Batt: Goldfinches spectacular in any color, even olive green

PHOTO BY AL BATT The rusty blackbird breeds in bogs and around beaver ponds in the boreal forests of the far north.
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My neighbor Crandall stops by.

"How are you doing?" I ask.

"Everything is nearly copacetic. New Year’s is a holiday created by the calendar companies who don’t want anyone reusing last year’s calendar. I had to buy a piece of farm equipment because I needed a new jacket."

"You know, you can purchase a jacket without buying a new implement," I say.

"I know, but I wanted the jacket for free."


The point in Earth’s elliptical orbit around the sun where it's closest to the sun is called a perihelion. It happened on Jan. 5. I hope you remembered to send it a card.

There were many creatures in the yard trying to keep their New Year's resolution to not be eaten by a predator. A shrew was under the feeders eating what it could find. The tiny mammal has the metabolism of a blast furnace.

Squirrels wore trails in the snow to get to the corn I'd put out for them. Squirrels are locavores. They eat where the locals eat and that includes bird feeders.

Goldfinches fed upon the nyjer seed. Sometimes I wish the American goldfinches were a bright yellow all year, but then I realize they are spectacular in any color. They experience a complete molt twice a year. In the fall, the male trades his bright yellow feathers and black cap for an olive-green wardrobe with dark, blackish wings and pale wing bars. He becomes yellow again in the spring. Adults and juvenile goldfinches have similar dull olive-green plumages during the late fall and winter. The color of the bills of goldfinches change with each molt, too. In winter plumage, their bills are drab grayish brown. In breeding plumage, they change to an orange color. My father often referred to them as wild canaries.

I took part in a Christmas Bird Count (CBC). Everyone who counts was there. Everyone dressed for a pleasant winter day. It was a regular fleece circus. One of the participants, Mark Johnson, gets a CBC haircut every year. This year, his hair was trimmed to resemble a zebra. Last year, it was a pileated woodpecker. Other years have featured an indigo bunting and a tufted puffin. When asked why he does it, Mark replied, "It keeps me single."

I walked six miles counting birds. It was a lovely day, but a breeze did find a way of intruding. I've been told by those who suspect things that the wind here blows 364 days a year (365 on Leap Year) and then takes one day off to catch its breath.


"Is a tomato a fruit or a vegetable?" A fruit is a seed-bearing structure that develops from the ovary of a flowering plant, whereas vegetables are all other plant parts, such as roots, leaves and stems. That means tomatoes, beans, peppers, pumpkins, and peas are fruits, but look for them in the vegetable department of your favorite grocery store.

"Are wild turkeys stupid?" No, and I doubt you'd find any turkey hunter who'd accuse them of it. They'd say that hunting a turkey is a great challenge. I suspect the young males (jakes) come the closest to acting stupid.

"Are there fewer insects today?" I'd be surprised if there weren't. We've been waging a constant war against them.

"A hawk is getting after my birds at the feeders. What can I do?" It's likely a Cooper's hawk (they nest here) or a sharp-shinned hawk. Try hitting the pause button. Shut down the feeders for a bit. The birds will stop showing up and the hawk will get the hint and hunt elsewhere.

"What is the territory size of a rabbit?" According to the DNR, the range of an eastern cottontail is no more than five acres (about the size of four football fields).

"Why have I been seeing and smelling skunks this time of year? Shouldn't they be hibernating?" Once settled into its winter home, the striped skunk becomes dormant, but doesn't enter a full state of hibernation. Skunks enter a state of torpor – a deep sleep from which they awaken occasionally. They may emerge briefly from their dens at any time during winter.

"Is seeing a cardinal supposed to bring good luck?" I think so. I consider myself lucky whenever I see one. I've been told that when we hear a cardinal sing, our sadness will soon be lifted. And when we see a redbird in winter, we will prosper in spring. I've also heard it said that if a bird poops on you or anything you own, it foreshadows good luck.

Echoes from the Loafers' Club Meeting

Your last name is Batt? Any relation to Al Batt?

I am Al Batt

It’s a small world, isn’t it?

Driving by Bruce's drive

I have a wonderful neighbor, named Bruce. Whenever I pass his drive, thoughts occur to me, such as: I read in Business Insider that McDonald's serves about 1% of the world's population daily. Trying to avoid the crowd, I joined family at Buffalo Wild Wings. It was filled with people who regularly remembered their passwords. Buffalo Wild Wings was originally called Buffalo Wild Wings & Weck. They offered beef on weck sandwiches. Weck is kummelweck, a kaiser-like roll. The company shortened its name to Buffalo Wild Wings, with the acronym BWW pronounced: “bee-double-you,” which was shortened further to “B-Dubs.” 

There were TVs everywhere. They got in the way of one another. Each displayed a sporting event. I asked a server how many TVs there were. She thought 80, but she wasn't sure. That seemed high, but I wasn't sure.

The meal came with silverware. A TV remote would have been nice.

The cafe chronicles 

There were fenderbergs on the highway. They are clumps of ice, snow and slush that accumulate under a vehicle's fenders. I stopped at the cafe to wish everyone a happy New Year, but everyone wasn't there. I ordered a peanut brittle on whole wheat sandwich. They were out of those. A sister-in-law had given me lefse for Christmas. I went home and ate peanut butter on lefse. It was scrumptious.

The Shepherd and Ingeborg 

I sat at my desk as nice weather swirled about outside. I had more work to do than I could shake a stick at if I were the kind to shake a stick at work. I listened to Frederick Forsyth's "The Shepherd" read by Al Maitland on CBC radio as I do every year. Forsyth, known for the thrillers "The Day of the Jackal" and "The Odessa File," leaned one word perfectly against another in the story. A Royal Air Force pilot was headed home from Germany on Christmas Eve 1957. Fog set in, radio communication was lost, and he found himself flying over the North Sea without navigational aid. Hope was nearly lost when a ghostly silhouette of a World War II de Havilland Mosquito airplane rose from the mist below him. It's a breathtaking Christmas mystery with remarkable imagery. If I'd have been standing up, I'd have had to sit down. I'll not spoil it by divulging more.

In an unrelated event from years ago, Aunt Ingeborg called to tell me of going to Duluth to get an award for her accomplishments as a teacher. Ingeborg was someone who fed an opossum on her front steps because she worried about it. I had a photo of that animal hanging on a wall in my office until my wife found a better place for it. Back to Ingeborg's call. She described the bus she rode in, meals, venue, weather, and award ceremonies (there were no airplanes involved) before mentioning the man seated next to her had died on the trip home. She buried the lede. She said the pleasant fellow told a couple of jokes and then he up and died. I thought of the song "Mr. Bojangles," "He spoke with tears of 15 years how his dog and him traveled about. The dog up and died. He up and died. After 20 years he still grieves."

Nature notes

I pay attention to the things in my yard. Mary Oliver wrote, “Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” She also wrote, “To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”

I spied with my little eye, snow and a deer in the distance. One of them was looking my way. High numbers of deer reflect a productive landscape. One study found a white-tailed deer will eat over 600 plant species and 3.5 percent of its weight daily. 

A bald eagle flew overhead. The DNR estimated there were 9,800 pairs of bald eagles in Minnesota in 2017. A 2018 survey found nearly 1,700 bald eagle nests in Iowa.

I busied myself providing room service at my bird feeders. I remember seeing evening grosbeaks some winters. I don’t see them in my yard anymore. Those handsome “grocerybeaks” displayed prodigious appetites.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, there is no official difference between hills and mountains. The U.S. Board on Geographic Names once indicated the difference was a mountain rose at least 1,000 feet above its surrounding area, but this is no longer applicable. 

Meeting adjourned

“Kindness is the sunshine in which virtue grows.” – Robert Green Ingersoll

Thanks for stopping by

"Wonder is the salt of the earth." – Maurits Cornelis Escher 

"This country will not be a good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a good place for all of us to live in." -– Theodore Roosevelt 

Do good.

© Al Batt 2019