Hip, Hip, Hurrah for Herons, Eagles!!!

Submitted by Art & Barb Straub

How they slipped in, bypassing THE PONDS at LeSueur, we’ll never know. Standing high and gaunt, silhouetted against the gloomy gray sky in the giant cottonwood trees of the heron colony west of Belle Plaine, four pathetic-appearing Great Blue herons stood defiantly facing the north wind. The females seemed to be asking the males, “Why oh why couldn’t we have waited a couple of weeks? No frogs showing themselves, no giant water beetles, the minnows aren’t moving in the ice-cold water. Why are we here?” “Patience, my dears, the sun will come forth, we’ve dead fish for lunch, stick around, dear ones, the best is yet to come.” The aforesaid conversation appeared to be takiång place Sunday morning, March 29th, a depressing morning in the soggy messy stick nests near Highway #6.

Two days before, Lynn Poole of LeSueur visited the heronry at Sakatah State Park in Waterville. A sunny day illumined the beautiful gray-blue birds with yellow-orange bills as they eyed one another. Lynn admires this largest of the North American herons, wide black stripe over their eyes. Their possible arrival had prompted her long journey south to Waterville, on the chance that the tall birds might have returned from the south to the colony at the north end of Lake Sakatah. The exquisite photos she garnered were more than worth the trip. ‘Pairing’ was in full swing on that propitious day, no comparison to Sunday’s foreboding skies which followed the icy blast and torrential rain of March 28th.

At the south end of the Belle Plaine heronry stands a gnarled cottonwood tree with a giant tangle of brush containing an eagle nest. Further to the south, tall electrical lines crisscross the valley, thus the herons which survive eagles and wires, are remarkably skilled aviators.

Have you ever wondered, upon seeing a heron chest-deep in slimy green algae, how they remain so beautiful and well-kept? The Cornel Lab research team shares with us an odd fact. “The heron has specialized feathers on its chest that grow and fray. The birds comb ‘powder down’ with a fringed claw on their middle toes, using the down like a washcloth to remove fish slime and oil as they preen. Applying this powder to their underparts protects their feathers against slimy material in swamps.” How is THAT for a little-known fact. THANKS, Cornell Lab, and thanks Lynn for the sumptuous eye candy heron photo!

In a trip to the forest March 29th, one found nothing but ‘blah’ as far as color and spirit lifters! Soggy mole runs, deep deer ruts, muddy paths, boggy flower beds, sodden brown leaves…all placed one in a morose mood. Then, piercing the greening moss, three tiny bright yellow flowers beamed a greeting. Immediately overhead, branches of a magnolia tree with gray catkins, promises of floppy white flowers and heavenly aroma shouted, ‘See the yellow, see the yellow!” Years ago, in a rare burst of energy, we planted a hundred marble-sized bulbs of an early spring flower, Winter Wolfsbane. (aconites)
As time passed, the tiny short-lived flowers blossomed and were then forgotten. Many times, sharp blades of a lawnmower sheered their wee leaves off. Mammals of many kinds stomped on the treasures, thus each year, few blooms dared thrust their bright blossoms through the moss. Just three plants have survived the elements.

But on this day of gloom, with the evil virus on the prowl, they gave heart and spirit to a disheartened soul who was asking, “What’s it all about?” Then came the wise words of a friend from the past week. “NOT EVERYTHING IS CANCELLED!!!” Spring beauty, relationships, love, imagination, creative ideas, kindness, telephone conversations, emails, caring, sharing, etc. ARE NOT CANCELLED! Of a sudden, a snippet of a verse came wafting through the breeze under that magnolia tree, a phrase inspired by an inscription found in an underground tunnel in Germany after world War II: “I believe in the sun, even when it isn’t shining!”

According to a wonderful friend in Florida, monarch butterflies have begun their life process in her back yard; egg, larva, chrysalis, adult…new monarchs bursting from their emerald green tombs. Journey North, a great resource for phenologists, reports that ruby throated hummingbirds have reached Oklahoma, from whence they will follow the early blooming flowers and yellow-bellied sapsuckers into Minnesota by April’s final weeks. Crocus are reported in Henderson/LeSueur area flower beds. Female robins arrived in flocks during the past week, to pep up the spirits of the territories established by feisty males.

And the eagles, oh, the bald eagles! While beautiful Sylvan and Sylvia Trumpeter swans and sniping Izzy and Ilsa Canada geese pitch war over a single muskrat house, bald eagles quibble and clench talons over THE PONDS! Easy to count, a kettle of nineteen lifted above the Rush River bridge before the river’s latest muck and mayhem sloshed toward the Minnesota River. To observe more than fifty white heads and immature brown bodies eating breakfast of a morning is no exaggeration, while gulls lazily circle, ducks pair, turkeys gobble and strut in yon forest. The JOY of it all! Do stay well, gentle friends!