Seeing 10 cardinals can make the day a good one

Published 8:54 am Sunday, November 10, 2013

My neighbor Crandall stopped by.

“How are you doing?” I ask.

“Everything is nearly copacetic. Have you met the new neighbor? His name is Buff Orpington. He’s quite the outdoorsman. He once had a close shave with a razorback hog. He’s big enough to go bear hunting with a buggy whip.”

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“I haven’t met him yet,” I say.

“You have to meet him.”

“I’ll meet him some other time. I’m swamped right now.” I reply.

“I think you should meet him now.”

“What’s the rush?” I ask.

“I was mowing. The mower rolled down the drive and hit his car.”

“What has that got to do with me meeting him?” I say.

“I’d borrowed your mower. My uncle Odd had a hip replaced. He has to spend a couple of weeks in a nursing home for rehabilitation. I stopped to visit him. He was napping, so I sat down, read a couple of newspapers and munched on some peanuts from a bowl on a table. I’d just started reading one of his farm magazines when Odd woke up. I figured he was going to scold me for eating all the peanuts. I thought I’d beat him to the punch and apologize. ‘I’m sorry, Odd, but I’ve eaten all your peanuts.’ ‘That’s OK,’ he said. “After I’ve sucked the chocolate off, I don’t care much for them.’”


Consoled by cardinals

Randy Cepuch of Reston, Va., told me that some years ago, he was going through a rough patch and reached the somewhat rational conclusion that if he took a bike ride and saw at least 10 cardinals while pedaling, it would be a good day. He said that most rides fulfilled the quota, but it did seem to be putting pressure on the red birds to put in an appearance. Somewhere along the way, a woman he was dating noted that if Randy had a picture of 10 cardinals on his wall, every day would be a good day. So Randy commissioned Sarah Rogers to do a watercolor (titled “Ten Cardinals,” aka “A Good Day”) of 10 cardinals including a kamikaze bird who flew at Randy on the bike path. Randy added that the painting has pretty much worked as hoped in making every day a good day, but he still prefers to see the live birds.


Taking the time to stop and smell a noisome flower

I worked at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter and visited the greenhouse at the Nobel Hall of Science to see the Amorphophallus titanum. It’s a corpse flower named Perry. This plant, a native of Sumatra, reaches heights of 8 to 10 feet and last bloomed in 2010. It’s known for its distinctive odor of rotting meat.



“Are owls often hit by cars?” It’s not uncommon to see dead owls on roads. Owls are particularly vulnerable to encounters with motor vehicles. Roads offer prey in an unobstructed area. A perfect place for an ambush and sometimes a collision.

“How do I read woolly bear caterpillars?” Folklore says that the darker the caterpillar, the harsher the winter will be. One year, there were so many woolly worms on the road that I couldn’t help but hit some. I learned that when driving over caterpillars, turn into the skid.

Jan Kalbow of Hartland asked, “Why do some leaves stay on trees longer than others?” Day length and cool temperatures trigger deciduous trees to drop leaves in the fall. An abscission layer exists at the point where the leaf petiole joins the tree. These abscission cells put the “fall” in fall. The timing of leaf drop varies with species, location, weather and condition. Deciduous trees that hold onto their leaves through the winter are described as marcescent. Oak species, including pin, red and white oak, are more likely to show marcescense than are other species. American hornbeam and ironwood also tend to hold leaves. Dry leaves stay on marcescent trees because the leaves didn’t develop the normal abscission layer in autumn. Marcescence is often a juvenile trait and may not affect the entire tree. Two factors leading to late leaf fall this year were a late spring and delayed leafing, combined with a warm and sunny September.


Nature lessons

Northern pintails are long, slender ducks with long, narrow wings, earning them the nickname “greyhounds of the air.”

Bats beat their wings up to 20 times per second while the bumblebee approaches 200 wingbeats per second.

The arctic tern has a pole-to-pole round-trip migration of 44,000 miles. Arctic terns can live 30 years and rack up 1.5 million miles in a lifetime.

A folk name for the pokeberry plant is “inkberry.” In 1776, the framers of the American Declaration of Independence used a pokeberry juice to draft the document. After it ages, pokeberry ink turns a lovely shade of brown.

A hawk’s vision is approximately three times ours.

A study of acorn crops found that the populations of white-footed and deer mice increase the year after a bumper crop. The mice attract predators, so raptor numbers increase. Rodents and raptors cause dark-eyed junco nest (on ground) failure due to predation on eggs, nestlings and birds. There are more tick increases as white-footed mice and deer populations grow. Acorns attract deer.

The turkey got its name because it was confused with guinea fowl, which were imported to Europe from Africa by way of Turkey. The guinea fowl were often called turkey-fowl.


Christmas Bird Count

Counters needed on Dec. 14. Call 845-2836 or email for more information.


An owly trip

Please join me for a gathering of readers of Bird Watcher’s Digest in the Hibbing on Feb. 21-23. We’ll head out to Sax-Zim Bog and other area hotspots looking for northern species such as great gray owl, boreal owl, pine grosbeak and spruce grouse. For more information, go to


Thanks for stopping by

“Laughter is the tonic, the relief, the surcease for pain.” — Charlie Chaplin

“Wildlife is not only worth our efforts to restore it, but that its restoration is absolutely and vitally essential to the welfare of our citizens.” — Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling




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