Last Days of October,2020, Anything But Boring!

Submitted by Art & Barb Straub

Wham! Blam! Boom! Homes shook to their very foundations! Frances, faithful Ford Focus that she is, was shaken to her core in her cozy garage stall. Minutes later, another thunderclap, sharper and more abusive and obtrusive than the first, threw the mister out of bed, and sent the Missus fleeing ‘freaked out’ from the kitchen. Dashing to the window, one found a light rain sending gushes down the gutters, the sky a more eerie yellow, brown, creepy atmosphere than these humans had ever experienced. After the events of the last months of 2020, one felt the ‘final days’ had reached their ‘finality.’ Later, one was to learn the weird hues had to do with smoke from Colorado fires, that state’s second worst conflagrations since record keeping began there. Seems that the awesome tint was conjured up by smoke being carried by the jet stream and was refracting off ice crystals high above. All of this was learned from weather reports emanating from Mankato and through southern Minnesota and into Wisconsin.

Tuesday, October’ 20ths nasty wet snow surprised shovelers with its depth and heavy weight. Frances had no recourse but to check the effects upon area woodlands. One usually frolicked and played in the first snowfall of a year, but the earliness of this muscle cruncher threw many off-guard, other than the forewarned faithful MN Highway Department with their efforts to keep highways accident free. Explorers found leaf bound trees bent double with snow weight, and snow tires were a must! Surprises included the swiftness with which white-tail deer had adjusted themselves to the change in scenery and food supply. Having become habituated to a steady diet of green soybean leaves, followed by lush lunches and suppers of endless fields of corn, the deer made a quick switch to woody browse, broad leafed plants still clinging to greenery, and best of all, ‘mast,’ glorious wonderful mast; acorns and fallen apples ready for turkey, squirrels, mice and their gangs to feast upon throughout the winter. Perhaps some readers discovered wooly bear caterpillars, sure winter weather predictors, but we, having found none of these forecast experts, enter the season with no knowledge acquired from insect sages.

Deer ‘rut’ has already been triggered, that is, scrapes and rubs are readily observed, as bucks gather a harem of dopey-eyed does admiring broad buck shoulders and number of tines on gleaming antlers. Little does a buck realize that he will lose as much as eight percent of his body weight during the ‘rut’ alone, making the doe the heavy-weight during the long cold winter that a normal winter usually produces. But then, what is “normal” these days?.

Along with late October came numerous surprises. Legendary Frances has become used to migrating birds, especially blackbird species. In April of 2020, she paused for ten minutes alongside Coachlight Pond observing nine minutes of a seemingly endless stream of the happily singing northwesterly bound specimens. Late Wednesday afternoon October 21st blew the blue auto’s gaskets and steamed her radiator! Rounding a bend on Pumpkin Hill Road, she faced a black road-block. In that the graveled country road had been clear an hour beforehand, now, a living flapping ebony pond appeared before Frances. Friends, it was more than incredible! Hundreds, thousands of blackbird species, mainly red-wingeds, lay ahead, perhaps parched from a long flight, they were drinking from melted snow puddles, while others passed in an endless stream, a shroud of birds in the murky skies. Most were perched in the tassels and on the ears and stalks of a nearby cornfield. Never, in all our days, had we witnessed such a spectacle! Fortunately, young Shayne Bender in his faithful truck happened upon the scene…a witness…while the missus snapped photo after photo as living proof of the incredible phenomenon.

As it turned out, the past week was a birder’s heaven. Word came from mid-Minnesota that pine-siskins were heading south by the hundreds. Doris Winter from LeSueur spotted the first reported finch of that species in the area. The reports and observations poured in like salt from a shaker. Watch out!
White-throated, fox and white-crowned sparrows; pairs of purple finches, an American Tree sparrow, dark-eyed juncos by the hundreds and robins…beyond counting!

Ice-cream on the donut? TUNDRA SWANS passing above the cloud layer in the lead colored sky about 5:00 Sunday evening, October 25th, heading for their Upper Mississippi River feeding grounds near Brownsville, Minnesota and Alma, Wisconsin.
That phenomena and other out-landish stories abound, one of which is concerns an autumn tiger-spotted salamander. Again, what is normal? STAY SAFE!