Al Batt: Black-capped chickadees deserve more love

AL BATT/BLUFF COUNTRY READER A house wren weighs about the same as two quarters.

AL BATT/BLUFF COUNTRY READER A ruby-throated hummingbird sticks out its tongue at another.
By : 
Al Batt
For the Birds

I listened to black-capped chickadees making their chickadee-dee-dee calls, increasing the number of dee notes when alarmed. I found no reason for their concern, but I'm sure there was one. The song of this chickadee is a whistled fee-bee or "love you."

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources annual roadside pheasant survey showed a 17 percent decrease in the overall pheasant index from 2018. The 2019 index was 11 percent below the 10-year average and 60 percent below the long-term average. This year’s statewide pheasant index was 37.4 birds per 100 miles of roads driven. The pheasant index decreased throughout much of the pheasant range, except in the south-central and east-central regions. There, the index grew by 24 percent and 13 percent, respectively, over 2018. Weather and habitat are the main influences on pheasant populations. Overall conditions for winter survival of wildlife were below average to average throughout the farmland. Deep and persistent snow cover over most of the core pheasant range combined with colder than normal temperatures adversely impacted survival. Cooler than normal temperatures in the spring, flooding caused by melting snow and above-normal precipitation delayed nest initiation. Mild summer temperatures and drier weather benefited birds nesting or re-nesting later in the season. The average hatch date in 2019 was nearly a week later than in 2018. Other species surveyed and how their numbers compared with 2018 were: Gray partridge up, eastern cottontail steady, white-tailed deer up 45%, mourning dove down 29% and sandhill crane up 25%.

Things to look for

1. Warblers find sunny sites to glean insects from vegetation. Warblers can be hard to pin down, as are most things in life.

2. Northern flickers flash white rump patches in flight and feed on the ground as they migrate through.

3. Flotillas of dragonflies and ant flight dispersals.

4. The company of some flowers blooming in September. Blue flowers: Blue vervain, blue lobelia and smooth blue aster. White: Common yarrow, white snakeroot, hedge bindweed, flat-topped white aster, wild cucumber, annual fleabane and heath aster. Yellow: Jerusalem artichoke, sneezeweed, smooth oxeye, common evening primrose, Black-eyed Susan, compass plant, cup plant, Canada goldenrod, zigzag goldenrod and stiff goldenrod. Purple/pink: Rough blazing star, northern plains blazing star, prairie blazing star, meadow blazing star and New England aster. Orange: Spotted-touch-me-not. Red: Cardinal flower.

5. Eastern kingbirds, appearing to be dressed in business suits, gather in flocks in preparation for migration.

Echoes from Loafers' Club

I've been going to the same barber for over 30 years. 

He must be a good barber. 

I'm not so sure. I had a lot more hair before I started going to him.

Don't take your buffalo to town, son

Dad and Mom arrived in Minnesota in 1946 and met Horace Neely who told my father, "Go east young man." So Dad bought a farm east of town.

Years later, the charger in the barn on that farm was blinking unhappily. There was a problem with the electric fence. It needed to be checked. That was an opportunity for me to walk the fence and get in my steps without knowing about getting in my steps. 

The cows had breached the electric fence. They were out. How did they know the fence wasn't working? Could their ears detect it? Was there one cow, I'll call her Cora, who was designated to test an electric wire each day to see if it were operating? Perhaps she touched it with her tail and if she didn't get zapped, the herd knew they could overpower the unarmed fence. Cora had a responsible position that could result in future leadership roles.

I thought of that when a neighbor called to report escaped humongous herbivores. One American bison was rumored to have hoofed it to town. I imagined a resident of that fine city watching the movie "Dances With Wolves" and looking up from the TV to see a buffalo in the yard without Kevin Costner.

I like red nectar no matter what flavor it is

I spoke in Hastings, Neb., where Edward Perkins created Kool-Aid. My neighbor kids called it bug juice because their father called it bug juice. In 1918, Perkins created Nix-O-Tine Tobacco Remedy designed to overcome tobacco addiction. It included herbs, mouthwash and a laxative. Buoyed by that success, he created Kool-Ade, later changed to Kool-Aid. The powdered mix offered six flavors: raspberry, cherry, grape, lemon-lime, orange and strawberry. Kool-Aid is the official state soft drink of Nebraska.

Nature notes

The rain tapped on the leaves. Everything was as right as rain. There was no thunder and lightning. On average, approximately 44,000 thunderstorms occur each day. Skunks and raccoons dug in the lawn in search of grubs for grub. I spotted a red fox. A red fox has black legs, black-tipped ears and a white-tipped tail. A grey fox has a black tipped tail and a black racing stripe down its back.

Crickets sang to chirp up others. I saw a Cooper’s hawk with a distinctive long, rounded tail with thick bands. Chimney swifts chattered overhead, their short bodies propelled by long, slim, flickering wings. Turkey vultures waited for the morning’s rush hour to end and for the heat to arrive before flying. Wild turkeys strolled by. A turkey can run 25 mph and fly 55 mph.

A Eurasian collared-dove called. This species was introduced into the Bahamas in 1974, spread to Florida in 1982 and was first seen in Minnesota in 1998. A flock of starlings landed on utility wires. In the early 1890s, about 100 European starlings were released in New York City's Central Park by a group dedicated to bringing every bird mentioned by Shakespeare to America. Today, there are about 200 million starlings in North America.

Mark Anderson of Albert Lea asked what is the light green plant spreading like a veil over other plants and fences. It’s the rambunctious wild cucumber. If unwanted, the native, annual plants should be pulled or hoed as soon as they’re found. The seedlings resemble garden cucumbers. Repeated mowing before they set seeds keeps them in check. If they’re growing up into trees and bushes, pull and discard them before they go to seed. They produce spiny fruit and the flowers are quite fragrant. There are chemical solutions that must be used carefully.

“What else eats milkweeds other than monarch butterfly caterpillars?”

Deer, rabbits, milkweed bugs, tussock moth caterpillars, Japanese beetles, oleander aphids, slugs, earwigs, red milkweed beetles, swamp milkweed leaf beetles and others feed on milkweeds.

Meeting adjourned

“Kindness begins with the understanding that we all struggle.” – Charles Glassman

Thanks for stopping by

"No garden truly blooms until butterflies have danced upon it." — Kristen D’Angelo

"Laugh. Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful though you have considered all the facts." — Wendell Berry

Do good.

© Al Batt 2019