A starling’s bill begins to turn yellow as spring nears. 
A starling’s bill begins to turn yellow as spring nears. AL BATT/BLUFF COUNTRY READER

Tax-deductible donations to the Nongame Wildlife Program are matched by state conservation license plate funds.

The Nongame Wildlife Program receives no money from the state’s general fund for its efforts to support a wide range of animals that aren’t hunted — from eagles to loons to turtles to butterflies.

It receives no funding from hunting and fishing license fees, lottery proceeds or sales taxes. It relies almost entirely on voluntary donations to support its work. That work includes research to understand how creatures fit within functioning ecosystems, managing habitat, providing nature education and assisting with recovery efforts for rare species.

Over the program’s 41-year history, it has played an important role in the recovery of bald eagles, trumpeter swans, eastern bluebirds, peregrine falcons and other species.

The guy from just down the road

My neighbor Crandall stops by.

“How are you doing?” I ask.

“Everything is nearly copacetic. I’m having one of those days where it was hard to get going. I started off slowly and then tapered off. I did manage to exceed the feed limit at breakfast. Ma fed me as if she were fattening me for market. Pop tries to see some good in everyone, but his eyesight isn’t what it used to be. Pop had the cataracts removed from both his eyes. He’ll have double vision until they heal, but it will be 20-20, 20-20. He told me I should have invested more in taxes years ago. If I’d done that, I’d be rich today like my brother Croesus who lives in the Twin Cities. I figure anybody can be a success in a big city. It’s harder to make good in a small town where everyone is watching.”


Red-tailed hawks adorned trees, fence posts and traffic signs. This beautiful raptor weighs around three pounds. Skittish small birds feeding along roadsides flew at the approach of my car. I soaked it all in as if I were a thirsty squeegee.

I kept my eyes on the road, but recalled past encounters with nature.

I paddled the Missouri River in Montana. I yelled. My voice ricocheted back at me. It was an echo-friendly place.

I stayed in a cabin alongside a northern Minnesota lake where a pine kept me awake one night. It wasn’t the wind whistling through its boughs, it was its chewing. The pine was a porcupine. It was in a nearby tree chewing on twigs and bark. I’ve talked to a couple of people who said that porcupines had gnawed on their canoe paddles. 

I had the pleasure of petting a porcupine at a wildlife rehabilitation center in Alberta. I petted it very carefully while telling it that I wasn’t a canoe paddle.

On a day of nature travel in both the present and the past, I was thankful that February days warm the interiors of cars parked in the sun and that starling bills are turning yellow as a sign of an approaching spring.

Echoes from Loafers’ Club

It’s like I always say, “A watched pot never boils.” 

What? That has nothing to do with my situation. 

I know, but that’s what I always say.

Driving by Bruce's drive

I have a wonderful neighbor named Bruce. Whenever I pass his driveway, thoughts occur to me, such as: I’d attended a visitation for the mother of friends. It was both a sad and a happy gathering.

Later I told Scott Routh of New Richland that it was good to see him.

He replied, “Better to be seen than viewed.” 

Don Forsling died recently. I did some public radio commentaries back in the day on WOI Radio in Ames. Don was the master of the airwaves on WOI. He loved trains and jazz. The first time I ever heard a Blossom Dearie song was when Don played one on the radio. I’ve listened often to Blossom Dearie since that day. That makes me happy. We should thank people while they can hear us, but I can’t. The best I can do is to write this, “Thanks, Don.”

In the outhouse era, catalogs were used as toilet paper

The mailbox brings a plethora of garden catalogs. The images presented in those interesting publications taunt me with their perfection. The photos resemble what I will grow just as much as menu photos do the food we receive. I believe they use professional vegetable and flower models for their photos.

By February, I’m anxious to see tilled soil and green plants. 

There is a song by Joni Mitchell called “Big Yellow Taxi” that has these lyrics: “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” Those words don’t apply to my garden as I miss it almost immediately after it’s put to bed, but it could be sung about toilet paper.

A family member got a doctorate in statistics. I know. Just thinking of that gives me a headache, too. She’s 91.6 percent happy that she did. 

That’s a nice happy number to have, but back to toilet paper. There is an old and frequent argument as to which way toilet paper should come off a roll. According to a Cottonelle Roll Poll, 72 percent of people roll it over and 28 percent prefer their TP to roll under. A study done by Dr. Gilda Carle found that the roll-over set are dominant people, more likely to have Type-A personalities, while the roll-under group are more submissive. If you want to be president one day, stop rolling your toilet paper under.

We take toilet paper for granted, just as we do things like working zippers. I don’t care whether toilet paper comes under or over a roll. Surprise me, but don’t surprise me by the lack of toilet paper.

Barb Thompson of New Richland told me that when her sister Diane was a young girl, she was given a jump rope. Diane tried using it, but gave up in disgust by saying, “This rope won’t jump!”

I don’t care if a rope jumps, but I do care that toilet paper is available and jumps off the roll. That’s how I roll.

 I’m 100 percent sure of that.

Nature notes

Jill Demmer of Hartland has a cardinal attacking a window of her house and wondered how to discourage that behavior. Female birds have been known to do this, but it’s mostly male birds that attack windows. The reason is basic. In spring, cardinals claim territories and seldom share territories with other cardinals. When a male cardinal spots another male, a chasing fight ensues. The dominant male gets a mate, the nesting location, the territory and the area’s food. The loser develops an inferiority complex.

When a cardinal sees its reflection in a window, it’s seeing another cardinal in its territory. The cardinal attacks until the intruder goes away. A real cardinal would flee, but the reflection remains. Being persistent and stubborn, the cardinal continues to attack its reflection.

He may stop on his own, but you might bring his actions to a halt by blocking the image. Soap the outside of the window or put a piece of cardboard or plastic cling on the window’s outer glass where the bird is attacking. It might cause the bird to take its fight to another window and may make Martha Stewart to shudder, but in most cases, you won’t have to maintain it for long. I once had to cover my car’s (a boss Rambler) side mirrors with paper bags to calm a shadowboxing cardinal.


“Do birds fly upside down?”

Sort of. Your question reminds me of the song “Little Birdie” from “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” where this was sung about Woodstock, “Little birdie, why do you fly upside-down? It's amazing at the way you get around.” Geese whiffle by twisting their bodies to turn upside down while keeping their heads upright and still, in order to brake before landing. I’ve seen ravens and hummingbirds fly upside down briefly. They do that when there is nothing worth pooping on. Bald eagles can do a flip or barrel roll. I’m sure there are other birds that do this, too, but none make it their primary way to fly.

Arlene Kjar of Northfield asked if opossums hibernate.

Opossums don’t hibernate. Surviving our winter is a great challenge to them. Opossums often alter their foraging habits during winter, coming out during the day when it’s warmer rather than at night. It’s not uncommon for opossums to suffer frostbite, particularly to their tails. I have read that if the temperature rises to 28 degrees, an opossum can remain active all night. Opossums first arrived in Minnesota, in the southeastern part of the state, around 1900. They weren’t equipped for our winters. They still aren’t.

“How long does a vole live?”

The meadow vole, the most widespread and common vole in Minnesota, often called a field mouse or a meadow mouse, lives up to two years, but most survive less than a year. The University of Minnesota says that a female vole is capable of having five to ten litters each year with three to five young in each litter. Voles have a population boom every three to five years.

Meeting adjourned

“What wisdom can you find greater than kindness?”? Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Thanks for stopping by

“My goal is not to be better than anyone else, but to be better than I used to be.” ? Wayne W. Dyer

“To be without trees would, in the most literal way, to be without our roots.” ? Richard Mabey


© Al Batt 2018