March. Gray squirrels will have their first litters in March. Red squirrels mate in March and give birth in April. Muskrats are emerging. Male woodchucks end their hibernation.

Chickadees, blue jays, house finches, barred owls and cardinals are singing. Woodpeckers are drumming. Mourning doves begin cooing.

Robins, grackles, red-winged blackbirds, killdeer, sandhill cranes and eastern bluebirds return. The male red-winged blackbirds arrive before the female and claim territories in frosty marshes. They make an &8220;oke-a-lee,&8221; &8220;konk-a-ree,&8221; or &8220;look-at-me&8221; call. The females arrive a few weeks later. Look for pintails, common mergansers, common goldeneyes and wood ducks.

The bills of starlings begin to turn yellow. Goldfinches turn yellow.

Willows begin to have a golden look. Red oak leaves that hung on all winter fall from the branches. Cottonwood trees have a hazy yellow look from a distance as their buds swell. Silver maple buds are swelling and are a deep red color. The maple sap harvest begins. The deep red buds of the silver maple buds grow larger. Maple syrup runs the best when sunny, warm days follow freezing nights.

It takes 30 to 40 gallons of sap boiled down to make a gallon of syrup. Red osier dogwoods are bright red.

Great horned owls are on nests. Hatchlings are loudly demanding food from both parents. Parents feed them rodents and rabbits.

Canada geese begin to leapfrog their way north on thawed water. Pairs of Canada geese are seen standing on ice and the geese can be heard honking in flight. Horned Larks head north.

More Bald Eagles can be seen along open water. Eagles begin adding to their stick nests in February or March.

They do reuse nests, but keep adding sticks to them. The nests are typically 4 feet wide and 3 feet or more deep. A nest in Florida was 10 feet wide, 18 feet deep and weighed nearly 3 tons.

Wild turkey toms begin to gobble and display fanned tails in the hopes of attracting mates.

You may see mourning cloak butterflies on wing on warm, sunny days. They over-winter in the adult phase.

White-tailed deer begin to shed winter coats.

Snow fleas (primitive insects called springtails) hop on the surface of the snow on sunny days when daytime temperatures rise above 27 degrees. They resemble bits of pepper on the snow.

Red-tailed hawks refurbish their stick nests. These hawks are commonly seen along highways because they prey upon small rodents found there.

Melting snow exposes the tunnels under the snow of meadow voles.

Q and A

&8220;What do bluebirds eat?&8221; Insects and the fruit of mountain ash, staghorn sumac, pyracantha, bittersweet, red chokeberry, poison ivy, hawthorn and multiflora rose.

&8220;What is the &8216;bee martin&8217;?&8221; It is another name for the kingbird that will eat bees. I have heard others refer to the Purple Martin as a &8220;bee martin&8221;

&8220;Do chipmunks hibernate?&8221; I think so, but not everyone does. Chipmunks have long been said to be &8220;not true hibernators.&8221; It is now known that during winter torpor their respiration rate drops from 60 breaths per minute to 20, and their temperature drops from about 100 degrees Fahrenheit to 42 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit. This is slow enough and low enough to put them in that selective group of true hibernators. Unlike other hibernators, eastern chipmunks do not retire bulging with fat. They must awaken occasionally to eat.

Thanks for stopping by

&8220;Plenty of people miss their share of happiness, not because they never found it, but because they didn&8217;t stop to enjoy it.&8221; &8212; William Feather

&8220;Four short words sum up what has lifted most successful individuals above the crowd: a little bit more. They did all that was expected of them and a little bit more.&8221; &8212; Lou Vickery


Al Batt of Hartland is a member of the Albert Lea Audubon Society. E-mail him at