Katy did, no, Katy didn’t!

Submitted by Art and Barb Straub

Frances the faithful Ford Focus is constantly asking questions. Sunday, the first of September, it was “What’s that lady down on her hands and knees in the ditch chasing bugs?” “That’s a good friend catching crickets for the mantis in the cage on your back seat, silly,” we replied. It’s almost too long a story to tell but, a week ago a friend gave us a Chinese praying mantis. Now, we’ve always called this unique insect a “Preying Mantis,” as it preys on small insects, but…it turns out to be a “Praying Mantis.” Red-faced writer, ‘me.’ Seems that it has different names to different people, thus we’ll simply call it a “Mantis.”

Now, like all creatures, a mantis needs food and water. A wee cup in its cage cared for that, but, what does a mantis eat? Turns out to be crickets, a common grass insect except when one is trying to find a cricket. A large cricket came with the mantis, but after one sumptuous feast, crickets have been few and far between.
While in the weeds alongside a country road, fruitlessly cricketing, along came a wonderful neighbor who stated, “We have an abundance of the wee beasts,” and shortly thereafter she was back with a big bottle of black buzzing crickets. The mantis will be forever grateful, and we are as well, as cricketing is wretched on the backs of elders.

Problem was, we’d captured a beautiful green katydid, placed it in the insectarium with the mantis, but the two species of insects did not get along, called one another names for forty-eight hours. Seems that katydids “Katy” night and day, rubbing a hind leg on a wing, the sound of which attracts female katydids. Now, everyone is happy except the crickets, the katydid has been released into lush green grass, the mantis hangs atop the insect house praying that a cricket comes close.

Meanwhile, on Minnesota River sand bars and mud flats, the shorebirds are feeding up on hapless insects, insect larvae, wee minnows, snails, all kinds of yummy stuff that the receding ponds and waterways uncover as the river wends its way back to its accustomed channel. The feeding is especially good for a wading bird named the lesser yellowlegs. There have been ‘lesser’ and ‘greater’ yellowlegs passing through the Henderson/LeSueur area since mid-July, their nesting and rearing having been accomplished earlier in northern Canada and Alaska. Both species are easily distinguishable birds due to…the length of their legs. However, we birders have a time differentiating between the two unless one is up close and personal (which is MOST difficult with these humble shy and flighty creatures.) Then, one can note the longer bill twice the length of its head, turned upward at its base…features of the greater yellowlegs; while the lesser bird has a shorter straight bill. Thanks to Bruce Bjork’s extraordinary photos and Chad Hein’s wise advice, identification has become easier. Both species of yellowlegs are headed for coasts of Texas and other southern states, and thence to Central America.

Chimney swift migration is in full swing. Problem is, swifts are dropping down two chimneys in LeSueur, but we observers have difficult being in two places at one time. Labor Day Sunday found more than 600 of the mysterious birds dropping down the two chimneys!
Any volunteers available? The best is yet to come!

Meanwhile, majestic monarch butterflies are on the march, or shall we say “Flight.” A number of area residents discovered monarch caterpillars August 28th. What does that mean? It will take about twenty days before the larvae become mature flyers, ready for the Mexico venture. That means Sir Frost needs to hold off for both FARMERS and FLYERS until after September 20th.

On the evening of September first, a trip to the beautifully groomed Ney Nature Center found an aggravation (large flock) of over a hundred monarchs roosting in the walnut trees south of the red barn. Nectaring during the day, they find respite and protection in the trees overnight, then they move on come morning. Ney personnel will host a monarch tagging program from 10:00 – 12:00 on September 7th. Pre-registration is required, the event will be very much worth attending! Phone: 507.357.8580

In other nature news, Sylvan and Sylvia trumpeter swans continue to guard their wards, the four cygnets, very closely. Recent rains have provided cleansing showers for the kids, and they must be ready for first flight soon. Although scarce, male ruby-throated hummingbirds plus many young and females, and both sexes of northern orioles are feeding at hummer feeders and grape jelly as of September 1st.

Finally, Frances discovered her first wooly bear caterpillar September 1st. Friends, it was 98.6 percent BLACK!!! Which means?