For Everything There Is a Season, or Reason

Submitted by Art and Barb Straub

“Master, have you forgotten about counting chimney swifts today?” “Frances,” says ourselves, “you know we’ve counted swifts all September, besides that, this is 11:00 in the morning, the sky is azure blue, and we never count during the daytime!” Frances hesitated, humble Ford Focus that she is, then, “But aren’t those swifts circling above the chimney across second street?” By this time our patience had become raw, but to humor this faithful car, we glanced upward and there, to our incredulous eyes, were birds circling FAR above the chimney, so distant as to be almost indiscernible without aid of binoculars.

We had been so busy gathering walnuts on a friend’s landscape in south LeSueur, we’d no time for glancing upward other than to count the number of walnuts yet to plummet. (In two days, we’d gathered 12 five-gallon plastic pails, and were wary of being bonked on the beaner by the banner crop of nuts.) Yet, high above us, the fabled raptor migration was occurring on this priceless last day of summer. What to do? Count the birds, of course, and be thankful that the property owner was present to observe the spectacular natural event. 100, then 140, then 200 more, and on and on. Frustration! Whom else might we contact to share this sighting? The streets were deserted, we captured this priceless moment in our palpitating hearts and awestruck minds. Close to a thousand raptor species wheeled and dealed overhead! Some sped along like zephyrs before a storm. Others wheeled ever upward in great circles known as kettles, all drifting southward toward Mankato up the Minnesota River Valley. Due to distance and flight speed, we were unable to discern the specific names of the numerous species overhead.

The first segment of this awesome event concluded in perhaps ten precious minutes. Would there be someone in the valley who might have witnessed the scene besides ourselves and the unbelieving property presider? First, we checked with Hawk Ridge at the western tip of Lake Superior in Duluth as to the assortment of species they were experiencing. Coincidently, the weekend of September 21st – 23rd is/was the Hawk Weekend Festival, the fall Raptor Count. Thousands of raptors have passed over Hawk Ridge, including 14 species of hawks, eagles, harriers, kestrels, merlin, etc. since early September. The birds come from their summer homes in the ARCTIC, Canada, etc., headed for winter homes in Central and South America. Thus, we were experiencing just a small number of raptors that pass in the heavens during the equinox, the shift from summer to autumn.

Desperate for local observations/observers, we contacted totally reliable Chad Hein at Bethany College in Mankato. Chad and his stalwart crew have dedicated these equinox days to counting bird species making the southern migration. Get ready for this! On Thursday, the day we witnessed the raptor spectacle, Chad said, “We had 3,729 raptors pass over during our watch today. I’m sure we missed some of them due to their numbers.” Wowser! The event wasn’t a figment of our overactive imaginations, and we have friend Frances to thank for the unforgettable experience.

The chimney swift events of September 19th, 20th, 21st and 22nd pales in comparison to that exciting hawk morning. 360, 525, 423, and 381 fast flying migrants have dropped into the maw of the old chimney Frances observes. Compared to previous years, this is about average. Concentrations of mosquitoes and tiny insects keep the numbers elevated, plenty of crumbs for the aviators to serve as nourishment as their adventures take them to the Amazon Basin.

Gerald and Pat Grapentine sped a fascinating photo for the Independent September 19th. Heat and moisture of September spawned a wild array of fungi in the forest. The first reaction of Frances was “My, an emu or ostrich egg,” and then, “Such a gleaming white UFO, or unidentified object!” Minnesota’s giant puffball fungi may grow to soccer ball size or larger, the one in the photo being nine inches wide and ten inches tall, still expanding, an absolute beauty. Its color indicates that it’s just right for the frying pan or other edible purposes. Did you know that a large puffball can have as many as seven trillion spores, and feeds on dead organic material? The white flesh of the Grapentine discovery indicated prime eating, either sliced like bread or added to a variety of other dishes. The best recipe we’ve found is puffball cut like bread slices, dipped in egg yolks, coated with light flour, add pepper, bit of salt, fry in butter or olive oil, topped with parmesan cheese. Nummy noomers.

Bald faced hornets were lean and mean this past week. With plenty of rotting fruit about, and elevated humidity with unusually high temperatures, they were busy as bald-faced hornets in late summer. Especially attracted to grape jelly, anyone within a yard or two of their poisoned pistons may get whopped with their venomous fluid inserted in a tender arm or face; inserted with a smooth stinger which allows one to be stung more than once. Have you ever been kicked by a cow? Same difference as being stung by a black hornet with their white/cream color faces. These are the insects that build paper footballs, stacked inside with combs. BUT! The whole colony lasts but six months. Come freezing temperatures, only the mated queen will survive under a log while all others perish. Come next spring, all by her lonesome, the queen will create little hornets to begin the process over again. So much to see and experience these days, try not to miss a trick!