SWALLOWS, SWANS, KILDEER

Submitted by Art & Barb Straub

Regular Henderson Independent readers will readily recall June 24th’s issue wherein we regaled you with frustrations recalling memories of the Colorado potato beetle, and how removing the beasties by hand curtailed their numbers in former times. You may also remember that upon our first foray through the potato patch in June, we plucked fifteen adult leaf devourers as they plodded about in singles or pairs. We missed some mating pairs! This week their soft-bodied larvae were munching and crunching through the patch, leaving withered stalks behind. More intensive actions have been taken! The moisture laden heat is absolute heavenly conditions for the voracious beetles, and we love our spuds, the beetles had to vamoose!

While researching cliff swallow nest numbers attached to the abutments beneath the Henderson Highway #19/Minnesota River bridge on July first, a very perceptible and familiar bird call reverberated through the stifling air. “Kill-dee, dee-tyree.” We had trespassed upon the territory of a gorgeous female killdeer, commonly called the “jack-snipe.” Her nest, a small scrape in short grass, contained three eggs about an inch long, large at one end, so that the eggs roll into the nest, not out. Sometimes, there may be up to five eggs in the nest, but one would guess that this bird with the bobbing head and downward tail flick had been displaced once or twice before our discovery, less than twenty feet from a walking path, and ten yards from Hwy #19.

Killdeer survival is tenuous. Nests may be found on the edge of roads and farm fields, on golf courses, grassy expanses and yes, in Henderson, atop flat roof-tops including Hilltop School, Henderson’s historic flat-topped buildings, and even Sibley Estates Senior Living Center. (Yes, we’ve found newly hatched babies in the middle of Main Street, Henderson, fresh off a roof and heading for safety.)

Back on the dike, the female killdeer played the old broken wing act, the ‘ungulate display,’ attempting to lead us away from her nest. Nearby, the male bobbed and weaved, allowing the female to exert energy luring unwelcome visitors away. You can imagine that the bird with the large eyes, long pointed tail and wings with orange chest is on the decline due to manicured lawns, curious dogs, hungry cats, careless walkers, heavy rains…the list appears endless. If the nest is on a flat surface where precipitation gathers during cloudbursts, the egg lasts but a few minutes, and since killdeer begin nesting in April, life is tenuous at best, with an incubation period lasting 22 - 28 days of constant danger.

A few hundred yards east of the killdeer lair, life for the cliff swallows is frenetic, hectic to say the least. The young are in the process of hatching and devouring myriad buglets, with their square-tailed parents, pale, pumpkin-cored rumps dashing in and out under the Highway #19/Minnesota River bridge.
Roaring, banging, clanging traffic just feet above their heads, the well-constructed nests and fledglings seem oblivious to the din. No social distancing here. (See photo.) Soon the young will gather on the horizontal wires north of the bridge, having discovered a world full of juicy insects, and an endless exciting sky. No wonder swallows are symbols of cooperation, joy, love, loyalty, hope and healing.

When in danger, what is the natural tendency of many of earth’s creatures? To return home, of course, to return to where one was nurtured. To recap: After a month of incubating a mysterious number of eggs atop a large muskrat house on Coachlight Pond south of Henderson, the Trumpeter swans, Sylvia and Sylvan, brought fourth four fluffy cygnets on Memorial Day, 2020. Overnight, two more wee puffballs extricated themselves from their egg tombs, and under the 24/7 vigilance of cob and pen, the cygnet sextet has remained intact. As time passed, swan family left the little Coachlight pond upon which they’d begun life’s journey, to feast on aquatic vegetation…leaves, seeds, roots of underwater tubers… on the largest of the ponds. From time to time, they exerted some independence and disappeared from public into the secret and mysterious water passageways of the pond.

June 28th, late in the day, the swan assembly of eight all appeared at the ‘home place,’ smallest pond. Sylvia was observed raising the height of the muskrat house, repeatedly dredging beakfuls of mud and reeds like Noah’s wife preparing for a flood. Sure enough, bounteous precipitation arrived…locally and to the south/southwest, sending the Minnesota River into the floodplains once again… closing Highway #93, and eventually, meandering through a series of channels, into the Coachlight Ponds. What sense of foreboding do swans and other beasties have? As of Fourth of July, the eight swans await their fates, while swallows, harbingers of cooperation, loyalty, peace, and healing swirl about their long graceful necks. Wishing the same to you, dear readers, on this Fourth of July, 2020.