Exciting Bird Migration Manifestations Abound

Submitted by Art & Barb Straub

“Please, Mrs., don’t let him do this to me!” Frances the fantabulous Ford Focus was trembling in her tires as she spoke. “Haven’t you been listening to my radio, there’s a storm approaching?” The Master’s abrupt reply was, “You aren’t afraid of a little rain, are you?” Her answer was, “But there’s hail predicted with this one, Master!” “True, but citizen science calls.” Usual time for counting chimney swifts on Friday, August 14th, was just after the sun had gone to bed over the horizon, 8:20 or so. However, with the glowering snarling clouds to the west, we arrived at our pet limestone school chimney at 7:23, an hour ahead of usual. Upon arrival, rain and tumbling sky droplets began to bathe Frances, yet a dozen or so swifts swirled about the tall chamber. Battering wind hit Frances broadside, bending the nearby trees while water blew off the roof of the one-story building. To our utter amazement, two ebony crows sat grumpily facing the storm on a cornice twenty feet from the swifts’ chosen roost. The swifts wanted nothing of the big black birds, and disappeared heavenward. “Let’s get out of here!” beeped Frances, and fled we did into the black clutches of the maelstrom with precipitation blasting Frances from all sides. Reaching her garage haven, the faithful blue blazer gave off an exhaust of relief. She was safe for the time being, yet an hour later we headed for the chimney once again, all for the sake of science (and our own curiosity.) Jagged lightning streaks coursed the sky, booming thunder was continuous, rain pelted down, yet the swifts were determined to roost, and drop down they did, 124 of the brave cigar-shaped missiles.

In addition to living in Minnesota all summer, chimney swifts have acknowledged that summer is fleeting, and have been migrating through our area nightly, feasting on all manner of small insectivore high above our unobservant eyes. Heading for Peru, Chile and other South American countries, they will spend our winter in hollow trees until the sun bids them north again. Each year, beginning in late July and August, they will spend their nights roosting in Minnesota chimneys. In the past, since 2011, Frances has spent many tedious nights in all manner of weather, parked under chosen chimneys in LeSueur/Henderson. Populations of swifts have fallen precipitously, due to lack of nesting spots and human activities, we are attempting to determine numbers of birds roosting locally each evening.

Readers may be interested in swift numbers roosting in a single area chimney thus far. August 1, 116; 8/4, 10; 8/6, 324; 8/7, 240; 8/8, 235; 8/9, 399; 8/10, 244; 8/11, 361; 8/12, 370; 8/13, 418; 8/14 (storm) 124; 8/15, 633; 8/16, 900 plus!!!!! The count will continue through the middle of September, and locals are welcome to join Frances and friends by phoning 665.2658.

Along with other birds intent on moving south this past week, white pelicans camped and fished on a water area between LeSueur and Henderson, Sunday, August 16th. Standing shoulder to shoulder, beak to beak, eyeball to eyeball, nearly 400 kibitzed and chortled on a small island in the huge pond. An hour later, many took to the skies, swirling against the azure blue, only as pellies can do, appearing- disappearing-reappearing as 300 drifted on a warm air current over, of all places, the LeSueur Airport. (Follow that plane south, friends.). Frances insisted that we check the Highway #169/Mn River ponds once again in late afternoon. Fortunately, another observer was present to verify our count and to observe nearly a thousand of the huge white travelers, this time actively fishing, pumping their wings against the waters, driving what few remaining fish were available into one another’s craws. (Hmmm, they surely didn’t practice ‘social distancing.)

Frances was rewarded for her harrowing electrical storm ordeal of the 14th on Sunday morning the 16th. While pursuing the loathsome task of picking up Highway #93’s Saturday night’s garbage strewal, she came across a lonesome little plant we were introduced to last August at this time, the Obedient plant. (Not ‘obedience,’ rather, ‘obedient,’ so named, as when individual pinkish white, pale purple flowerets are moved, they stay in place where nimble fingers place them.) Teachers, would you like one for your classroom the first week of school?

Meanwhile, a mile south on the Coachlight, the 2020 Trumpeter Swan cygnets, although grimy and gray, are almost as large as their parents. WHO will be the lucky passer-by to observe their first flight? That phenomenon could occur anytime, but… keep your eye on the road, there are more ‘crazies’ out there than you can count these days!