FREEDOM ISN’T NECESSARILY FREE!

Submitted by Art and Barb Straub

If you’ve had any access to news media during the past two weeks, headlines have screamed something like “Bird Population Dropping, Dropping, Dropping!” Readers such as yourselves knew this long before now, when you’ve asked, “Where have all my feeder birds gone?” Farm and suburb dwellers note that prairie birds including meadowlarks and bobolinks are a rarity, along with oak-savannah bird dwellers such as red-headed woodpeckers. We assume you’ve read one of the recent prognostications. Bird populations that remain high include waterfowl and raptors and we have a big example of that in the valley.

Loyal ‘Indy’ readers will readily recall the adventures of the Coachlight Pond trumpeter swans in the summer of 2019. Remember how on April 22nd, you were incredibly pleased when Sylvia and Sylvan swan, four year inhabitants of the Coachlight arrived from their winter retreat, along with Ilsa and Izzie, the famed Canada geese pair? Recall the battles between the two sets of wood-be settlers as both laid claim to the only muskrat house in those triple ponds of algae covered waters. At last, on May 4th, the geese deposited their eggs on the muskrat hump having fended off Sylvia and Sylvan. But Mom Nature had other plans, and the goose nest, eggs and all, were claimed by the unwelcome backup of waters from the Minnesota River again and again. Eventually, the geese wandered off to attempt planting their progeny elsewhere. Meanwhile, Sylvia and Sylvan disappeared, until June 19th, when out of the green cattail reeds of the Coachlight, they reappeared with five puffy little buff cygnets paddling in a file betwixt the proud yet humble parents. Soon thereafter, a cygnet disappeared, claimed by eagle, turtle, otter, whichever, limiting the number over which the parents were responsible.

Highway #93 travelers craned their fowl necks day after day as the cygnets grew, and grew, and grew until they were nigh onto the size of their parents. Whereas the pen and cob were an elegant white much of the time, the cygnets were…well…a dirty gray. Everyone clamored, “Are the cygnets still there, we didn’t espy them today,” or “When will the swans fly?”

Sometimes the birds hid just next to #93, concealed by the rushes. The cygnets could be observed testing their wings, developing wing muscles, and then…on Monday the 14th of October, they were gone, but returned, and were gone, but returned. More questions: “Where did the swans go? Will they return? Where do trumpeter swans go in winter?” Inquiries poured in, with nary a valid answer. Then, on Sunday, October 20th, part of the mystery was resolved, when, in the gathering gloom of an impending overnight shower, two stately swans could be observed on the former wastewater ponds north of Hwy 169, supervising four grubby gray cygnets between them. Those charred kids had best ‘whiten up’ soon, as in the early morning mists and evening twilight, they may easily be mistaken for their enemies, the Canada geese. Then, kaboom, illicit swan on the table! Freedom doesn’t necessarily mean FREE of hazards or danger! Will the swans’ tale ever cease? Next week, and in first weeks in November, another species of swan, the Tundra, will appear over Henderson and LeSueur, heading for the Mississippi River bays. More information will follow.

While the Minnesota swan population has greatly increased over the past couple of years, the red-headed woodpeckers’ numbers (with some exceptions) has decreased. Thus it was with excitement that Linda and Loren Rist, Sand Prairie residents reported a juvenile on their property this past week. It’s a thrill to see one of these woodpeckers but to capture a photo is even a bigger deal. Dutch elm disease was a boon to the gorgeous bird, as the dead trees were of benefit to the species-lots of housing possibilities. Perhaps with the ash borer invasion and tree destruction, more housing units will become available.

Surprise, surprise! Note the photo of the turtle shells…in late October??? Most of our area turtles, depending on species and sunny weather, hatch about September 1. If the reader looks the photo closely, one will see that the shells are torn asunder. Questions abound. Sandbars, where numerous turtles lay their eggs along the Minnesota River, have been largely covered by water the entire summer. (The snapping turtle is one exception, placing eggs in gardens and sandboxes of Henderson residents.) The desecrated eggs in the attached photo were found along the river on a sandbar that would have been flooded most of the summer. Eleven nesting spots had been dug into with eggs massacred. Some mammal, perhaps a skunk, but much more likely raccoon family, had a leisurely lunch on this bar. Turtle soup and sandwiches. Whodonit? Can’t say for certain, but if this same scene is duplicated up and down the Minnesota River, all the way out to the South Dakota border, the current generation of turtles will have become soup and sandwiches, cutting down on the current generation. Maybe this incident is why painted turtles are laying their eggs in Allanson Park and other out-of-the-way places in Henderson? So much excitement in just one week!