It’s a lemon drop day thanks to goldfinches.

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It’s a lemon drop day thanks to goldfinches.

An American bittern pretending to be marsh vegetation in the sneeze of a misty morning.

An American bittern pretending to be marsh vegetation in the sneeze of a misty morning.

A nesting pair of Canada geese. Their relationship was on the rocks.

A nesting pair of Canada geese. Their relationship was on the rocks.

Al Batt: Fall migrations offer more birds, but spring migration brings color

 ©Al Batt of Hartland Email him at SnoEowl@aol.com.

My neighbor Crandall stops by.

“How are you doing?” I ask.

“Everything is nearly copacetic. I should be checking the roof of my house for winter damage, but I don’t like heights. I suffer a bout of anxiety when I stand on my tiptoes. So, I think I’ll set up a lawn chair and make a day of it.”

“Make a day of what?” I say.

“Sitting in a lawn chair, of course.”

Naturally

I watched a red-tailed hawk kiting into the wind. It had nothing to do with a check-kiting scheme. The wind allowed the raptor to hover while hunting. This hawk preys primarily on mammals.

The yard birds come and go. They are not to be confused with the Yardbirds, a rock band, whose hits included “For Your Love” and “Heart Full of Soul.” Back to my yard birds. Bird migrations carry magic and wonder in their feathers. Spring migrations are more colorful as birds wear breeding plumages. Fall migration has more birds with the young birds included. The new birds are more likely to take a wrong turn and end up where they aren’t supposed to be, much to the delight of a birder.

The world is in technicolor and most birds are breath-stopping beauties, but the loveliness of some of the warblers makes for feathered jewels. I recall being a boy toiling the farm fields on a tractor without a cab one spring day. The weather had been good and bad. A little rain, some wind and then sun. I brought the tractor to a stop at the edge of the woods. I grabbed my poor man’s lunch pail (a bread wrapper) and climbed onto a low hanging branch of a lofty tree to enjoy a couple of bologna and Velveeta sandwiches and a like number of sugar cookies. As I munched away, I heard the chips of birds. I looked up to see branches covered in American redstarts drooping wings and fanning tails in order to flush insect prey from vegetation. The males flashed orange and black, while the females, nicknamed yellowstarts by some birders, showed yellow and gray. The large number of dancing warblers made me say “Wow” more than once. Their presence made for the best of dinner entertainment. I watched the warblers for exactly too long when I should have been working. As I resumed work, I wished the tractor offered a warbler floor show, too.

Spring may have sprung. My winter coat has been put away, the land smells of spring, the whole world seems to be chirping and a visit to an ice cream shop doesn’t sound like an insane idea.

Birds have to deal with the weather. Everything does. For the Great Lakes, Ohio Valley and Midwest, the “Farmers’ Almanac” predicts heat and humidity will build in June and July will be stormy and warm. A stormy summer is on tap for the region overall. Severe weather may rumble through in late July.

Time is fleeting. It seems as if the juncos had just arrived and now, they have left. I’ll miss the lovely, little birds. Dark-eyed juncos do nest in northeastern and north central Minnesota.

Q&A

Karen Wright of Mankato asked how to tell whether a bumblebee is a queen. Queens are larger than bumblebee workers. Nearly all bumblebees seen early in the spring will be queens.

“I’ve seen murmurations of starlings. How do birds in those flocks keep from colliding with other birds?” I am mesmerized by those pulsating clouds of birds swirling through the sky. Princeton University researchers have revealed a key behind this magic. It’s the number seven. Starlings coordinate movement with their seven nearest neighbors and they do so gracefully and safely.

“Why does a cow chew its cud?” Compared to cows, humans have a simple stomach, a pouch-like structure containing glands which secrete digestive enzymes. Forage-consuming species called ruminants, such as cattle, consume large amounts of fibrous material. The four compartments of a ruminant’s stomach are the rumen, reticulum, omasum and abomasum. The rumen, the largest of the four, is where the food is collected and fermented by microorganisms. In order to digest roughage efficiently, it must be in small pieces. Cattle re-chew their food several times to make it smaller. When cattle ruminate or chew their cud, they have regurgitated partly digested feed from the rumen. No matter how hard they try, cows are unable to blow bubbles with their cuds, but stubbornly refuse to give bubblegum a try.

Thanks

for stopping by

“I would rather be able to appreciate things I cannot have than to have things I am not able to appreciate.” — Elbert Hubbard

“A sense of humor is needed armor. Joy in one’s heart and some laughter on one’s lips is a sign that the person down deep has a pretty good grasp of life.” — Hugh Sidey

Do good.

A nickname for the American avocet is “blue shanks.”

A nickname for the American avocet is “blue shanks.”

This hybrid is paired up with a Canada goose.

This hybrid is paired up with a Canada goose.

This hybrid is paired up with a Canada goose.

I pointed out a skink that looked as if someone had been trying to teach it to fetch a stick when the Kansan I ‘d been hiking with, told me the animal was a sign of rain. I smiled in disbelief, but it rained.

I pointed out a skink that looked as if someone had been trying to teach it to fetch a stick when the Kansan I ‘d been hiking with, told me the animal was a sign of rain. I smiled in disbelief, but it rained.

A cormorant is a blue-eyed low rider when settling low in the water.

A cormorant is a blue-eyed low rider when settling low in the water.

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A love hexagon of five northern shoveler drakes all interested in the same hen

Goslings learning how to mow the lawn.

Goslings learning how to mow the lawn.

I was birding when I saw this massasauga. We were both small and venomous.

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I was birding when I saw this massasauga. We were both small and venomous.

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Armadillo is a Spanish word meaning “little armored one,” but this one didn’t have enough armor to survive a car collision in Kansas.

When you’re a camel, every day is hump day.

When you’re a camel, every day is hump day.

Whenever I see a scissor-tailed flycatcher, I feel like a lucky man.

Whenever I see a scissor-tailed flycatcher, I feel like a lucky man.

This camel knows the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.

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This camel knows the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.

I watched a prairie dog in Kansas that looked as if it were picking its teeth.

I watched a prairie dog in Kansas that looked as if it were picking its teeth.

A prairie dog believes in stopping to eat the flowers.

A prairie dog believes in stopping to eat the flowers.

The carp were either hungry or they’d formed a choir.

The carp were either hungry or they’d formed a choir.

I love this paint job.

I love this paint job.

I love this paint job.

I love this paint job.

I love this paint job.

I love this paint job.

Not all rabbits are named Peter, Bugs, Crusader, Roger, Bunny, Thumper or Jessica. This eastern cottontail is Bob.

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Not all rabbits are named Peter, Bugs, Crusader, Roger, Bunny, Thumper or Jessica. Meet this eastern cottontail named Bob.

It wasn’t long ago when this squirrel watched winter go by.

It wasn’t long ago when this squirrel watched winter go by.

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A rose-breasted grosbeak plus grape jelly equal the look of a birdy vampire.

The head stripes on a white-throated sparrow could be white or tan.

The head stripes on a white-throated sparrow could be white or tan.

This rose-breasted grosbeak gave me a look as if he’d never seen anything quite like me before.

This rose-breasted grosbeak gave me a look as if he’d never seen anything quite like me before.

The great-tailed grackle is one of North America’s fastest bird species when it comes to expanding territories .

The great-tailed grackle is one of North America’s fastest bird species when it comes to expanding territories .

Nature’s World by Al Batt

My neighbor Crandall stops by.

“How are you doing?” I ask.

“Everything is nearly copacetic. I was doing some tubular dining, a hot dog and Pringles, when I reflected on my pitiful college career. I’d have done much better if it hadn’t been for baseball.”

“You didn’t play baseball in college,” I say.

“I know that. It was because of a pitcher, Denny McLain. He pitched for the Detroit Tigers. He gave my beloved Minnesota Twins fits. One year, he had a 1.96 ERA. I didn’t like him, so I decided to show him what a good Minnesotan could do. And I beat McLain. My freshman GPA was 1.80.”

Naturally

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 shot. 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 gaveme 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.

Q&A

“What is the most hunted mammal in this country?” It’s bunny you should ask. The Minnesota DNR says the eastern cottontail is the number one game animal in the U.S. I’m not certain as to the measurement used in determination. Perhaps on number harvested. According to a 2016 survey by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, based on number of hunters and including birds, there are far more deer hunters than any other particular hunter. They are followed, in descending order, by hunters of turkey, squirrel, rabbit and hare, ducks, doves, quail and geese.

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

Do good.

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

A swamp sparrow is a skulker of swamps and marshes. - Al Batt/Albert Lea Tribune

A swamp sparrow is a skulker of swamps and marshes. - Al Batt/Albert Lea Tribune

Female greater prairie-chickens find center-pivot irrigation offers a place to escape the attention of the males.

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Female greater prairie-chickens find center-pivot irrigation offers a place to escape the attention of the males.

I love hearing the plaintive whistle of the white-throated sparrow.

I love hearing the plaintive whistle of the white-throated sparrow.

The furtive Lincoln’s sparrow often goes unnoticed. Pity — such a pretty bird.

The furtive Lincoln’s sparrow often goes unnoticed. Pity — such a pretty bird.

A cardinal’s preferred habitat is on a Christmas card.

A cardinal’s preferred habitat is on a Christmas card.

A white-throated sparrow whistles “Old Sven Peterson, Peterson, Peterson” when it’s in Minnesota.

A white-throated sparrow whistles “Old Sven Peterson, Peterson, Peterson” when it’s in Minnesota.

The handsome, little Lincoln’s sparrow was named after Tom Lincoln, a son of a friend of Audubon.

The handsome, little Lincoln’s sparrow was named after Tom Lincoln, a son of a friend of Audubon.

The chipping sparrow chooses to trill more like an insect than like Elvis Presley.

The chipping sparrow chooses to trill more like an insect than like Elvis Presley.

Swamp sparrow

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A swamp sparrow is a skulker of swamps and marshes. 

A purple finch female has a bold, white eyebrow stripe that is lacking on a female house finch.

A purple finch female has a bold, white eyebrow stripe that is lacking on a female house finch.

The yellow shafts on the underwing of a northern flicker.

The yellow shafts on the underwing of a northern flicker.

A red-winged blackbird buzzes the tower of a pair of northern shovelers.

A red-winged blackbird buzzes the tower of a pair of northern shovelers.

Al Batt: Red Owl grocery store not named after a real, cardinal-colored owl

An American white pelican mature enough to reproduce develops a nuptial tubercle, a fibrous plate on the upper mandible. The tubercle falls off when mating season is over. Al Batt/Albert Lea Tribune

Al Batt of Hartland. Email him at SnoEowl@aol.com.

My neighbor Crandall stops by.

“How are you doing?” I ask.

“Everything is nearly copacetic. My birthday has passed. I feel

like a teenager with too many miles on him. I’ve found it helps if I lower my standards each day. I need to take off some winter weight. It takes me two trips to the bathroom scale to weigh myself. I tried a gym membership, but one day I put my sweatpants on backwards and walked away from that. I’m on a new diet. I eat whatever I want and hope for the best. I have a physical fitness regime that I adhere to. I walk from wherever I’ve parked my car.”

Naturally

“Is the spring coming?” he said.

“What is it like?”

“It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine.”

I love those words written by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

I filled a bird feeder and invited my executive platinum plus members to feed. A cardinal bit off the end of its song. Was it due to a predator, a competitor or had it forgotten the tune? I didn’t know, but I was oddly concerned. I watched chickadees go about. I could mail up to three of them in an envelope for one Forever stamp, but they wouldn’t like it.

LBJs filled the yard. Little brown jobs. LBBs — little brown birds. Brown colors of excitement. The day before Easter was warm with a south wind. That encouraged travel for many of the migrant birds hanging around the yard before they headed north. Many juncos and other native sparrows cleared out.

Robins are happy to see the worms. Earthworms have no eyes with which to see the robins. They do have receptors that sense light or dark.

I watched a Forster’s tern as it made a U-turn, one that I believe was illegal, and disappeared from my sight. American white pelicans flew so high in a flock they were swallowed by the sky.

Q&A

“Is there a red owl that the store was named after?” Red Owl was a regional grocery store that began in 1922 when it was a coal investment firm for General Mills and headquartered in Hopkins, Minnesota. It once was the premier grocery business in Minnesota. The title sequence of the “Mary Tyler Moore” television show had Mary in a Red Owl meat department. Despite internet claims, there isn’t an owl the color of a cardinal. The Madagascar red owl looks like a barn owl and has an orange-rufous plumage. There is a red morph of our eastern screech owl that is rufous in color.

Cathy Probst of Weslaco, Texas, wondered if it’s normal for a mockingbird to sing at night. Although all adult male northern mockingbirds sing during the day, studies have found it’s typically a bachelor singing at night. The night music is a love song with the sounds of other birds embedded in its melodies. I was staying in a cheap motel in the far south when a mockingbird sang all night just outside my door. A gifted mimic, the bird sounded like everything and anything. He sang on top and around his own singing. I wanted to find where he was napping during the day, sing a couple of Slim Harpo tunes at him and see how he liked it.

“I see what I think are centipedes and millipedes in my basement. Do they really have as many legs as their names would suggest?” These critters do provide a creep factor, saving people the time and money of having to watch creepy horror movies. When you enter the basement, it’s a millipede if it curls up and becomes motionless. A centipede runs away. The centipede you’ve seen probably has about 30 legs and the millipede perhaps 160.

“What is the most numerous bird in the world?” The most common bird in the world is the domestic chicken, most of which originated from the red jungle fowl. The most abundant wild bird is likely the red-billed quelea, sparrow-sized birds found in sub-Saharan Africa, with a breeding population of 1.5 billion.

Good Earth Village Lunch & Learn Invitation

Please join me for a nice meal and my talk on birding from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. May 13 at Good Earth Village in Spring Valley. “This and that. Birds and a Batt. Bird stories told by a birdbrain, naturally. Each bird has a story — what’s yours?” Free will offerings accepted. For information or to RSVP, go to www.GoodEarthVillage.org/LunchandLearn.

Thanks for stopping by

“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.” — Confucius

“I encourage people to be nice to their pets. They’ve seen you naked and not laughed. OK, maybe they do laugh, but they have the decency to wait until you leave the room.” — Oliver Christiansen

Do good.

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An American white pelican mature enough to reproduce develops a nuptial tubercle, a fibrous plate on the upper mandible. The tubercle falls off when mating season is over. Al Batt/Albert Lea Tribune

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The shadow knows it’s a singing red-winged blackbird.

Last year’s Baltimore oriole nest hangs high in a tree.

Last year’s Baltimore oriole nest hangs high in a tree.

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I was unable to get a decent photo of this sora, which cackled like a witch from a concealed location.

The yellow-headed blackbird stood out from the brown-headed cowbirds and red-winged blackbirds as you’d expect a mustard-head would.

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The yellow-headed blackbird stood out from the brown-headed cowbirds and red-winged blackbirds as you’d expect a mustard-head would.

The lone city in Loup County, Nebraska, is the county seat.

The lone city in Loup County, Nebraska, is the county seat.

Hooded mergansers are cavity nesters and enjoy a crayfish (crawdad) dinner.

Hooded mergansers are cavity nesters and enjoy a crayfish (crawdad) dinner.

A grateful meerkat.

A grateful meerkat.

Sibley says the cinnamon teal makes a chattering or rattling “gredek, gredek.”

Sibley says the cinnamon teal makes a chattering or rattling “gredek, gredek.”

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A noon hour walk in Arizona brought an encounter with a barrel cactus ready to stick me with lunch.

A turkey vulture concluding its horaltic pose, a spread-winged stance.

A turkey vulture concluding its horaltic pose, a spread-winged stance.

Daniel Pink wrote that a person’s day is made up of a peak, a trough and a recovery. This bird is demonstrating a trough.

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Daniel Pink wrote that a person’s day is made up of a peak, a trough and a recovery. This bird is demonstrating a trough.

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A bald eagle nest with eaglets looms high above the cattle, none of which are purple.Frank Gelett Burgess wrote: “I never saw a purple cow. I never hope to see one. But I can tell you anyhow.I'd rather see than be one.”

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The Cornell Lab of Ornithology says brown-headed cowbirds have laid eggs in the nests of more than 220 species of birds.

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Blue jays are good at weathering storms.

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An eaglet in a bald eagle nest. They like to nest in the king of the trees.

There are those people who consider muskrat meat a delicacy. I am not one of those people.

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There are those people who consider muskrat meat a delicacy. I am not one of those people.

This is what I call old school.  Seen near Burwell, Nebraska.

This is what I call old school.

Seen near Burwell, Nebraska.

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It’s tiring being a house sparrow. Naps are needed.

The Bonaparte’s gull was named in honor of ornithologist Charles Lucien Bonaparte.

The Bonaparte’s gull was named in honor of ornithologist Charles Lucien Bonaparte.

The Franklin’s gull was named after Sir John Franklin, an Arctic explorer.

The Franklin’s gull was named after Sir John Franklin, an Arctic explorer.

Al Batt: Grackles may be abundant in yard, but show population decline

by Al Batt, albertleatribune.com
April 20, 2019 09:00 AM

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

My neighbor Crandall stops by.

“How are you doing?” I ask.

“Everything is nearly copacetic. I’m still able to take nourishment. My power was out for a few days and I’d loaned out my generator, so I hunkered down to do some serious reading. Cruella had talked me into reading one of those e-books. It was OK, but I’d have enjoyed it more had they used the other letters of the alphabet, too.”

Naturally

I enjoy watching the spring bird shows. They change each day. Birds become more vocal, each having a story to tell. I love to hear the vesper sparrow sing the evening vespers, “Listen to my evening sing-ing-ing-ing.”

Male pheasants “crow” throughout the day all year, but especially at dawn and dusk in spring. Roosters also utter a series of loud, two-note calls when they are flushed.

I watched blue-winged teal on the water. These skilled flyers are among the last ducks to return in the spring, but leave early in the fall. The drakes defend mates, but not territories. Because of this, their nests are more concentrated than those of other ducks.

My yard entertained many common grackles. A heap of birds in one lump. They are common and widespread, but the North American Breeding Bird Survey shows a decline in population of 58% from 1966 to 2014. Grackles dab natural insect repellents on their plumage. This includes ants, marigolds, lemon slices, walnut juice and chokecherries.

I spotted a couple of gray partridges in a field. Often called a Hungarian partridge, their North American Breeding Bird Survey populations declined by 60%from 1966 to 2015.

I’d driven by many red-tailed hawks, ever-vigilant and perched on posts, and an old farm place where a wooden corn crib still stood. The slatted walls encouraged the drying of ears of corn. Those gaps made such a crib a giant bird feeder. On the farm I grew up on, red-headed woodpeckers found those corn cribs to their liking.

I saw some rock pigeons. These are the birds that people think of as barn pigeons or the street-smart birds seen in city parks. Pigeons are interesting and smart. Pigeons pass the mirror test. They realize that their mirrored images aren’t real birds. The beginning of Charles Darwin’s “The Origin of Species,” is more about pigeons than anything else. I watched a pair of pigeons kiss. The male grasped the female’s bill and regurgitated food as a courtship gesture. Sweet.

Q&A

“Why should I watch birds?” Asking me that question is like asking the Burger King if you should eat hamburgers. In this chaotic world we live in, I seek order in its feathered form. When the events of the day threaten to tear the beauty from the world, I find pulchritude in birds. Birds are my treehouse. You should watch birds for every reason you can think of.

“Why do birds come in so many colors?” Because of diet, camouflage, mate selection and genetics.

“What is the biggest bat in Minnesota?” It was supposed to be Miguel Sano of the Minnesota Twins, but he comes into each season preinjured. The hoary bat is the largest weighing over an ounce and with a wingspan of up to 16 inches.

“Where do western meadowlarks nest? I love their song.” It’s a bird of the grass. The species is typically found in open landscapes like pastures, hayfields, grasslands, prairies and meadows where there is a mix of short to medium-high grasses. They nest on the ground, often in small dips or hollows, such as those created by cow footprints. Nests are typically under dense vegetation and can be difficult for us to find. The birds have no difficulty in finding them, which is a good thing.

“How far north can wild turkeys be found in Minnesota?” From sightings people have shared with me, I’d say to the Manitoba border and nearly to Ontario.

Thanks for stopping by

“Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement … get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.” — Abraham Joshua Heschel

“There will always be pigeons in books and museums, but these are effigies and images, dead to all hardships and all delights. Book pigeons cannot dive out of cloud to make the deer run for cover, or clap their wings in thunderous applause of mast-laden woods. Book pigeons cannot breakfast on new mown wheat in Minnesota and dine on blueberries in Canada. They know no urge of seasons, they feel no kiss of sun, no lash of wind and weather. They live forever by not living at all.” — Aldo Leopold, writing of the passenger pigeon in “A Sand County Almanac: On a Monument to the Pigeon”

Do good.

A post vulture.

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A post vulture.

There is a badger spying on me. Can you see it?

There is a badger spying on me. Can you see it?

The blue-winged teal is the second most abundant duck in North America, trailing only the mallard.

The blue-winged teal is the second most abundant duck in North America, trailing only the mallard.

I’ve been told that a group of cinnamon teal is a "seasoning.” If that’s not true, it should be a “spice.”

I’ve been told that a group of cinnamon teal is a "seasoning.” If that’s not true, it should be a “spice.”

I’ve found staring at a cinnamon teal to be helpful.

I’ve found staring at a cinnamon teal to be helpful.

 “Badgers? We need stinking badgers!”

 “Badgers? We need stinking badgers!”

Prairie icons in Jackson, Nebraska.

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The view from Hawkeye Point near Sibley, Iowa, looks much like Iowa.

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The view from the tallest point of land in Iowa.

The western meadowlark’s whistles and warbles must dodge grass in order to be heard.

The western meadowlark’s whistles and warbles must dodge grass in order to be heard.

A postcard of pintails.

A postcard of pintails.

A greater prairie chicken dances on a snowy lek on Switzer Ranch near Burwell, Nebraska.

A greater prairie chicken dances on a snowy lek on Switzer Ranch near Burwell, Nebraska.

A union of opposites — American goldfinch and house finch.

A union of opposites — American goldfinch and house finch.

A union of opposites — American goldfinch and house finch.

This rusty blackbird had avoided becoming an icy blackbird.

This rusty blackbird had avoided becoming an icy blackbird.

 “Bye Bye Blackbird” becomes a sad song as the population of the rusty blackbird declines.

 “Bye Bye Blackbird” becomes a sad song as the population of the rusty blackbird declines.

A red-winged blackbird finds a bit of green on a day that would never be mistaken for St. Patrick’s Day.

A red-winged blackbird finds a bit of green on a day that would never be mistaken for St. Patrick’s Day.

This female red-winged blackbird has never watched The Weather Channel. It is a weather channel.

This female red-winged blackbird has never watched The Weather Channel. It is a weather channel.

Al Batt: ’Tis the season — red-winged blackbirds are the sounds of spring

byAl Batt,albertleatribune.com

April 13, 2019 

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

My neighbor Crandall stops by.

“How are you doing?” I ask.

“Everything is nearly copacetic. I have a grandson who makes up things rather than admit he doesn’t know.”

“Have you talked to him about that?” I say.

“I told him, ’You have become a man, my son.’”

Naturally

I’ve come into my season. Red-winged blackbirds are the sounds of spring. Rooster pheasants crowed. Canada geese claimed nest sites. That’s a noisy job. Turkey vultures tilted through the sky. The poet Mary Oliver wrote, “Like large dark lazy butterflies they sweep over the glades looking for death, to eat it, to make it vanish, to make of it the miracle: resurrection.”

Tundra swan flocks, eastern bluebirds and brown-headed cowbirds suddenly appeared whenever a birder was near. Cowbirds are brood parasites. They don’t build nests. Instead, they lay their eggs in the nests of other birds. The host birds incubate cowbird eggs and raise the chicks, often to the detriment of their own offspring. Sandhill cranes rattled, trumpeted and bugled as they took flight. Opportunistic omnivores, their varied diet includes  waste corn, small mammals, amphibians, insects, reptiles and snails. Northern harriers return when the snow leaves the fields. Once called a marsh hawk, it courses low over the ground while hunting small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds and insects. They locate some prey by sound.

Pocket gopher mounds declare the frost is out of the ground. I browsed the seed selection in a store. I used to plant marigolds around the borders of vegetable gardens to discourage rabbits. I stopped when the eastern cottontails began eating marigolds.

The bluebird guy

The Rice Soil and Water Conservation District selected Keith Radel of Faribault to receive the 2018 Wildlife Enhancement Award for Rice County. Keith volunteers with the Bluebird Recovery Program, checking and maintaining a bluebird trail consisting of 175 nest sites throughout the bluebird mating season, from April through August. Keith has fledged 13,148 bluebirds from those nest boxes over 30 years. He began with 25 boxes on a 5-acre patch of land.

“If a bluebird had flown in, it would have hit a box,” recalled Keith.

That year, those boxes had no nests, no eggs and no baby bluebirds. Keith added six boxes the nest year. He fledged eight bluebirds. Keith realized that the 5 acres should have had only two sites. If paired, that meant four boxes. He culled the herd of nest boxes to four and 81 birds were fledged. Keith learned that a young bluebird could fly up to 300 feet on its maiden flight. He gives a box two years to fledge birds. If it doesn’t, he moves it to another location. Keith mentioned Roger Strand, a most successful wood duck landlord, who mounts wood duck boxes on baffled poles in water. The baffles keep predators away. Roger keeps the boxes 16 feet away from trees to prevent squirrels from leaping onto the boxes.

Q&A

“Do owls eat fish?” Mike Kennedy of Winona told me that he’d had a barred owl pestering his bobber while Mike was fishing. Barred owls do catch and eat fish. The great horned owl and other owls will sometimes go fishing.

“The seed in my bird feeders disappears so quickly. What’s going on?” My guess is that the birds are eating it.

“How many baby robins live a year?” About one in four survive 12 months.

“Where is the best place to put a bird feeder?” I have the best luck by putting a feeder outside. In the TV series “Mad Men,” a character said, “Nothing concentrates the mind like the prospect of being hanged at dawn.” This was a variation on a Samuel Johnson quote, “Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” When putting up a feeder, concentrate your mind just enough to hang it in the best spot, which is some place where you’ll see it regularly without much effort.

Thanks for stopping by

“All winter long, behind every thunder, guess what we heard! Behind every thunder the song of a bird a trumpeting bird. All winter long, beneath every snowing, guess what we saw! Beneath every snowing a thaw and a growing, a greening and growing.” — a Native American song from the book “Earth Prayers”

“Years ago I had a Buddhist teacher in Thailand who would remind all his students that there was always something to be thankful for. He’d say, ’Let’s rise and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we may have learned a little. And if we didn’t learn even a little, at least we didn’t get sick. And if we did get sick, at least we didn’t die. So let us all be thankful.’” — Leo Buscaglia in his book, “Born for Love: Reflections on Loving”

Do good.

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  The male cowbird is all feathers and no cattle. - Al Batt/Albert Lea Tribune

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This stubborn structure near Belden, Nebraska, was once someone’s dream house.

I hadn’t considered moving to Nebraska, but they might have named a town after me. That’s applying pressure to relocate.

I hadn’t considered moving to Nebraska, but they might have named a town after me. That’s applying pressure to relocate.

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A horned lark homesteads bare ground.