Al Batt: Area birds are still in spring training

AL BATT/BLUFF COUNTRY READER A swamp sparrow is a skulker of swamps and marshes.
By : 
Al Batt
For the Birds

Birds are singing, some searching for mates while others declare territories. Still others work on their songs — it’s spring training for them.

The bad weather in April and the return of turkey vultures brought buzzards in the blizzards. I listened to the white-throated sparrows singing in the rain. Their plaintive whistles, “Old Sven Peterson, Peterson, Peterson” are vocal rainbows. A mourning dove flew into the tree overhead. I looked for a nest, a flimsy assemblage of twigs that allows the eggs to be seen from below.

I saw mourning cloak and red admiral butterflies on wing. These are butterflies that hibernate.

I spotted a yellow-bellied sapsucker. Jack Blanchard and Misty Morgan sang a song carrying that bird’s name that goes like this: “Well, you can take all your love birds stick 'em in a tree. And they look just like a lotta bullfinches to me. Now don't come home with them lovey-dovey words. Baby, that's strictly for the birds. You made me feel like a yellow-bellied sapsucker singin' in a eucalyptus tree. And now I feel like a sap since you made a sucker out of me, oh oh. You made me feel like a wheel like a real big deal then cut. The door to your heart slammed shut. You made me feel like you know what. Well, now I feel like a red-headed woodpecker peckin' at a cast iron tree. Just a huffin' and a peckin' and a bangin' my brains out nothin' but misery. You made me feel like a yellow-bellied sapsucker.”

I heard the sapsucker drilling holes in a tree. The stuttering cadence of its hammering sounded as if it were tapping out a Morse Code message.

While on the subject of sounds, spring peepers called. Spring peepers are frogs that make that crystal clear “peep” calls. Jeepers, creepers, listen to those peepers! They’re loud little things. One study found that when near, their voices hit about 90 decibels. That’s an impressive feat as the average male is only about an inch and a half long. I walked in quiet woods when the peepers began singing. It was as if I’d been wearing earplugs that gave me a silent environment, removed them and the world became clamorous.

I saw a number of swamp sparrows. They are almost always seen near water, even during migration. They nest all over Minnesota.

Echoes from Loafers’ Club

Do you know what time it is? 

No, I don’t. 

It’s 8:15.

Driving by Bruce's drive

I have a wonderful neighbor named Bruce. Whenever I pass his driveway, thoughts occur to me, such as: It was one of those days in which I had to run to stand still. I don’t take vacations. I take trips. Some are endurance tests. Most of my trips involve weight loss and/or blisters. A little bit of bad weather can go a long way. It’s like chewing on tinfoil. I visited with a Missouri truck driver in LeMars, Iowa, the “Ice Cream Capital of the World.” The weather was colder than necessary and teetering on the edge of becoming a blizzard. The truck driver said, “Humans should never have moved this far away from the equator.” We laughed. Our lives are measured in storms, but defined by how we deal with them.

Some miles later

I stopped to use a stalled convenience at a convenience store. I won’t say what state it was in, but there was a Huskers wastebasket in a very clean restroom. I was resting there when a small child crawled under the door of the stall. I couldn’t tell by the clothing if my visitor was a boy or girl. We faced off. I thought perhaps the child was experiencing emergency conditions in a restroom with only one throne room. “Do you need to go?” I asked, mustering as much dignity as I could in my position. 

“No” was the reply. The youngster crawled back out. I heard a man’s voice chastise the youngster, “Don’t ever do that again.” 

They left the restroom without running any water. In their haste to leave, they had neglected to wash their hands. It wasn’t a clean getaway. The kid needed a shower.

I exited the stall, happily noting there was no line waiting to use it. I washed my hands twice before purchasing something I’d hoped would justify the use of the necessary.

Pontificating along the Potomac River

I’d been booked to speak in Washington, D.C. The folks who hired me had sent me a things-to-see DVD about D.C. I walked around Washington, D.C., in a night as dark as a night bathed in artificial light could be. The rain poured down — most of it fell on me. I wore a suit and tie. I had no umbrella. I seldom do. I smelled like a wet dog as I boarded a subway train (Metro) to get from here to there. My dress shoes had become slippery with the water. That turned my journey into a giant slip and slide, allowing me to lurch forward with the train’s movement and headbutt a seated passenger, dislodging his mammoth headphones in the process. I apologized profusely while other riders pretended not to watch. It knocked me so goofy, I thought I was a member of Congress.

Al Batt’s brain cramps

Horror movies frighten me so much, I can’t watch them. Bad acting is that scary.

If you haven’t felt like the dumbest person in a room, you are just being dumb.

I watched a squirrel run from one side of the road to the other, then change its mind and scurry back to where it had started. It did all of this on a busy street. That’s the reason why squirrels don’t make good school crossing guards.

Nature notes

I know that the variability of weather doesn’t disprove a trend, but I’m relieved that winter’s frosty veil has lifted or at least its frigid grip has loosened. Lawnmowers have been moved to the show floor and snow blowers moved to the back room. Deer coats have lightened in color and overly cautious people shower in DEET. It becomes so windy, trees flower in plastic shopping bags.

I watched turkey vultures float on air. No flapping, no hurry. These peaceable recyclers rock in a teetering flight with limited wingbeats. I look for the silver lining in everything. Vulture wings offer silver linings to a birder.

A white-breasted nuthatch held a clump of grass in its beak, near a tree cavity. It was a male trying to interest a prospective mate in a nest site.

While doing yard work, I found a number of native lady beetles. They were the ladybugs of my childhood, often seen on sweatshirts, aprons or cookbooks. Dandelions bloomed. They aren’t the best nutrition for honeybees, but are still valuable. Think of them as a snack food for bees. Dandelions are the yellow highlighters of spring.

Customer comments

Gordy Luckow of Fairmont spotted a white wood duck.

Walt Popp of Hastings told me he goes birding with low expectations. That way, he is always surprised by what he sees.

In 2018, Ben Douglas of Lake Elmo did a State Park Big Year birding 73 State Parks and State Recreational Areas. Itasca State Park was last on the list. This year he’s visiting all 87 of Minnesota’s counties and checking off each bird species seen in each county, hoping to get 10,000 total tics.

Thanks for stopping by

“I was visited by a very good friend who had just returned from a long walk in the woods, and I asked her what she had observed. ‘Nothing in particular,’ she replied. I might have been incredulous had I not been accustomed to such responses, for long ago I became convinced that the seeing see little. How was it possible, I asked myself, to walk for an hour through the woods and see nothing worthy of note?” — Helen Keller

“I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something I can do.” ― Edward Everett Hale

Meeting adjourned

It’s an act of kindness to forgive yourself.


© Al Batt 2019