Al Batt: Take some time this summer to enjoy the wildlife

This drawing of the Ol’ Birdbrain, also known as me, was done by Joe Engesser of Red Wing.
By : 
Al Batt
For the Birds

A turkey stopped in the middle of the road, appearing to motion that my car should go around. I went around. I'd just heard from a friend who told me that a collision with a raccoon had resulted in $5,600 damage to a car.

The grass whipped in the wind as if it were trying to free itself from its roots. A leggy fawn fought the furious wind. The wind subsided and I listened to a trio of marathon singers — brown thrasher, gray catbird and red-eyed vireo. They may be repetitive, but I never grow weary of hearing them. They are no whip-poor-wills, nocturnal birds with loud, distinctive voices, that can be heard singing long in the night in parts of Minnesota. It's not uncommon for a "whip" to chant its name 100 times without a break.

 I watched a groundhog kit and a cottontail rabbit eating dandelions on the lawn. The rabbit was larger than the young woodchuck. Suddenly, the baby groundhog raised up on his rear legs like a miniature grizzly and looked menacingly at the bunny. The rabbit ignored it. The groundhog charged the rabbit. The last I saw of the two is when they were headed around a pass between shrubs and trees.

 A rose-breasted grosbeak, American goldfinch and white-breasted nuthatch sunned themselves on a feeder attached to a window. A man told me that in his retirement, he spends more time with his small dog. He and the dog spend 15 minutes each morning staring out the window. The dog points things out with its eyes. They particularly enjoy watching the crows. Crows are always up to something.

American white pelicans flew overhead. Their nine-feet wingspans carry them unusually long distances to forage for food. Fishing trips of 30 miles one-way isn't uncommon. A man from Clearwater, Minn., told me he'd vacationed in San Diego. He didn't think he could have ever tired of the nice weather there. He was enjoying an adult beverage at a table outside a bar, when a brown pelican flew over and made a deposit directly into the man's glass. Direct deposits aren't always pleasant things.

I find great joy in seeing Canada anemone, a North American native perennial growing in moist meadows, along wet wood edges, in road ditches and along stream banks. Its white flowers have showy yellow center stamens on long, stalked branches. 

June brings summer and is our wettest month of the year. Summer coaxes flowers from the woods to bloom in the open. June is typically when I first see flashing fireflies. Some years, I see them in May, but from the middle of June through July is when I see them most often.

Adult dragonflies on wing become numerous after emerging from their larval stages in the water. I noticed small masses of sticky, frothy bubbles at leaf nodes of plants. The white foam blobs are produced by the nymphs of spittlebugs, which are small insects getting their name from the globs of foamy spit they create along the stems of plants. The foam serves a number of purposes: Protecting the nymph from predators as well as providing the tender nymph with insulation from temperature extremes and low humidity.

Echoes from Loafers' Club

I've just joined the most exclusive club in the county.

How exclusive is it?

I'm the only member.

Snakes on a plain

I canoed the Missouri River, camping where Lewis and Clark had during their epic adventure. I read Stephen Ambrose‘s book about their trip as I traveled. One morning, there were two baby rattlesnakes near my sleeping bag. They were seeking warmth. I like snakes, but I like rattlesnakes best at a safe distance. I gave my bag a good shaking. No harm was done. Another paddler told me that he'd once pitched his tent on top of a baby rattler. When he discovered that, the man became rattled.

Why not, I had a pen 

My first book signing was many years ago at a big Barnes & Noble store in the Twin Cities. I sat at a table with three famous authors. They were renowned. I was a newspaper columnist. They had written many books each. I had written none, but I’d colored some. I signed books at Barnes & Noble that day. They weren't mine, of course. People asked me to sign the books they had purchased in the store. I hesitated, but yielded to their encouragement and wrote, "Thanks for buying this book" and signed my name. It might not have turned them into rare books, but they certainly became peculiar books. One of the book buyers suggested I write who I was under my signature. I wrote, “Not the author.”

Ask Al

"Why hasn't a Minnesotan ever been elected president?"

Would you want a Vikings fan to have access to nuclear weapons? Think of Green Bay.

"Do you know how to play a banjo?"

 I don't know, I've never tried.

“Do you have any tips for planting potatoes?”

Make sure all the eyes are facing Idaho.

Al Batt’s brain cramps 

Sooner or later, a man learns that not everything that looks like a towel is a towel. The sooner he learns that, the better.

The only timeshare I ever had was when I borrowed my father's Timex wristwatch.

If you want the best doctor, ask a member of The Rolling Stones for a referral.

Most kitchens have crumby toasters.

Nature notes 

Summer just wants to have sun. Summer comes from the Old English sumor, from the Proto-Germanic sumur, Old Saxon sumar, Old Norse sumar, Old High German sumar, Old Frisian sumur, Middle Dutch somer, Dutch zomer or German sommer.

It was nearly bird-melting hot as I walked on wet ground. Sedges have edges and clamorous sedge wrens. Insects hadn’t thoroughly bested me, but the deer flies were unrelenting as they tormented me. They go for the head and neck when biting people, inflicting painful bites using knife-like mouthparts to slice the skin and feed on blood. Fortunately, deer flies aren’t a disease vector here, but some people suffer allergic reactions to the bites. In addition to humans, these biting flies also attack cattle, deer and horses. Deer flies are most common in June and July.

I visited a park just to listen to the ethereal, flutelike songs of a wood thrush. Thoreau wrote this of the wood thrush, “This is the only bird whose note affects me like music, affects the flow and tenor of my thought, my fancy and imagination. It lifts and exhilarates me. It is inspiring. It is a medicative draught to my soul. It is an elixir to my eyes and a fountain of youth to all my senses. It changes all hours to an eternal morning. I long for wildness, a nature which I cannot put my foot through, woods where the wood thrush forever sings, where the hours are early morning ones, and there is dew on the grass, and the day is forever unproved, where I might have a fertile unknown for a soil about me."


"Why are there so few birds at my feeders?"

If the food isn't fresh, they stay way. A cat or accipiter (hawk) can keep birds away for short stretches. Typically, what happens this time of year is once the eggs have hatched, the parents of many species move to a high protein diet of insects and other small invertebrates to feed the nestlings. This change in diet eliminates many feeder visits.

"I stopped by a stream in southeastern Minnesota and heard an odd sound that reminded me of a bad banjo player. What could it have been?"

It was a green frog. It's the second largest frog in Minnesota. Only the bullfrog, the largest frog in North America, is larger. The green frog makes a sound like someone plucking a single banjo string.

Meeting adjourned

“The noblest art is that of making others happy.” ― P.T. Barnum

Thanks for stopping by

“Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn, whatever state I may be in, therein to be content.” —Helen Keller

"Life is a long lesson in humility." — James M. Barrie


© Al Batt 2019