More Than Gravel on the Henderson Levees

Submitted by Art and Barb Straub

Banks of roses, scads of monarch butterfly larvae chomping on tender milkweed leaves, ebony dragonflies, wee blue damselflies, green darner dragonflies, toads, frogs, Canada thistles, fleabane, bird’s foot trefoil, meadow rue, the list goes on and on. Overhead, vultures, bald eagles, bank, cliff, and barn swallows swiftly soared while competing with the chimney swifts for gnats and other small insects. Northern orioles, grackles, red-winged blackbirds, goldfinches, dart from river’s edge to Henderson verdure. Yes, for more than 30 years, Nature’s Neighbor participants have explored the seemingly dull levee paths discovering myriad plant, animal, amphibian and bird specimens just waiting to bring excited “Oohs and Ahhs” to the lips for five through ten-year olds. The first weeks of the program have wrapped up, a new session begins Tuesday, June 25th under the umbrella of the LeSueur/Henderson Community Education Department. Children of grandmas and grandpas who participated in Nature Neighbors in the past still succumb to the ‘wild places’ and curious critters of the valley.

Just as life has been altered by the copious rains and flooding of April and May, so too have trails through the Henderson hills and floodplains been off limits to the children. A bright side of that problem has been the total lack of gnat and mosquito bites, and, thank goodness, no wood ticks have been reported as to returning home with the children. Hoorah! As many as seven adults plus five teen aids gather explorers about their countenances like mother hens and male roosters, ensuring the safety of the children.

Jim Wartman of the Minnesota New Country School shared the fascinating koi fish in the huge MNCS aquarium, while Dave Kolter spawned a birdhouse adornment project which would rival any in the state. Best of all, Mother Nature has cooperated by waiting to share her H20 until afternoons both weeks. A new group of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed explorers will rock the town in the same time as Sauerkraut Days’ activities get set in place, thus there will be no end to the excitement about Henderson through the festival’s finish June 3Oth.

Adult and teen NN leaders are amazed as to the sharp eyes and hearing of the youngsters. More than fifty monarch caterpillars were discovered! And who would have guessed that starlings are poking holes in the outer garments of Hilltop School to raise families? Plus, how many adults have watched barn swallows build nests, hatch and feed their young in the Wager door alcove on Main Street, or the mourning dove that tried to do the same and failed? Patient Barb Conrad!

Along Highway #93 near the Coachlight and on numerous other sidehills grow thousands of black locust trees. While in full bloom, the blossoms of the trees emit a sweet odor that envelops one’s senses. This year, we did research on the trees while in full bloom, and made an unpleasant disconcerting discovery. In the past, while wandering among the green thorny trees, droning honeybees, wild bees and other pollinating insects would actually drown out human voices, as the insects intently gathered goodies from the trees. This spring, as we took closeups of the beautiful yet largely unnoticed blooms, the silence was incredibly eerie. Thinking it to be our imaginations, we discovered that honeybees across the nation experienced the highest loss rate since an annual survey has been taken by the Bee Informed Partnership of America! Yes, bees die over winter, but scientists are scampering as to discover cause of this winter’s disaster. Scary, friends, scary.

Fawns and other wildlife are experiencing hard times on the byways. A fawn hit by a fast moving auto lost his life June 16th. Removing the dead from the scene, it was placed nearby in a clearing prior to burial. Within but hours, a vulture was upon the wee one which had not begun to decay; while a pair of companion fawns came to pay their respects. An awesome sight to say the least!

On the other feather, waterfowl whose nests survived the floods, though down in numbers, are growing like…well like waterfowl with plenty of grass and duckweed grow. We’ve yet to see a woodduck family on the Coachlight Pond all summer, Sylvia and Sylvan trumpeter swans of the Coachlight continue to lead their five wards about the waters, unperturbed by the passing Hwy #93 traffic, while gleefully siphoning duckweed delicacies in imitation of their parents. Must be powerful energy in that greenery, as the cygnets surely are growing.

What gives??? Not a child in the Nature’s Neighbors group was bitten by a gnat, even though the children experienced a vast variety of habitats…water, cemetery, parks, backyards, and the levees. Not complaining, just asking, what’s up?