This nattily attired Steller’s jay dressed himself this morning.

FullSizeRender.jpg
The legend of the headless bald eagle continues. Photo purposely blurred to enhance the mystery.

The legend of the headless bald eagle continues. Photo purposely blurred to enhance the mystery.

Remembering November.

Remembering November.

A bridge to somewhere lovely. Lutak, Alaska.

A bridge to somewhere lovely. Lutak, Alaska.

Each time I take a good look at a bird, I am reminded why I’m a card-carrying birder.

Each time I take a good look at a bird, I am reminded why I’m a card-carrying birder.

FullSizeRender.jpg

It’s Squirrel Appreciation Day. You should form an exploratory committee to determine if a squirrel could run successfully for public office.

A young bald eagle wondering what the old fool is up to now.

FullSizeRender.jpg

I get this same look whenever I update my computer’s operating system.

Showing the other bald eagles how he used to dance in his younger years.

Showing the other bald eagles how he used to dance in his younger years.

The fishing was good unless you were a fish.

The fishing was good unless you were a fish.

And in today’s views: a bald eagle.

And in today’s views: a bald eagle.

Al Batt: Square v. rectangle: All bugs are insects, but not all insects are bugs


Al Batt of Hartland is a member of the Albert Lea Audubon Society. Email him at SnoEowl@aol.com

The guy from just down the road

My neighbor Crandall stops by.

“Everything is nearly copacetic. I finally got that coffee stain out of my new coat.”

“How did you do that?” I say, knowing the cleaners had given up on it.

“I used an old family secret. It removes most stains easily. It’s called a scissors.”

Naturally

Eastern cottontails danced in the night’s moonlight. I watched when dawn arrived as they fed upon twigs, stems and bark. Rabbits venture from hiding places at dusk and dawn to find food.

I take a walk to see how the critters are wintering.

Fox, gray and red squirrels bulk up and cache food for winter. This lessens the need to spend time foraging in severe weather. They weather a storm in a drey, a type of nest in the forks of trees that the squirrels build of dry leaves and twigs. They also use tree cavities and nestboxes. Red squirrels cache cones and nuts in middens, piles of food and leftovers. They hang fungi in trees for winter eating.

Chipmunks sleep in their burrows, waking periodically to eat stored food. Ground squirrels and groundhogs use stored fat for maintenance energy during hibernations.

Voles build nests and tunnels under an insulating blanket of snow and eat from a cache of seeds and nuts or consume bark and roots in this subnivean environment. Subnivean means beneath the snow. When forced to leave this safety zone, voles become vulnerable to predation by hawks, owls and foxes.

A red fox stays warm by growing a winter coat and curling into a ball on open ground, using its tail as a warm scarf.

I saw deer tracks at the edge of the yard. Deer change from grazing to browsing in winter. Their gray-brown winter coats have hollow hair shafts and a dense underfur that provides excellent insulation.

Not capable of growing much of a fur coat and unable to construct a suitable drey, some humans opt to migrate to areas of warm temperatures with an abundance of restaurants. The rest of us stay here.

Q&A

“Why are cedar waxwings called waxwings?” The name comes from the waxy red tips of the secondary wing feathers of some birds. The first part of the common name is based on their fondness for cedar tree berries. A group of waxwings is known as an earful or a museum. You might see some tomorrow, as they’re more nomadic than migratory.

“I watched songbirds flock around a screech owl. Why do they do that?” Birds mob predators as a collective response to danger. Are they trying to drive the threat away or call attention to it? Maybe both.

“Is it correct to call insects “bugs”?” The insects don’t mind. People tend to use bug to identify many small creatures. However, a true bug belongs to the order Hemiptera. A true bug has a stylet (a mouth like a straw) that they generally use to suck juices from plants. Leafhoppers, aphids, cicadas, stink bugs and bed bugs are true bugs. Insects belong to the class Insecta and are characterized by three-part bodies, usually two pairs of wings and six legs. Bees and mosquitoes are good examples. Arthropods are in a separate phylum from bugs and insects. They include centipedes, spiders and ticks. Not all insects are bugs, but all bugs are insects. To repeat myself. To repeat myself, a key difference between true bugs and other insects are the mouthparts. True bugs suck.

“My grandfather said that dogs with floppy ears make the best trackers. Is he right?” Of course, he’s right. Grandfathers are always right. Beagles, Basset hounds, bloodhounds and coonhounds are exceptionally good trackers. That’s partially because their long, floppy ears scoop up scent particles and send them toward the nose. Long ears might limit a dog’s ability to hear distant sounds, forcing the canines to rely more on a sense of smell.

“Do windows of houses kill many birds?” The study “Bird–building Collisions in the United States: Estimates of Annual Mortality and Species Vulnerability” was published in The Condor in 2014. It was authored by Scott R. Loss, Sara S. Loss, and Peter P. Marra of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and Tom Will of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The study provided quantitative evidence to support the conclusion that building collisions are second only to cats as the largest source of direct human-caused mortality for U.S. birds. They found that roughly 55 percent of the avian mortality occurred at low-rises, 44 percent at residences and 1 percent at high-rises.

Thanks for stopping by

“No snowflake ever falls in the wrong place.” — Zen proverb

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald

Do good.

Minnesota winters aren’t bad if you know how to dress.

_DSC3061.JPG
A fox squirrel disguised as snow.

A fox squirrel disguised as snow.

A snowbird in a snowfall.

A snowbird in a snowfall.

A chickadee puts the finishing touches on a sculpture.

A chickadee puts the finishing touches on a sculpture.

A chickadee weathers a storm.

A chickadee weathers a storm.

A red squirrel thinking red squirrel thoughts.

A red squirrel thinking red squirrel thoughts.

Does a downy find winter a downer?

Does a downy find winter a downer?

And in today’s views: a bald eagle grasping driftwood.

And in today’s views: a bald eagle grasping driftwood.

Alaska

FullSizeRender.jpg
CF5B3D3C-3FA8-40C1-AEF1-22D6105BAC82.JPG

Nature’s art.

There was frost on the binoculars as the morning’s quest for birds began.

There was frost on the binoculars as the morning’s quest for birds began.

DED8849C-6342-4472-A92D-AB22A1523827.JPG

Nature has a showing of its latest work.

Mendenhall Glacier. Juneau, Alaska

FullSizeRender.jpg
FullSizeRender.jpg

Poster at an Owatonna school.

FullSizeRender.jpg

As could be written only by a child.

Al Batt: Primary consideration when choosing binoculars is ease of use

by Al Batt, m.albertleatribune.com
January 12, 2019 09:00 AM

kAl Batt of Hartland is a member of the Albert Lea Audubon Society. Email him at SnoEowl@aol.com.

The guy from just down the road

My neighbor Crandall stops by.

“How are you doing?” I ask.

“Everything is nearly copacetic. I had my shoes on the wrong feet until lunch, I flossed with a gummy bear this morning and I ran out of plastic silverware. Don’t ever try eating chili through a straw. I’m waiting for the flying monkeys. I knew bad weather was on the way. The cows were on the porch. They always beg to get into the house when the weather is getting colder. I returned a pile of my Christmas gifts to Dollar Tree. I’m ahead by nearly $7 on that deal. I stopped to see my nephew Carl’s new baby, a son named Carl, Jr. The kid has that new Carl smell.”

Naturally

The cold had been overly ambitious, but my “Arizona is for wimps” T-shirt warmed me. I hit the trail, hoping curiosity might drag some information with it. I took a lovely walk filled with wonder and discovery. It was a quiet day. The outdoors must have been listening. Demonstrating the art of patience, I hoped to stumble upon things.

I looked at a dandelion plant. Dandelions develop taproots that can extend 15 feet deep in ideal conditions. I watched squirrels and woodpeckers on a dead tree. A dead tree lives. I’m a member of the dead tree appreciation society. Dead trees provide vital habitat for many species of wildlife.

A chickadee was busy at a feeder. It was on a diet in which it eats only one thing. More. I watched it fly into the shelter of a small tree and fluff up for warmth. On cold days, being fluffy is a good thing to be.

I spoke at the Albert Lea Seed House and told the wonderful crowd gathered there why the chickadee was my favorite bird. As I listened to the stories of others, my wife shopped for Christmas gifts. I bloviated. She bought.

While doing Christmas Bird Counts, I’ve noticed an abundance of squirrels this winter. Rabbits were, as always, in good numbers. This year, I called every eastern cottontail Hopalong. CBCs are a way of playing hide-and-seek with birds. John Hockema of Rochester showed up with old Swift Audubon binoculars. It was good to see John. He and his aged optics brought great memories. I did stumble onto good birds.

John Leininger of Albert Lea informed me of some bad behavior demonstrated by wild turkeys in his neighborhood. The birds have been acting aggressively towards humans. It’s a good idea not to turn your back to this kind of a bully.

Snow fell. It was lovely, as if I were in a snow globe. I don’t appreciate each individual snowflake as much as I should.

Birds wallpapered my stroll. There was a dazzling array of winter birds. The sounds they and the squirrels made were calls of the wild. I watched downy woodpeckers forage. Males and females divide feeding territories in winter. Males tend to feed on small branches and weed stems, while females feed on larger branches and trunks. Males discourage females from foraging in better spots. Downies eat foods that larger woodpeckers cannot reach.

Q&A

“Did you really kick a skunk when you were barefooted?” Yes, but I’m not stupid. I thought it was a rock.

“What is the most important thing to look for in binoculars?” They should be easy to use. There are two primary kinds of binoculars — porro prism and roof prism. A porro looks like an M and a roof prism resembles a capital H.

”Where is the best location for a feeder?” Where you can watch the birds visiting it. Try to find a place sheltered from wind and away from predators.

“Can birds fly upside down?” Hummingbirds can for short periods. Other species do during conflicts and while courting.

“What bird is most likely to be hit by an aircraft in North America?” According to the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, the species most often involved in birdstrikes is the horned lark.

“What could I do to get a young child to watch birds?” An easy way is to attach a feeder to a window where the child could watch it.

“What preys upon Japanese beetle grubs in the lawn?” Starlings, grackles, crows, meadowlarks, catbirds, gulls, pheasants, chickens, ducks, geese, guinea fowl, skunks, raccoons and moles are predators.

Thanks for stopping by

“The world is big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark.” — John Muir

“I don’t want to be a great leader; I want to be a man who goes around with a little oilcan and when he sees a breakdown, offers his help. To me, the man who does that is greater than any holy man in saffron-colored robes. The mechanic with the oilcan: that is my ideal in life.”  — Baba Amte

Do good.

 

It was on its way to becoming the best of nights.

_DSC2998.JPG
_DSC3001.JPG
My hometown. This was not taken last week.

My hometown. This was not taken last week.

FullSizeRender.jpg

The cartoon characters Heckle and Jeckle were magpies. Here they are examining dirty snow.

I love this native art presented prominently in Klukwan, a village of 95 people in Alaska.

I love this native art presented prominently in Klukwan, a village of 95 people in Alaska.

I see a bald eagle nearly every day. I find that amazing.

I see a bald eagle nearly every day. I find that amazing.

I took this photo of an old barn for only one reason — I like old barns. I have often been accused of having been born in a barn.

I took this photo of an old barn for only one reason — I like old barns. I have often been accused of having been born in a barn.

A common redpoll could never be too common.

FullSizeRender.jpg
FullSizeRender.jpg

A downy woodpecker has the bill for sunflower seeds, but I pay for them.

FullSizeRender.jpg

Fun fact: Chickadees do not like ketchup on their sunflower seeds.

FullSizeRender.jpg

Why suet when you can eat it?

FullSizeRender.jpg

Despite its name, many American tree sparrows nest on the tundra.

Proclaimed the highest point in Iowa.

FullSizeRender.jpg
85FD4827-80B5-4012-AC71-A31123492374.JPG
Life is a picnic.

Life is a picnic.

The Floyd Monument in Sioux City, Iowa. Sergeant Charles Floyd was the only member of the crew to die during the Lewis and Clark Expedition

The Floyd Monument in Sioux City, Iowa. Sergeant Charles Floyd was the only member of the crew to die during the Lewis and Clark Expedition

Having a long tail can be a real drag.

Having a long tail can be a real drag.

An Andean bear at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo.

An Andean bear at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo.

This peacock can relax because his tail keeps eyes out for predators.

This peacock can relax because his tail keeps eyes out for predators.

Sometimes you feel like a nut. A blue jay always feels like a nut. Al Batt/Albert Lea Tribune

Blue jays get bad rep for a diet actually composed of insects, nuts

by Al Batt, albertleatribune.com
January 5, 2019 09:00 AM

Al Batt of Hartland is a member of the Albert Lea Audubon Society. Email him at SnoEowl@aol.com.

The guy from just down the road

My neighbor Crandall stops by.

“How are you doing?” I ask.

“Everything is nearly copacetic. I should be taking a nap, but I don’t have the energy to take one. Thanks to the magic of a nifty trash compactor, I was able to fit all the presents I’d bought into one small gift bag this Christmas. I’ve resolved to give up making New Year’s resolutions. Have you noticed that traffic has increased greatly in the neighborhood? I think it’s because my neighbor Still Bill bought a second pickup. Why he needs two, I don’t know. Still Bill is a pain in the ankle when he starts singing Elvis Presley songs. I like Elvis Costello more than Elvis Presley. I choose the lesser of two Elvises. This is one of the greatest days ever. I’ve learned that jelly doughnuts are the perfect breakfast.”

“Who told you that?” I say.

“Hugh Cares, the owner of the Breaking Bad Bakery.”

Naturally

It looked like a fairyland. The trees were white. Hoarfrost is a deposition of ice crystals on objects like tree branches, wires and poles without the moisture passing through a liquid phase. It typically forms on clear, cold and calm nights. Hoar is a reference to the frosty coating and comes from the word hoary, meaning white or gray with age. Rime is similar, but different. It’s ice that forms when fog droplets freeze upon coming in contact with objects.

The temperature was supposed to drop. I think it was likely due to the cold. A little winter snarkiness there. Sorry. The night’s activities are often inscribed in the snow, but the snow had melted or hardened, making clues difficult to find. I picked up trash from the road ditch. Like a crow, I pick up shiny things from the ground.

Blue jays were having a collective cow as I walked. Jays are known to eat eggs and nestlings of other birds, but in a study of blue jay diets, only 1 percent of jays showed evidence of having eaten eggs or baby birds. The diets of the jays studied were composed of mostly insects and nuts. The oldest known wild blue jay was at least 26 years, 11 months old.

On the subject of studies, researchers discovered that opossums have impressive memories when it comes to food. Opossums were found to be better at remembering food locations than were cats, dogs, pigs and rats. Any mammal can get rabies, but the chance of finding rabies in an opossum is extremely slim.

Q&A

“How fast do a deer’s antlers grow?” A white-tailed buck’s antlers begin growing in April and are fully grown by mid-August. Depending upon the source for this information, his antlers grow 1/4 inch to an inch per day.

“Have you ever heard of a Manitoba fly trap?” It’s a cone-shaped canopy/trap open at the bottom and standing on three legs. A black ball is suspended from its center. Horse or deer flies are attracted to the black sphere and are captured in a collection chamber after they fly into the upper reaches of the trap.

“What happened to the barn owls I used to see in Minnesota?” It’s probably due to changes in agriculture that has reduced grassy habitats. Barn owls aren’t made for cold weather. A barn with livestock was just the ticket for a barn owl. Barns can buy happiness. Barns provided shelter, heat and food (rodents). We used to have more pastured land, which provided hunting grounds for barn owls. Both barns and pastures have declined in number.

“Did I see a red fox or a gray fox?” A red fox has a white tip to its tail and a gray fox has a black tip to its tail. Mating for foxes peaks in February, with kits born in April or May.

“Do sapsuckers harm trees?” Yellow-bellied sapsuckers drill sapwells in many species of trees and woody plants, but have a strong preference for birches and maples, trees with high sugar concentrations. Sapsucker sapwells are approximately 1/4 inch in diameter and are typically numerous holes drilled in horizontal rows. The sapwells attract hummingbirds. Sapsucker damage could make a tree vulnerable to other problems, such as insects, disease or decay fungi. The yellow-bellied sapsucker is the only woodpecker in eastern North America that is completely migratory.

“How common are spider bites?” Not common unless you’re a fly. Most suspected spider bites are bites from other creatures such as fleas. Spiders have no reason to bite people. We’re not food for them and many spiders aren’t capable of piercing human flesh.

Thanks for stopping by

“When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.” — Willie Nelson

“One should pay attention to even the smallest crawling creature for these, too, may have a valuable lesson to teach us.” — Black Elk

Do good.

A comely cardinal.

FullSizeRender.jpg
A purple finch and a cardinal redden things up at the feeders.

A purple finch and a cardinal redden things up at the feeders.

I count on seeing black squirrels while doing Christmas Bird Counts.

I count on seeing black squirrels while doing Christmas Bird Counts.

FullSizeRender.jpg

There are ears for listening and ears for eating.

It was a wonderful Christmas pheasant.

It was a wonderful Christmas pheasant.

I wish you a bright and happy New Year with or without sundogs.

I wish you a bright and happy New Year with or without sundogs.