Bask In Earth’s Bounty While We May…

Submitted by Art & Barb Straub

Swish, swosh, swish, swosh went faithful Focus Ford Frances’s windshield wipers in a frantic effort to clear the windshield for a better view of the gargoyle atop St. Anne’s School roof in LeSueur one soggy evening last week. Yes, some time prior to our last visit a foot-high stone bird projection has been installed on the school roof perhaps 15 feet from its limestone chimney; except, the supposed gargoyle turned its head and a beady eye blinked! A light mist was falling, and there, atop the cornice of the roof, stood a raptor, eyeing the wee chimney swifts swirling about the vertical entry seeking to escape the rain, yet snatching poor unfortunate insects high above the school rooftop. Said hawk was apparently captivated by the whirling morsels seemingly oblivious to his presence, and then with an effortless thrust of wet wings, he zoned in on one bird, anxious for an easy supper. The zipping swift easily alluded the hungry raptor, and to make matters worse, a bevy of birdniks turned the table and pursued one surprised hawk.

Shortly thereafter, the swifts returned in huge numbers, with a final count for a wet evening of approximately 946. During the cloudy evenings of past week, swifts coming to roost have included numbers such as 1,233, 929, l,l90, 676, 678, ONE, 45, and approximately 1,098! The best may yet to come, dependent upon heavy frost killing insects in Canada and to the north and east of the U.S.

On one of the few bright sunny afternoons in the past week, we were introduced to a strange insect, a beast, an evil one! While taking photos of myriad monarchs, hummingbirds, wasps and others, a chubby bug dropped in the center of one of our favorite autumn beauties, the Mexican Sunflower or tithonia. We had a choice, photograph the bug or capture it. We chose the latter, and found ourselves holding a thug among bugs, a Japanese beetle! We don’t possess a photo, but we do have the deceased beetle. Only once before had we experienced the wretched wrangler, and that while a herd of them was turning roses into beetle dust. When these beetles finish devouring flowers and garden produce leaves, you are left with lace leaves, incapable of producing chlorophyll. End of plant!
What to look for, the damage of course, but the bug itself is between 15 mm long and 10 mm across, smaller than a June bug. The real ‘topper’ is its iridescent copper colored main body with a green thorax. Very easy to identify. Next year we’ll plant more garlic, marigolds, nasturtium and allium to ward them off, but best bet is to keep eyes sharpened and when espied, pick them off and drown them in vinegar!

September 3rd found us following a hunch by Frances, as she whispered, “Visit the NEY Center at dusk. After this pleasant day of nectaring on the prairie, the monarch butterflies should be gathered on the west ridge of the valley, settled in for the night.” Frances, the wise one, was ‘right on.’ Just as the sun set, as many as a thousand orange and black insects had settled on oak, walnut and basswood branches, wings turned toward the east so as to catch the morning sun for an early get-a-way. (That was a tip from Jim Gilbert, noted Minnesota phenologist.). After reviewing the many photos we gathered, an exciting discovery was made! A white tag was observed on a butterfly wing, and yes, the NEY Center staff had tagged “lots of butterflies” (over 200) the last week of August and first days of September. The information on the tag is indistinguishable in the photo, but all are hoping THAT butterfly makes the great journey of about 3,000 to the mountains in mid-Mexico by November, and that pine, oak and oyamel trees will greet them there upon arrival.

Frances was outraged when she spoke to the Missus while driving into the woodland Sunday. “Someone deposited an ashtray of cigarette butts right off Pumpkin Hill Road,” she huffed. Thankfully, they weren’t lung destroyers, rather ‘ghost plants.’ A beautiful six-inch set of surprises had emerged out of the coniferous forest floor, corpse-like elongated growths which would remind one of fungi…which they’re not. Plants with no chlorophyll, they are one of nature’s oddities, and believe it or not, they belong to the blueberry family. When picked…suffering succotash…they turn black!!! It is said that the pipes taste like asparagus, but we asparagus lovers will leave them in their natural habitat. All of the above we learned the hard way. Thanks for espying the beauties, Frances! (Frances truly earned her gas Sunday.)

If there is one saving grace as to the awful Corvid virus, it is that many who might not drink in the delicious odors, sights and experiences of late autumn are doing so. Woodlands have prepared a bounty for we beasts, including an abundance of wild grapes, plums, pears and apples. Mast (acorns and nuts) for deer, turkeys, squirrels and others, is thick on many forest floors. Vegetable gardens burst with a variety of chemically free produce. Foodies are feeding and floundering in all manner of goodies. Join the walkers, hikers, bicyclists if you can, suck up and savor that which is almost free for the asking!