Each day brings more wonder than understanding

Published 6:44 am Sunday, September 8, 2013

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’m thinking of giving up drinking pop. I want to reduce my carbonated footprint. Did you see that I have some lawn and garden equipment for sale?”

“What you have for sale is a bunch of old lawn chairs,” I say.

“Boy, if brains were a beef commercial, you wouldn’t be able to get them on the menu. Lawn chairs are lawn and garden equipment. I sit on them while I think about the lawn and garden work I should be doing. But I’m no Still Bill. If laziness were dirt, Still Bill would be 160 acres. His idea of gardening is sitting in the shade. He never buys anything that has a handle for fear that it might lead to work. He claims he can’t do much because he has a bone in his foot. I thought I’d sell the chairs and use the money to fix my car. The starter is shot and so are the stoppers. I buy a new car piece by piece, instead of all at once. I should trade it in for a horse. My family has always been good with horses. My great-grandfather was a tree surgeon and a part-time horse thief. A posse nearly hanged him from one of his patients.”



Each day brings more wonder than understanding.

Jiminy! The crickets were loud. The snowy tree cricket is a chirping thermometer, making sleigh bell-like sounds on late summer evenings. They’re delicate appearing pale-green insects, usually found on bushes and trees. To convert cricket chirps to degrees Fahrenheit, count the number of chirps in 13 seconds and add 40.

A bald blue jay perched nearby. Baldness gave the bird an odd look. Some claim it’s the work of mites, but I see it only on cardinals and blue jays. If it were mites, I’d think it’d show up in other species unless there are mites specializing in those two. It’s likely a molt and the jay replaces the missing feathers without a hitch.

I picked up a fallen cicada. It was nearly a goner, but still buzzed a bit in my hand, like a joy buzzer that makes handshakes funny for kids who don’t often shake hands. I recalled a joy buzzer available from the Johnson Smith catalog, a purveyor of whoopee cushions, fake vomit, rubber dog doo, sneezing powder and flies encased in plastic ice cubes.

I saw a flying insect that had visited a dangerous website. As I watched a spider subdue its prey, I considered it a cautionary tale for all computer users.

I watched a monarch butterfly caterpillar feed on a milkweed leaf. I haven’t seen many this year. I considered it a trophy caterpillar and wished it well.



Connie Hoyne of Albert Lea asked the identity of caterpillars on dill. Caterpillars of the black swallowtail butterfly, the state butterfly of Oklahoma, feed on parsley, carrots, dill, fennel, celery and Queen Anne’s lace. The female lays a single yellow egg on a leaf or flower of a host plant. It hatches in four to nine days. It overwinters as a chrysalis. Sometimes when disturbed, a caterpillar displays a forked appendage on the top of its head known as an osmeterium that emits a foul smell used to discourage enemies. It’s harmless to people. The caterpillars find high, sheltered places for their pupate.

Nancy Skophammer of Albert Lea asked why her oak trees have so many acorns this year. Mast years occur when trees produce an abundance of acorns. Mast years happen irregularly. Acorn production is cyclical and somewhat random. Some years oak trees produce heaps of acorns. Other years, they produce almost none. Weather cycles can help grow a drop. Contrary to folklore, the presence of many acorns doesn’t forecast a colder than normal winter. A tree often produces plentiful nuts when stressed by drought, disease, etc., but a large crop doesn’t guarantee a tree is troubled. Following a particularly large acorn crop, oaks could have years with little or no acorn production. One factor that can interfere with acorn production is frost. This cyclical aspect is likely inherent within each species and is evidently a survival strategy. It’s speculated that years of little or no acorn production reduce populations of seed predators (such as squirrels and deer). With fewer predators in the years of large mast production, great numbers of acorns survive and germinate.

Bob Krenik of Madison Lake asked what happened to prairie chickens and if pheasants played a role in driving them away. In presettlement times, the greater prairie-chicken likely occurred in only extreme southern Minnesota. Pioneers said that they were once “as common as blackbirds” in southern Minnesota prairies. The species followed the northward spread of agriculture and logging and by 1880 was found statewide with several exceptions. The subsequent conversion of prairies to row crops and forest succession reduced its range. They’re still in Minnesota, primarily in the grasslands in the northwest. Lack of appropriate habitat is the greatest threat to greater prairie-chicken populations. Large, nearly treeless landscapes are needed. Ring-necked pheasants are nest parasites of the greater prairie-chicken, and they disrupt booming grounds and feeding areas. A pheasant hen lays eggs in another pheasant or prairie chicken nest. Nest parasitism is a strategy that increases the likelihood that some of the chicks survive. The DNR began relocating greater prairie-chickens into west-central Minnesota in 1999, centering around the Lac qui Parle Wildlife Management Area and Big Stone County.


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Thanks for stopping by

“Did you ever chance to hear the midnight flight of birds passing through the air and darkness overhead, in countless armies, changing their early or late summer habitat? It is something not to be forgotten.” — Walt Whitman

“Success consists of a series of little daily victories.” — Laddie F. Hutar




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