Submitted by Art and Barb Straub

If every day in December is as exciting as the first day, this will be an incredible month of visual candy! At midday, the birds of the forest needed to be fed, so Frances, the adventuresome Ford Focus, transported missus and mister to the woodland, trekking slowing along the plowed but ice-encumbered roadways. Customers at the feeding stations, were few. Three chickadees greeted us, complaining as to our late arrival but grateful for a post-Thanksgiving feast while two dark-eyed juncos fled into the fir trees, a single surprised ROBIN fled, while a couple of gray squirrels pertly sped away, seed raiders in long tails.

A couple of days prior, a team of six Ney Center associates folded some 50 invitations to families who had participated in past Ney Christmas Bird Count programs, and we thought “Thank goodness, the bird count isn’t December 1st, as we’d have little to report.” A reason we are pleased for the December 14th date, is that an early count usually nets more species of bird, especially waterfowl, and this would be the earliest in the last many years. We hope Sunday’s small numbers at Frances’ feeders were not a herald of the count to come.

By the way, if any reader didn’t receive his/her CBC report forms, pretty-please contact the Ney Center and the forms will be on their way, pronto. In addition, if you’ve not participated before, give the count a try. It’s easy, takes little or lots of time dependent upon your schedule, and you become a citizen scientist… costing an envelope and a fifty-four-cent stamp.

We digress from our story. Having fed the animal/bird crew with black-oil sunflower seeds, Nyjer thistle, assorted kinds of millet plus cracked corn for the squirrels, our warm boots crunched through the crusted snow, carrying us back toward Frances. Suddenly, startling the ear drums, the pleasant peal of neighbor’s children laughing and carrying on across the ice-encumbered ravine resounded through the crisp air, except…it wasn’t children playing. Overhead, in a perfect ‘vee,’ an unanticipated flock of TUNDRA SWANS came into view, scudding just below the gray clouds, intent upon reaching the welcoming bays of the Mississippi River near Reed’s Landing by Wabasha. We were stunned, baffled, as the scene would be usual for early November, not December. You wonder if they were trumpeter swans instead? Not a chance! That joyful tremulant trumpet cry fits no other waterfowl in our experience.

Shortly thereafter, upon reaching our toasty apartment, the ‘ping’ of an e-mail grabbed our attention. Henderson’s Dave Kolter reported his sighting of four flocks of tundras flying southeast over the river town. (Perhaps they heard of the Christmas celebration at the Roadhaus?) Holy smackaroos and beat us with a white feather!

Questions crowded our chilled foggy minds. Why were the swans departing the northland so late? Had more passed through during the entire weekend? What shocked them out of the Dakotas? In which state would they eventually spend the winter? Couldn’t they have waited until Ney Bird Count Day? The answers to our queries? We will never know, will we?

Most every person who uses radio, TV, or reads news articles has viewed the headline “Shocking 29% Loss of Birds in the U.S. and Canada,” or “Three Billion Birds Lost.” Of course, the doubters say, “Prove it!” “How do the researchers know that more than one in four birds across North America have disappeared in recent times as reported in the August 2019 issue of the “Cornell Lab of Ornithology?” Well, there’s a technique called radar imaging and other scientific techniques, but ‘Citizen Scientists” such as those who participate in the Ney Christmas Bird Count and other counts have made inestimable contributions to the data. This is why we reach out each December to Henderson/LeSueur area folks to make reports from that humble backyard bird feeder or from the land and skies in the 7.5 area around the Ney Center. Simply contact the center for more information by dialing up 1.507.357.8580.

One bird we are interested in tracking in the CBC count this year is the wild turkey. With bi-weekly deluges of precipitation throughout the valley during the 2019 turkey/pheasant ground-nesting period, we wonder if their numbers have decreased. Take a mental photo of this scenario. (See attached photo.) Crusted feet of snow covers the area woodland. One of the basic winter food for wild turkeys is mast…mainly acorns, plus hard-to-find beans and corn seeds. Deer, squirrels and mice compete for that same food…for the next four months. One plus one equals…a tough winter for beasts of field, forest, and back yard. This is something to consider and discuss in our spare time, while not scraping, shoveling and aching.