Christmas bird counters are eager to hit the paths

Published 6:10 am Sunday, December 23, 2012

Column: Nature’s World, by Al Batt

My neighbor Crandall stops by.

“How are you doing?” I ask.

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“Everything is nearly copacetic.”

“I wish you a felicitous Christmas,” I add.

“Sometimes I wish I’d have gone on further in school. I don’t know whether to be angry or flattered.”

“It’s all good,” I assure.

“All right, then. I asked my bother-in-law, emphasis on the bother, how he keeps his fish tank so nice and clean. He told me that his secret is that he uses Jell-O instead of water. Christmas hits hard for a guy like me whose entire savings account is down behind the cushions of my sofa. It’s just a matter of time before I have to face the fact that all seven of my winter jackets have dysfunctional zippers. I subscribe to the financial strategy that if there is any money left at the end of the month, it’s just poor management. I can’t wait for Christmas. I should be good at waiting. I used to have to wait by the phone for calls. The phone wouldn’t go anywhere. Now, thanks to a cellphone, I can wait by the phone wherever I’m at. I wrapped up some of Pop and Ma’s favorite things. I’m giving those things back to them for Christmas. At least that way, I know they’ll be getting something they will like. Merry Christmas.”


A fine feeder

It was a snazzy, hanging tube feeder that dispensed sunflower seeds fairly. A raccoon, unaware of the fact that the feeder was supposed to be indestructible, broke it. The feeder had a lifetime warranty, but I thought that might have been for the lifetime of the feeder. I took the damaged device to a fine, local dispensary of birdie things and the feeder was made whole at no cost. It makes sense to buy quality things.


Bird do-it-yourselfers

Many people claim that, with rare exceptions, birds don’t use tools. If that’s true, why did I see a house sparrow in the tool department of Home Depot?


I wish I could ask Mom

Canada geese flew over in a messy V-formation. The big birds were either tired or illiterate. One of the geese was strikingly small. It might have been a cackling goose. I thought of Dr. Seuss and one of his books, One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, that contains the lines, “We see them come. We see them go. Some are fast. And some are slow. Some are high. And some are low. Not one of them is like another. Don’t ask us why. Go ask your mother.”

I like ants. I studied them from my get-go, back when I thought antlers were young ants. My mother told people that I wouldn’t become an entomologist. She said that I would become an antomologist.



The great horned had owl-waiting, hooting as if there were still a few flowers left in the bunch. Listen for great horned owls to start their duet hooting in December or January. Along about January, chickadees begin whistling, “Spring’s here.” They might be overly-optimistic, but spring is somewhere.


Pelican populations

More than 22,000 pelicans nest at 15 sites in Minnesota. Marsh Lake, located in Big Stone County, is home to the largest American white pelican colony in North America. There are about 34,000 adults pelicans there that raise 17,000 chicks each year. Al Grewe banded 33,009 pelicans at Marsh Lake (1972-2000) and Jeff DiMatteo has banded another 21,243 (2001-2012). Eggs and discarded bill knob tissue samples showed significant contaminants from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. A tracking device on one pelican revealed that it took 112 days to complete its southward migration. It traveled 1,587 miles with only 14 days of over 10 miles of movement. Its average flight speed was about 20 mph.


A look from away

Edgar Mitchell, an astronaut and the sixth man to walk on the moon, told me that when he saw Earth from space, he thought it silly to divide it up among nations.


Q and A

Jim Tjepkema of Clarks Grove watched a flock of Canada geese fly overhead, split, and then form back into a V-formation. He wondered why they behaved so. Some of the geese may have been flying first class. There was likely a disagreement or a misunderstanding as to the direction that the flock was moving. There are politics in everything.

“What do you recommend for a bird field guide on my cellphone?” There are a number of choices: Audubon, iBird, National Geographic, Peterson and Sibley. Some are better than others in certain areas. Some are more expensive. Some take up a great deal of space. They are all good. Take a peek at your app store and find the one that looks the best to you. I have iBird on my phone. It works fine, but I have it because it was the first viable product for my particular cellphone. I’ve poked around on a friend’s National Geographic app and it looked wonderful.

Harlan Lutteke of Alden asks, “Do opossums carry rabies?” Opossums are highly resistant to rabies. It’s extremely rare to encounter a rabid opossum.


Barrow, Alaska

Barrow, Alaska, has 28 miles of unpaved roads — none of which connect to another community. Travel is by air, boat, or snowmachine. On Nov. 17, the city goes into 67 days of total darkness. Will Rogers and Wiley Post were killed in plane crash near Barrow. A Christmas Bird Count is done in a count circle with a diameter of 15 miles. Counts are held on a day from Dec. 14 to Jan. 5. Barrow is the northernmost point for a CBC. I was unable to find the results, but I’m told that they get only one bird on their CBC each year — the raven.


Christmas Bird Count

Counters needed on Dec. 29. Call 845-2836 or email for more information. Maybe you’ll see a white-winged crossbill.


Thanks for stopping by

“Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.” — Norman Vincent Peale

“The earth has grown old with its burden of care, but at Christmas it always is young. The heart of the jewel burns lustrous and fair. And its soul full of music breaks the air, when the song of angels is sung.” — Phillips Brooks

Merry Christmas.




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