February Sun Spawns Several Subtle Spring Signs
Submitted by Art and Barb Straub
Have you ever heard eagles singing…not screaming but singing? Few folks do achieve that pleasantry, but this week, Bruce Bjork, Minnesota River Valley photographer extraordinaire had that precious experience while plying his creativity at Bucks’ Lake. Enumerable local nature enthusiasts observed the convocation of American bald eagles in the cottonwood and maple trees on the ice along the western edge of Bucks’ Lake beginning Monday, February 17th. A couple of the magnificent birds sang their little hearts out. Eagle numbers were prodigious, ranging from a few to almost fifty. Bruce was in the right place at the right time to hear a pair spewing their beautiful high-pitched whistling songs, almost a happy chortle.
Mixed in with the eagle choristers were scolding crows, a whole murder of them, swearing and cursing at the eagles and bombing the flock of forty or so mallards which had dared to enter into the kingdom of the corvidae, the ill-tempered black scavengers. Yes, the mallards dared to trespass, as they too exhibited unusual behavior, that is, eating dead fish. Dead fish? Yes, some gobbled little shiny silver shad which either smothered out and were floating about, or perhaps live Pisces? Had Frances the focused Ford Focus not been our mode of transport, we mightn’t tell the tall tale. By the way, we embarrassed friend Frances in our last Indy article as to the number of species of fish identified in Minnesota waters. That figure is 153, not the outlandish figure of 1,203 which appeared in these inks. Sorry about that!!!
Frances has been searching in vain for robins along Henderson-LeSueur’s Hwy #93 in and on the springs/seeps alongside the west slope of the hill bordering the highway. Finally, around 4:00 Saturday, February 22, a round of 57 of the sometimes-anti-social orange breasts could be viewed hipping, hopping, tripping and tropping in and out of the fresh oxygenated waters. The sight was nothing compared to the numbers that have been honing in on the robin roost in an obscure hidden spot south of Henderson. Since mid-January, just at sunset each evening, numbers have included 45, 92, 75, 183, 168, 174, and February 22nd, 190 bobbin robins. Did you know that ‘bobbin’ is one of the names for pluralities of robins? And yes, as they enter the roost, they zoom in with a ‘bobbin’ behavior. Well named, wouldn’t you say?
Hop a little, stop. Eat a bit of ‘something,’ then hop a little, stop. Down the center of a gravel driveway, appearing as though they were animated mud clods, nineteen horned larks discovered weed seeds where a snow blower had cleared the white stuff down to the earth. The bevy of migraters flew ahead of Frances, eating and hopping, always keeping their distance from the blue personmobile. They left no chance for a closeup photo, always wary, always moving. Usually a March phenomenon, the birds were a surprise bonus of a trip on a muddy farm road. We’ve never encountered a horned lark (that’s what the birds were) in February as they prefer southern- state vacations; their scurrying about gravel roads, twisting and turning flight plus characteristic ‘tinkling’ call when skyward gives their identification away.
February hunger privation on the part of birds and mammals makes them more daring. For instance, fox squirrels may have exhausted their acorn (mast) supply by February. (Little red squirrels will often rob the cache of mast gathered by fox squirrels, leaving them lunchless.) Fox squirrels remain inactive after the thermometer reaches minus thirty, but they have a secret weapon. There is a valve at the base of the tail whence the mammals are able to open and close to keep warm blood flowing in the main part of the body. During winters such as the one currently being experienced with deep snow, cold and the like, you may encounter fox squirrels high atop amur maple trees, barely able to hang on in the wind. They are harvesting tiny amur maple seeds for sustenance. This places them in danger, as they are coveted by raptors. Also, when crossing the road to get to the maples, they are slow moving, and those red-orange splotches on yon roads aren’t necessarily discarded gloves or mittens!
Amur maple seeds and leaves are also coveted by white-tailed deer. Mosey past a maple windbreak this week, note that the base of the trees are covered by deer tracks. The animals strip the lower limbs, standing upon their hind legs, browsing on the leaves and branches. This leaves fawns especially prone to starvation at the present time. The doe is ‘Madam Chief,’ first at the dinner table, as she carries May’s deer offspring within her body. The buck, deprived of his antlers, yet with his sharp cloven hooves, is next in the deer-pecking order, thus it is that fawns are often the losers in tough winters. Think SPRING, March 19th is but a few short weeks away.