Walking in a Winter Wonderland

Submitted by Art & Barb Straub

Silently, like a sinuous cobra, icy fog crept into area countryside and cities midweek. Meteorologists had been predicting ‘frozen fog,’ warning motorists of the impenetrable cold stuff, but mornings
found trees, bushes, grasses and sidewalks covered with beautiful delicate white feathers; the frost birds had shaken their bodies over the Henderson/LeSueur vicinity during the forbidding dark and frozen night. Gray days, devoid of sunlight, continued throughout the week, leaving on the windward side of foliage a wondrous unsurpassed beauty. Serenity held the immediate world captive for four twenty-four-hour periods, then, Sunday the 10th, gentle beauty dissipated as swiftly as the muffled mystery had pounced nights beforehand.

Discussion ensured. What was the frost all about? Some termed it “Rime frost,” others “hoary frost,’ still others, “Jack Frost.” While the frost hubbub bubbled, we called upon Jim Gilbert, well-known naturalist of State of Minnesota and parts beyond, for an opinion. He too, had been weighing possibilities and thumbing through his voluminous notes, concluded that it probably was “Rime Ice.”
Rime ice forms on cloudy nights when freezing fog is predicted, the atmosphere is humid and below freezing. “Hoarfrost” forms when nights are clear and cold. Thus, the phenomena which occurred, while many were glued to their television sets was (ta-ra-ta-ra boom) Rime ice.

Rime ice has a milky opaque appearance, and is thicker on the windward sides of surfaces. This was quite apparent, in that it appeared as though trees had been sliced in half vertically, with beautiful frost on the north side of the trees, and ‘blah’ bareish branches on the south side.

Birds had a real advantage from enemies during the Rime ice siege. Behind the LeSueur Community building is a vernal archway formed by eighteen flowering crab trees, the branches of which are bowed from the weight of 2020 applet fruitlets. (Something GOOD did occur during that awful year!) Robins, cedar waxwings and starlings took cover in the Rime, somewhat shielded from the sharp eyes of small hawks. The snow, earth, and sidewalks below the fruity trees is blood red from the feathered snackers enjoying applets without crackers. Where WERE those birds December 19th, bird count day, when we needed their numbers?

The good news is, after tallying the results this week, 82 persons in the 7.5 mile vicinity of the Ney Center took time and effort to participate in the annual Ney bird count. Hooray for YOU, citizen scientists of all ages!
43 species of birds cooperated as well. Hooray for YOU, feathered marvels! Over three hundred miles were covered, by bird seekers in fields and forests, over 80 hours were spent by onlookers at bird feeding stations, while the birds are ‘given an edge’ finding birdseed in backyards…except…in cases where predators are taking advantage of the situation. (Incidentally, according to Master naturalist and profound birder David Allen Sibley, “Studies show that predation at bird feeding stations is lower than in the natural setting.” So there!

Winning the songbird sighting contest were the dark-eyed juncos, (515) however, there are a couple of sub-species which may have been mixed in: slate-colored and Oregon juncos, but let’s not quibble about that. Black-capped chickadees placed second (439.) Someone will say, “How about pigeons (362,) English (house) sparrows (770,) and starlings (569)?

We’d like to say they are just ‘pesky’ birds, however, they are living creatures and each has a place to play in the vast ecosystems of Minnesota. The overall champions of the enumeration were the Canada geese, 3262. Some will say, “Boo, hiss,” others will acclaim that this is good news. Where they’ve been hanging out in November we aren’t aware, but somewhere there is food and water, and they’ve stayed around. In 2019 on CBC Day, just 110 were spotted, with 39 in 2018. What a difference!

Wild turkeys made a major appearance on December 19th, and thereafter. Bev, Eileen and Dave Brandt can attest to their numbers in that they have witnessed a flock of over 60 in their neighborhood, and there are large flocks near the St. Thomas Road; north of Henderson; close to the Ottawa Road heading west from LeSueur; plus, other flocks as well. They often march single file and are in flocks by sex, that is almost all males in a group, mostly females in other groups. Picture in your minds the remains of scattered leaves and acorns after those mighty-sized flocks move into an oak tree grove! Deer and squirrels are moved to tears after viewing the shambles!

Results of the Ney Bird Count totals for each species may be viewed by contacting the NEY Center near Henderson. Our SINCERE thanks to the NEY staff and any and ALL who participated in this, the 24th year of the CBC!!!