Downy woodpecker has short bill in comparison to head. 
Downy woodpecker has short bill in comparison to head. AL BATT/BLUFF COUNTRY READER

The snow squeaked underfoot. That happens when the temperatures fall below 14 degrees, give or take a smidgen.

Sundogs, also called mock suns, phantom suns or solar parhelia graced the sky. Parhelia is a Greek word meaning "beside the sun." Sundogs form as sunlight is bent (refracted) by ice crystals suspended in the atmosphere. In medieval times, the three bright lights were interpreted as a sign of the trinity and as a sign of great fortune. They were signs that I was lucky to see. When I was a boy, a neighbor, upon seeing sundogs, declared, “Tonight will be clear as a bell and cold as hell.”

I watched a Cooper’s hawk chase a starling across the road.

Roadside birds were apparent on a blustery winter day. Small flying things fascinate me. These were beguiling birds come to roadsides to feed on days with cold winds that stung my flesh. Tiny birds appeared in the forms of dark-eyed juncos and American tree sparrows. Lapland longspurs that insisted in moving across the road in front of cars as if they were feathered squirrels. Horned larks moved from the road into the fields when a car neared. Snow buntings moved away from the road, but often seemed intent on racing vehicles. Snow buntings nest farther north than any other land bird and will bury themselves in the snow for warmth. 

I may be accused of being dangerously quixotic, but it happens when I take the time to notice nature. That’s not a sacrifice on my part. Wherever I looked, there was something beautiful looking back at me.

Guy from just down the road

My neighbor Crandall stops by.

“How are you doing?” I ask.

“Everything is nearly copacetic. I didn’t listen to the weather report today because I like surprises. I’m leaving my truck’s left turn signal on in protest of the people using cellphones while driving. My sister, Cruella, is moving and asked if I’d help her move. She wanted me to move her waterbed filled because she didn’t know if the water in her new home would be as soft. I told her that bed weighed 1,200 pounds.”

“What did she say to that?” I say.

“She said she’d help me carry it."

Echoes from Loafers’ Club

I just found out I’m color blind.

Did you suspect it?

No, the eye doctor’s diagnosis came completely out of the green.

Have a good day

I’ve had some surgeries recently.

I read part of a book each night before falling asleep. I try to read a pleasant passage before Morpheus overcomes me in the hopes it will lead to pleasant dreams.

The other night, that approach didn’t work. I dreamed about having surgery. In the dream, I met the surgeon just before the operation.

“I suppose you’ve done this operation many times?” I asked.

“No,” he said, “but I’ve always wanted to try it.”

It was a nightmare that brought a smile to my dream world.

The next day, I told Chuck Stephens of Albert Lea to have a good day. It’s a traditional wish and I was sincere.

“I might as well,” said Chuck. “It doesn’t cost any more than the other kind.”

Wise words, both from an attitudinal and a financial perspective. 

A friend complained about the weather. That is a perfectly good use of time. Complaining about the weather keeps us from complaining about other things. And it doesn’t hurt the weather’s feelings one bit.

I wish you a good day filled with compliments and lacking complaints.

A winning streak comes to an end

I’ve spent a lot of time in hotels for work. I get only one key from the hotel clerk, unless my wife is with me. I’d never lost a key (real or plastic) or needed to ask for a second key until one day.

On that day, I’d checked in and placed my bag inside the door of my room. For some moronic reason, I’d placed my room key on top of the bag. I’d just done that when a friend greeted me from the hallway. I turned to shake his hand. It was good to see him and we both got to watch my hotel door close and lock, with my key safely inside the room.

I was back at the hotel’s front desk within five minutes after checking in, to ask for another key.

Why is that red barn red?

I photographed an old red barn that would soon fall into a heap. Why are old barns usually red in color?

Many years ago, farmers sealed barns with a recipe of linseed oil, (derived from flax seeds), milk, lime or ferrous oxide (rust). Rust killed fungi and mosses, and was an effective sealant. The mixture was red in color. Future barns were painted red to honor tradition. Scandinavian farmers painted their properties in rusty hues so they appeared to be made of brick, a sign of wealth. Those were the stories I’d heard while growing up. I asked my father why barns were red. He told me it was because red paint was cheap. If you painted the barn another color, people might think you had too much money.

Nature notes

"What is a good way to identify birds?"

Size can be difficult to determine in the field, especially in poor light or at a distance. Size comparisons are easiest when an unidentified bird is seen near a familiar species. Otherwise, use the sizes of well-known birds, such as the house sparrow, American robin and American crow as references to determine size. Pay attention to body and tail shapes, the proportions of head, legs and wings, and the length and shape of the bill. Notice field marks — patterns and colors. Consider the habitat where the bird was seen. Take notes. Take a photo. Draw the bird. Record the bird’s song if possible. Do these things promptly as the memory of a human is fleeting. Then search for the bird in your favorite field guide. Pay particular attention to range maps.

Great Backyard Bird Count

The top 10 most frequently reported species (GBBC checklists reporting this species) in descending order are: Northern cardinal, American crow, mourning dove, dark-eyed junco, downy woodpecker, blue jay, black-capped chickadee, house finch, house sparrow and white-breasted nuthatch. The top 10 most numerous species (total individuals observed on GBBC checklists): Snow goose, red-winged blackbird, Canada goose, European starling, mallard, ring-billed gull, American coot, greater white-fronted goose, common grackle and American crow.

The GBBC is Feb. 16-19. Count birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the GBBC. For more information, go to

Thanks for stopping by

“Plenty of people miss their share of happiness, not because they never found it, but because they didn't stop to enjoy it.” — William Feather

“Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.” — Henry David Thoreau

Meeting adjourned

“Be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, tolerant of the weak, because someday in your life you will be all of these.” — George Washington Carver


© Al Batt 2018