Joined: Jan 2004
Posts: 6,426
Jeff Steinborn Offline OP
Chatter Elite
Between a Rock and a Hard Place!

Submitted by Art and Barb Straub

Or, ‘between a frozen food source and four feet of snow!’ The fact is, January and February have been tough physically on both humans and beasts. We needn’t go into that snow bank any further. Creatures of the air, prairie, woods, streams have been hard-pressed for energy sources, and will be for the immediate future. For example, Frances the faithful Focus was amazed to cruise within close proximity to a handsome great blue heron on February 23rd. The bird facing southward, his feathers wrapped securely about his body, poised like a sailor about to go down with his ship. Overhead, the Bucks’ Lake eagle looked down upon him licking his beak. The heron has been an infrequent visitor, amazing passersby by his consistent persistence. How long will that bird survive? Amazing!

While driving through the country-side on February 23rd, Frances found a flock of a dozen pheasants fluffing downward attempting to retrieve soybeans; thirty hen wild turkeys were standing sullenly ‘neath a tree, heads bowed, praying fruitlessly for an acorn to emerge from the frozen depths of earth at their feet Further down the road, a cautious doe and her nine-month-old fawn floundered as they nibbled spruce tips in the middle of a prairie field. All of the above were spotted at 4:00 of a sunny afternoon. Nearby, seven dejected white-tails chewed on yummy? eastern red cedar buds, having already devastated as much of the luscious (yukk) boughs as they could reach standing upon cloven hooves. For all three species, the tipping point will be the arrival of carnivorous coyotes or feral dogs out for steaks and chops to suppress their voracious appetites of a winter’s night.

We trust that many of you read Jim Gilbert’s article in the “Star Tribune,” February 22nd’s issue, “Native evergreen is tolerant and abundant in state.” Jim and Sandy, wife and helpmate, are long time naturalists who share their sightings both on WCCO radio and in ‘the Trib.’ We are indebted to them for educating so many of us to the enormous pleasure found in tracking the weather and activities of the many Minnesota animal species. Jim states, “The eastern red cedar is a native evergreen in the southern two-thirds of Minnesota. It is tolerant of many soil types and grows abundantly, even on dry, gravelly slopes. It has two types of small leaves, needle-like on young trees and new twigs, and blunt scale-like adult leaves. The foliage is dark green in summer. It turns dark maroon during winter.” Can you IMAGINE an animal eating those ‘needle-like’ branch tips? When deer begin eating cedars, we know for sure THEY ARE HUNGRY!

We appreciate the cedar tree for a multitude of reasons. Back in the ‘old days,’ we’d throw cedar-tips on the wood stove to curb unpleasant odors, like baby diapers being changed. For us poor folk, we cut the maroon trees for Christmas trees. Decorated with tinsel and bulbs, we felt they were beautiful…and only as costly as cutting them from the forest, as they virtually covered the hillsides and prairies of the Henderson/LeSueur area post-logging years. But, and this is a big BUT, we consider the cedar as ‘life-saver trees,’ harbors in the face of nasty nefarious weather. Many a robin or junco and others have been sustained during winter’s biting bitter cold by the tree’s close-knit branches…with breakfast besides! Yes! Red cedars have little blue round berry-like cones, about a quarter inch in size, with a waxy blue coating. They are just like having oatmeal for breakfast, however, bitter bitter tasting, since most of us are not birds and we lack gizzards for digesting. The seed passes eventually through the bird’s body, and new little shoots pop up in unexpected places, able to adapt to even the most unwelcoming soils.

As noted, robins are sustained by berries from the red cedars. (Oh, no, here he goes on the ‘robin kick’ again!) The unexpected waves of robin red-breasts continued to Thursday, February 21st when 488 winged their way to the roost within LeSueur city limits. A frequent query is “Aren’t they hard to count?” Often, they fly in to their havens just above one’s head or above low treetops. Arriving in small groups, they don’t dawdle around, rather, dive in headfirst. They always come from the northwest, north or northeast. How long will this phenomenon last? We’ve no idea! Our goal is to follow them visually to spring-like weather, and that, friends, could be a long way off! Please keep your bird feeders/suet dispensers ‘topped.’ The lives you save could be summer’s songsters.