Chorus of birds leaps into full-blown recital

Published 9:45 am Saturday, May 19, 2012

Column: Nature’s World

My neighbor Crandall stops by.

“How are you doing?” I ask.

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“Everything is nearly copacetic. I didn’t get out of bed in time to do my morning exercise. That makes 19 years in a row that I’ve awakened too late. I get my exercise from pushing cars that haven’t run for years out of the way so I can mow the lawn. You’ve probably heard that I have strange people staying in my house. Of course, those are just roomers. I try to put myself in their shoes, but now my feet are killing me. I’ve been wearing my black and white shoes. They’re spiffy, but the white one keeps getting dirty. I finally figured out why I have never moved to Washington, D.C. This country never sends its smartest men to Washington. I’m so smart that I go to quilting bees and spell words. I’ll tell you how smart I am. Ma wanted me to hang a photo for her, so I grabbed one of her incredibly long knitting needles and drove it all the way through the wall. Now she can hang a picture on either side. I couldn’t wait for the weekend to get here.”

“Rough week?” I say.

“Not really. I told you that I couldn’t wait for the weekend. I quit working at noon on Tuesday.”


The morning aubade

I was lying in bed, waiting for the alarm of the clock radio to sound. The morning chorus of birds began singing early. It bypassed the typical gentle swell of birdsong and leaped into a full-blown recital. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes as a wood thrush was exuberant in its flute-like “Frito Lay!” Baltimore orioles, brown thrashers, American robins, Nashville warblers and blue jays gave voice to the day. A measure to the morning. A red-headed woodpecker added a croak to the choir. A catbird mewed in appreciation of a fine morn. Their vocalizations were welcome. It’s the blending of voices that makes the music.


Roadkill buffet

Dead opossums acted as speed bumps on a rural road. Vultures were on the side of the road paying their last respects to a coot. I suspected that the coot had collided with a utility wire.

I sang to the vultures as I drove by, “One of these days, these coots are going to walk all over you.”

To a turkey vulture, our roads are long buffet tables. Vultures are part of nature’s sanitation crew. The coyote is another that feeds heavily on roadkill. However, a study showed that in some urban areas, 40 percent of a coyote’s diet consists of cats. Any cat outdoors is subject to many threats — a coyote is but one of them. A coyote averages 30 pounds, but each time I see one, I reckon it larger.


It’s a lark

Shakespeare wrote, “Like to the lark at break of day arising from sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate.” Larks are grassland birds. Lacking the use of trees, the lark sings melodiously on wing. We have but one species of the classical lark here — the horned lark. The eastern and western meadowlarks are members of the blackbird family. I see meadowlarks singing while perched upon posts, their breasts highlighted by the sun and resembling cardigan sweaters.



I planted serviceberry in my yard. I like the edible berries. Wildlife loves them. It’s called serviceberry because early settlers used the tree’s spring flowers for burial services when the ground thawed enough to allow them to bury loved ones who had died during the winter. It’s also called juneberry.


Hassling with a hummingbird

Warblers flickered like candles in the trees. They animated the leaves. Warblers present all the colors of a watercolor artist’s palette. As I was working at getting a stiff neck from looking up at warblers, I saw an odd thing. A hummingbird was chasing a blue-gray gnatcatcher. The two zoomed this way and that way. The gnatcatcher landed on a tree branch near me. I’ve seen hummingbirds fuss with many other species of birds, but this hummingbird appeared to be really steamed. The gnatcatcher perched on the branch as the hummingbird buzzed around it. I watched as the two flew away, with the hummingbird in pursuit, and wondered what had caused the conflict. Perhaps a battle over nesting materials.


Nature lessons

Colombia has more bird species than any other country.

Some migrating purple martins travel 350 miles per day. Martin populations were down 78 percent from 1966 to 2006 according to the Breeding Bird Atlas.

Dr. Roger Strand told of a barred owl catching a baby wood duck in the air when the duckling jumped from its nest. Ninety eight percent of what wood ducks eat in their first two weeks of life is aquatic invertebrates.

Steve Gilbertson of Aitkin put up a chickadee nest box. A robin built a nest on top of it.

The Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota takes in 700-800 birds a year. About 40 percent are released back into the wild.

Books, TV shows and movies depict tumbleweeds as nearly symbolic of the Old West as cowboys. This icon is an invasive weed called the Russian thistle. Contaminated flax seed, brought by Russian immigrants to South Dakota in 1873, is thought to be the source of the tumbling tumbleweed invasion. After its introduction, it became one of the most common weeds in the drier regions. It spread by contaminated seed, threshing crews, railroad cars, and wind. Ironically, Russian-thistle hay saved beef cattle during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, when no other feed was available for starving animals.

Bats are the main pollinators of century plants (agaves) and tequila is obtained through the distillation of juices from agaves.

In 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil spill killed approximately 250,000 birds in Alaska.


Thanks for stopping by

“I love people who make me laugh. I honestly think it’s the thing I like most, to laugh. It cures a multitude of ills. It’s probably the most important thing in a person.” — Audrey Hepburn

“A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks that others throw at him.” — Sidney Greenberg




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