Al Batt: Bird watching can result in finding uncommon wonders

AL BATT/BLUFF COUNTRY READER An indigo bunting male. My father called it a blue canary.
By : 
Al Batt
For the Birds

I watched warblers. There are collective nouns for warblers: bouquet, confusion, fall and wrench. The most abundant warbler I saw was the yellow-rumped warbler, nicknamed the butterbutt for obvious reasons. It winters farther north than most warblers because it can digest the wax in berry coatings. It gleans insects from vegetation and from the ground, catches flying insects and will eat suet and peanut butter. This warbler will even snatch insects from spiderwebs.

Denny Tostenson of Albert Lea told me that a look out a window of his house showed rose-breasted grosbeaks, Baltimore orioles, scarlet tanager and indigo buntings. Denny canceled his tee time on the golf course.

Some might consider where I live to be nowhere. But it can't be nowhere. I can see everything from here.

We should know the common birds the best of all. Nobody will ever look at birds the way you do. Knowing the common birds makes it easier to recognize uncommon birds. If they don't match the looks of a common bird, they might be something else. Neal Batt of Hartland found a long-eared owl that way. It didn't quite look like a great horned owl.

The morning started the usual way. The neighbors' rooster crowed. I had to chase a long-haired yellow cat, fat and nearly pink in color, away from my feeders. This day, that apparently well-fed cat had killed a tiny Lincoln's sparrow. A sad thing indeed. The nimbleness of a cat that looks out-of-shape is impressive.

I watched a number of grackles in our yard. Common grackles sometimes nest in loose colonies, showing limited territoriality except in the immediate area of a nest. Ogden Nash wrote this about the grackle: "The grackle's voice is less than mellow, His heart is black, his eye is yellow, He bullies more attractive birds, With hoodlum deeds and vulgar words, And should a human interfere, Attacks that human in the rear. I cannot help but deem the grackle, An ornithological debacle."

As I look out my window, I realize there are those who might think that I live nowhere or at least I can see nowhere from here, but they are wrong. I look out my window and I see everything.

I came out of a Barnes & Noble store. I go into bookstores because I'm unable not to. I bought a book written by a late friend, Bill Thompson III. When I came out, I saw a mallard nesting in a concrete planter outside the busy bookshop and just in front of a parking stall. Birders are noticers. There was sparse vegetation in the planter, but the hen did an effective job of hiding. It wasn't perfect camouflage or I wouldn't have seen her, but it was good. The disturbing thing was that there were many cigarette butts in the planter. I don't think the duck had been smoking them.


"What is the range of Baltimore orioles?"

They breed into central Canada and in the eastern U.S. as far south as Louisiana. They winter in southeastern U.S., Central America and the tip of South America.

"Do you have a simple tip for using binoculars to watch birds?" 

Find the bird with your eyes and then bring the binoculars to your eyes.

"I see some baby geese are missing. What would take them?"  

Raccoons, foxes, bears, coyotes, ravens, crows, gulls, hawks, owls, snakes, mink, eagles and snapping turtles could prey upon the goslings.

"What bird incubates its eggs the longest?"

The kiwi, 70 to 80 days.

"What bird builds the smallest nest?"

My guess would be the bee hummingbird of Cuba. It weighs less than a dime and its nest is an inch across.

"How long does it take an oriole to build a nest?"

It takes a Baltimore oriole about a week, but bad weather may stretch nest building to as long as two weeks. 

"What is the difference in binoculars?"

Some are better than others. Some are a Chevy and others a Lexus. They both get you there. One costs much more. Maybe you get there a little faster or the ride is a bit smoother. And you might look cooler.

The guy from down the road

My neighbor Crandall stops by.

“How are you doing?” I ask.

“Everything is nearly copacetic. I had my ears checked. The doctor said they hadn’t changed much since my last exam. I still had two of them. That's the kind of thorough examinations I've come to expect under my discount insurance plan. The company calls me every January and gives me the dates that I'm allowed to be ill and what diseases I can contract. Saves being surprised. I’ve been helping my neighbor Still Bill remodel his garage. It’s the most work I’ve ever seen him do. Still Bill believes there is no reason to make an effort when an excuse works just as well. It’s not his fault. He tries to exercise, but he can’t outrun a fork.“ 

Nature notes

"What good are vultures?"

They clean the environment. In the 1990s, India lost about 95 percent of their vultures due to the anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac, which is lethal to vultures consuming the carcasses of treated animals. Lacking vultures, India experienced an uptick in feral dogs. Canines weren't as good at the cleanup job as vultures. The increase in dogs feeding on disease-ridden carcasses is believed to have partially caused a rabies outbreak that killed 48,000 people from 1992 to 2006 in India. Vultures eat the diseases found in carcasses. The list of diseases that result from rotting carcasses is lengthy and includes tuberculosis, anthrax and foot-and-mouth disease. Plus, vultures are really cool.

"What's an easy way to keep mosquitoes away while I'm on my deck?"

You could try foggers, sprays, repellants and sticking pins into tiny voodoo dolls. Mosquitoes are weak flyers and it doesn't take much wind to blow them away. A box fan or two on the deck should blow the skeeters away.

Thanks for stopping by

“I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery — air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, ‘This is what it is to be happy.’” — Sylvia Plath 

"Of all the paths you take in life make sure some of them are dirt." — John Muir


© Al Batt 2019