Male house sparrows with larger amounts of black dominate others

Published 6:42 am Monday, November 23, 2015

A Eurasian eagle-owl at the American Bald Eagle Foundation in Haines, Alaska. - Al Batt/Albert Lea Tribune

A Eurasian eagle-owl at the American Bald Eagle Foundation in Haines, Alaska. – Al Batt/Albert Lea Tribune

My neighbor Crandall stops by.

“How are you doing?” I ask.

“Everything is nearly copacetic. I have a flat, black, shiny disk with a hole in the middle. Is that a record? I’d thought about getting a tattoo, but I decided against it. Why put a bumper sticker on a Rolls Royce? I’m having Grape Nuts every morning.”

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“I didn’t figure you to be a Grape Nuts kind of a guy,” I say.

“I can eat them as long as I cover them with bacon. Bacon is a health food. It has to be because it would kill me to give it up. I have just enough money to worry about it for the rest of my life. That must be why Pop likes living in the past. It was cheaper then. I’ve always wanted to see my name in the lights. To do so, I’ll have to change it to Exit. My many times great grandfather should have been famous. He invented the chicken.”

“Right,” I can’t help saying.

“He did. I can prove it. He knew which came first, the chicken or the egg.”

“Which one did?” I ask.

“The egg came first. The chicken is just the egg’s way of getting more eggs.”



It was a simple bridge that I’d crossed. Minnesota to Alaska in 179 easy steps.

I made the journey to see such things as a ladle of American dippers dive into fast-flowing streams and walk along the bottoms. The dipper is the color of the gray stones it walks upon. The songbird’s underwater skills are the result of its unique anatomy. The stocky bird’s powerful wings allow it to swim against the current, while its strong toes help it hunt aquatic insects and fish eggs hidden beneath stones and wood. Waterproof feathers insulate the dipper from chilly waters and the bird’s blood carries extra oxygen, which helps it stay submerged during underwater forays.

I watched a bald eagle carry prey to a perch in a tall tree. It was a way that a salmon could fly like an eagle. A bald eagle’s eyesight is so good, it can see what you did yesterday.

Time slowed. John Muir, the famous naturalist, author, and philosopher, had been there. He marveled at what he saw, just as I did.

Kim Heacox wrote this in his book, “John Muir and the Ice that Started a Fire,” “Where others found gold, John Muir found glaciers; where they saw timber, he saw trees. Where they sought profit, he sought a prophet, an expression of God’s greatest creation, nature, the wisest of all teachers, not to be chopped up and sold, but left as it was, held in deep regard. Never mind utility. Wild nature had value in and of itself, what he called ‘mountain nourishment.’”


Raven mad

A friend named Dan Egolf runs a business in Haines, Alaska. There were some ravens near his business. Ravens are always up to something. They were in a place where Dan thought they shouldn’t have been. Dan chucked a rock in their general direction. It wasn’t intended to harm any of the birds. It was meant to scare them away. After he’d thrown the rock, the ravens began hollering at him whenever they saw him. One morning not long after the rock-throwing incident, Dan came out of his house to get into his car and discovered that ravens had pooped all over the windshield. Dan learned that ravens do hold a grudge. They will even follow you home to get even.


House sparrows 

House sparrow males with larger amounts of black on the throat tend to dominate males with less black. Males display to prospective mates by fluffing up, holding wings open, fanning tails, and hopping stiffly in front of females. They turn sideways and bow. In flocks, males dominate females in fall and winter, but females assert themselves in spring and summer.


Goldfinches, geese and seabirds

Frank Chapman wrote this about the goldfinch, “Their flight is expressive of their joyous nature, and as they bound through the air they hum a gay ‘per-chic-o-ree.’ Their love song is delivered with an ecstasy and abandon which carries them off their feet, and they circle over the fields sowing the air with music.”

In ancient history, the sacred geese of Juno’s temple are credited with cackling and waking the dozing guards in time to save Rome from a nighttime attack by the Gauls.

According to a study published in the journal PNAS, 90 percent of the world’s seabirds had ingested plastic. Researchers evaluated 186 seabird species across the globe. The areas where plastic pollution was the worst included the  southern parts of the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic Oceans.


Thanks for stopping by

“Basic research is what I’m doing when I don’t know what I’m doing.” — Wernher Von Braun

“Every time there’s a snowstorm or drought, we know our fate is tied to the world around us.” — Alice Hoffman

“While people may not be a great deal wiser after my sermon, they are always a great deal older.” — W. R. Inge


Do good.


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