Hundreds of thousands of flocking starlings make a black sun

Published 9:00 am Sunday, October 26, 2014

Nature’s World by Al Batt

My neighbor Crandall stops by.

“How are you doing?” I ask.

A multicolored Asian lady beetle casts a long shadow. – Al Batt/Albert Lea tribune

A multicolored Asian lady beetle casts a long shadow. – Al Batt/Albert Lea tribune

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“Everything is nearly copacetic. Opportunity knocked, but it was a guy selling vacuum cleaners. It was Still Bill’s cousin. He got all the ambition in that family. Still Bill’s hobby is dust collection. Newton may have discovered gravity, but no one enjoys it more than Still Bill. Pop sprained his wrist while frantically trying to change the TV channel during one of those personal injury lawyer commercials. As soon as he heals, Pop is writing his memoirs if you can ever find his glasses. He wants to write about when he kept wasps instead of bees. He could write about how he thinks he can park in a handicapped slot whenever he is getting a prescription filled. All us kids chipped in and bought him the latest in computers. That device can do everything. Pop can’t even turn the computer on. His grandson Chalkie is going to teach him how to use it. Chalkie is quite a basketball player. He’s a tall drink of water. I took a picture of him last Christmas and it’s still printing out. He’s a good athlete, but he’s not very well behaved. Chalkie was expelled from school and he was homeschooled.”


Nature by the yard

I looked up for a weather report.

When the sky seems very full of stars, expect frost.

I saw something that I will never get over. The moon.

I was up early, working in the darkness.

As the blackness faded, I noted birds of passage landing in the yard to recalculate. Many birds fly at night and feed during the day. Migration is both perilous and arduous. A slight breeze provoked unpruned shrubbery to claw at the walls of the house. The color of leaves brightened the new day. The color of the leaves dulled the new day. The various hues of leaves captivated me.

Finding joy in the ordinary is an extraordinary thing.

My mother told me there would be days like this.

For that I am thankful.


And I gripe about
cabbage worms

Bob Henderson of Haines, Alaska, lost his entire carrot crop to bears this year. A bear in downtown Haines ate the console of a parked car. It was the habit of the driver of the car to place food on the console while he was driving.

I visit Haines each year. Some years bald eagles along the Chilkat River are much more numerous than other years. Dave Olerud of Haines, originally from Boyd, said that the Tlingit people believe that Mother Nature never sends more eagles than there is chum salmon to feed them.


Customer comments

Kirsten Strnad of Faribault wrote, “I was recently in Denmark and experienced ‘sort sol’ — black sun. It is when starlings gather in huge numbers to flock and fly in amazing coordination. We were so fortunate to see about 500,000 starlings come into the reeds to roost. The sound they made was absolutely amazing! We were also fortunate because two hawks kept them flying low, so they were much more concentrated than usual. What an experience.”


The State of the Birds

As part of the 2014 State of the Birds Report, a team of scientists with the North American Bird Conservation Initiative identified 33 common bird species in steep decline. Long-term monitoring surveys show the birds on this list are rapidly declining throughout their range and have lost more than half their global population over the past 40 years. The common birds in steep decline include: northern pintail, American wigeon, cinnamon teal, greater scaup, long-tailed duck, scaled quail, northern bobwhite, purple gallinule, Franklin’s gull, herring gull, black tern, yellow-billed cuckoo, snowy owl, short-eared owl, common nighthawk, chimney swift, loggerhead shrike, horned lark, bank swallow, verdin, varied thrush, snow bunting, Cape May warbler, blackpoll warbler, Wilson’s warbler, field sparrow, lark bunting, grasshopper sparrow, eastern meadowlark, rusty blackbird Brewer’s blackbird, common grackle and pine siskin.



“Where do the Baltimore orioles go after they leave here?” They typically arrive in my yard around the beginning of May after traveling about 150 miles each night in flocks flying at about 20 mph. Peak fall migration is August and September, but some leave as early as July. Baltimore orioles spend October through February in Central America, Florida, the Caribbean and northern South America.

“How did Wisconsin become the Badger State?” The nickname originally referred to the lead miners of the 1830s who worked at the Galena lead mines in Illinois. The mines were in northwestern Illinois close to the Wisconsin and Iowa borders. The Wisconsin miners lived, not in houses, but in temporary caves cut into the hillsides. These caves were described as badger dens and the miners who lived in them as badgers. This nickname was brought back to Wisconsin by these miners. Eventually, the nickname was applied to all the people of Wisconsin and to the state itself. The badger was adopted as Wisconsin’s state animal in 1957.


Nature lessons

Researchers from the University of Michigan and Edge Hill University in England evaluated participants in England’s Walking for Health program. They found that nature walks led to significantly less depression and mitigated the negative effects of stress.

Remembering the passenger pigeon. In 1806, Alexander Wilson calculated that a flight he observed in Kentucky included 2.23 billion birds. In 1813, John James Audubon encountered a flight along the Ohio River that darkened the sky for three days. “The dung fell in spots not unlike melting flakes of snow,” he wrote. The passenger pigeon is now extinct.

A large giraffe can stand 20 feet tall with its neck accounting for roughly a third of that and its long legs the same.


Thanks for stopping by

“No one appreciates the very special genius of your conversation as a dog does.” — Christopher Morley

“Every man should keep a fair-sized cemetery in which to bury the faults of his friends.” — Henry Ward Beecher


Do good.


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