Wintry Weather Bothersome to Many
by Jeff Steinborn on 12/03/18 03:49 PM

Submitted by Art & Barb Straub

Whoa! Frances, fearless and faithful Ford Focus remains focused on the road at all times, but in this case beeped a bit and hissed, “Look west, look west at yonder gleaming snowdrift!” On that particular date, November 29th, snow hadn’t arrived in any great measure, thus the snow along the cloudy horizon WAS a surprise, worthy of a looksee. Frances was right again. The nearby ice-clad lake birthed a marvelous adventure, a flock of ninety trumpeter swans! With 98.6 percent of the lake surface frozen solid, in a small corner of the water body, huge handsome birds trumpeted to Frances, “Keep your distance! Come no further!” Our supposition was twofold; perhaps nearby landowners had installed an aerator to keep fish in the lake supplied with needed oxygen all winter or, the block long backlog of water had natural springs oozing warmish water from its depths. Whatever the reason, the swans were busy feeding from the shallow water, keeping the H2O from freezing by their constant movement. This was a moment to remember, until we discovered we were parked on a private gravel road.

Harvested, yet unplowed cornfields often yield feeding/resting groups of swans all winter long, depending upon depth of snow and intensity of cold. Numbers of white mystics of the airways, usually between ten and twenty, may be discovered in fields near Henderson, Jessenland and Belle Plaine. The birds seem to prefer cornfields with huge rolled bales of stalks waiting to be moved to nearby farms. However, ninety giants of the airways was an unexpected yet much appreciated spectacle in our visit to Spring Lake Township. Once again, we have Frances to thank for calling our attention to this mystical moment.

Have you received your forms for participating in the twenty-second annual Christmas Bird Count on December 15th, sponsored by the NEY Center? More information may be accessed using your handy-dandy computer to receive Ney Center information. In case you haven’t participated before, or are the least bit rusty at bird identification, Ney personnel are conducting a winter bird identification program on Sunday, December 9th at 2:00 p.m. Contact Ney staff to receive more details, or check out the Ney website.

A great surge of American Bald Eagle sightings occurred the week of November 20th at Bucks’ Lake. For a short period, as many as 30 could be observed in tall cottonwood trees on the east side of one of your favorite water bodies.
Of a sudden, they disappeared, and currently, just a few of the locals stand like statues near the eagle aerie. Chad Heins, associate professor of biology at Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato for the past eighteen years, along with his associates and students, conducts what is called “HawkCount” along ridges in that fair city. Each month, he releases a count of the migration of raptors through the Mankato area. In his recently released data for the month of November, his group perceived a total of 1220 bald eagles passing overhead! His highest counts were noted about the same day as Bucks’ Lake’s raptors were staring at the ice. On November 20th HawkCount recorded 293 eagles during four and a half hours. Friends, THAT is a lot of the magnificent birds to see if we but look up, out and over!

Bluebirds, orioles, gray catbirds in November?
Although bluebirds may often be seen in early November, most have headed out by the first of October. But a single one was checking its compass at Linda and Loren Rists’ on November 28th. Members of two other species may have waited too long to utilize the airwaves with their friends bent for Central and South America. Since November 10th, a male gray catbird and a northern (Baltimore) oriole have rented bushy residences locally. The Iten oriole (Sara and Steve) comes promptly to breakfast each morning by 9:00; whereas the catbird may be seen intermittently at a deep woods bird feeder toward evening. The oriole prefers grape jelly (once over lightly,) suet pieces and as of late, mealworms. Sir Catbird is a ground feeder. He waits for woodpeckers to chip suet off a large chunk, suet bits drop to the earth, and he has lunch. Both survived the latest snow, ice, sleet episode, and both have remained until the copy of this article is due in the Indy office, December 3rd! Fascinating! The catbird has his own cheering section in the snow, cardinals, chickadees, woodpeckers, sparrows and dark-eyed juncos. Yes, a single wee chipmunk skitters from birdseed to storage cellar, all the while daring the elements while whistling “Rah, rah, rah” for the catbird. What’s next, friends?