A Tisket, a Tasket, and Tussocks Besides

Submitted by Art & Barb Straub

Poor Frances the fabulous Ford Focus has had so many ‘jolts’ of late that we wonder about her innards. Consider: Sunday afternoon, July 28th, a gentle summer rain was watering the lawns and gardens. Yet, thunderstorms were predicted. So as not to take a chance on hail on Frances’s beautiful blue, we headed for the garden on Pumpkin Hill Road in order to ‘batten down the hatches.’ The previous day found us finally able to till and cultivate the potatoes, tomatoes and squash…leaving the garden looking weed-free for the first time this summer.

Upon entering the garden driveway, Frances gave a beep and stopped dead! There, in the middle of the tomato patch stood a fawn, bold as a bridge builder. So what? So what is, the garden patch is surrounded by a five-foot woven wire fence protecting forty spindly blight-bitten wretched-looking tomato plants. The brazen little beast, (some of you call them “cute fawns,”) assumed a cocky sassy posture and said, “Hah, come and get me if you can!” Come we did, but after a few futile leaps the spotted menace found a spot to slip away. (If we captured the struggling creature, we’d have been afoul of the law!). Now we know many of you love fawns, and yes, they are sweet, but, when you find the tomato blossoms nipped off, the potato flowerets missing, ire turns to fire. You see, the garden is surrounded by luscious green forest, and across Pumpkin Hill Road are two hundred acres of soybeans…which… according to tiny hoof prints…is visited frequently. The fawn wasn’t starving! This story will have another chapter, all the while staying within the law of the land.

Frances has been particularly wary of woodland trails after a tussock moth larva landed on her glistening rump a year ago, dropping from a tree in the forest. Adding insult to injury, the Missus discovered milkweed tussock moths devouring milkweeds saved for monarch butterflies near our garden. The same day, Sarah and Paul Malchow sent photos which are part of this week’s article. Beautiful pre-moth creatures, but definitely defoliating the milkweeds in the Malchow flower border, leaving naught in return except little black fertilizer blobs. After filling their wee bods, the insect will pupate in a little gray sack, but…will not become ‘blah’ moths until next year. The bug is poisonous to other insects as it is full of sticky milkweed juice. No danger that one would deliberately eat a milkweed moth larva as they gather in their little herds, even though tussocks have cousins whose fuzzy wuzzy hair, when handled, can cause welts and much discomfort.

Traveling north on PHRoad, one comes to a bridge on East Henderson Station Road. There is a considerably interesting story under that and other bridges in the Henderson/LeSueur area, in that the steel girders under the bridge are lined with hundreds of cliff swallow nests. (No kidding, probably 500 nests under this specified bridge.) In the absence of cliffs, the bridge becomes the next best thing for building mud nests and raising little swallows. Sprinkled throughout the emerald green countryside this week, one finds hundreds of swallows of different species gathered on electrical lines, swooping down over meadows and prairies, even landing on gravel roads where some, learning to fly, meet their fate.

This all coincides with that word, ‘migration.’ Yes, some shorebirds and others, having completed their tasks of reproducing young for the next generation, are heading back southward, not swiftly as Canada geese in autumn, rather, eating and taking their time. One of those early migrators is the chimney swift. Nature Neighbor participants can readily tell you of the swiftly flying swifts above Henderson in June, feeding and swooping into their nests built in chimneys no longer unused during the summer months. We wonder how heated big chimneys became during this broiler of a summer. We wonder if little swifts were roasted in the hundred degree plus heat. Normally, migrating swifts will begin dropping by larger chimneys in Henderson/LeSueur and other river cities around August 1st. Holy swiftlings! That’s this week! Five minutes after the sun goes down of an evening, the swifts descend into large chimneys to roost for the night.
During the winter, this little charcoal bird, the fortunate ones who weren’t charred, is found in Brazil, Peru, and other South American forests. Frances! Are you ready to dedicate the next month to sitting under brick chimneys?

MANY observant citizens raised the query this week, “What happened to the Trumpeter Swans of Coachlight Pond?” As of Sunday afternoon the 28th, they were very much present, expanding their territories all about the pond with their muddy bodies bulging at the seams. Four cygnets, both parents, safe and sound one more day! More tales to tell but……..