“The ‘Eyes’ Have it!”

Submitted by Art and Barb Straub

Peering warily from a grassy roadside ditch, a fowl head
appeared, assessed the situation with experienced sharp eyes, then, single file, a hen and 12 turkey poults marched solemnly across the gravel township road, a feathered snake-like outline in the dim morning’s glow. Quickly, they were swallowed up in the yellowing soybean field nearby, their bug-hunting destination. A block further along same gravel road, a similar reptile-like strand of dark birds marched bravely in same pattern. Swanee, inexperienced silver Ford Focus, gasped in disbelief, as he was unaware that any wild turkeys had survived the summer.

We hazard to guess what the odds are that twelve wild turkey eggs will survive raccoon/skunk depredation; and that newly hatched turkey poults might reach ‘flight stage;’ that is, the five days needed to have wing feathers mature enough to lift the wee birdniks into the safety of low branches in the forest. Finally, by mid-September, the creatures stand about eighteen inches in height, and scamper independently within the keen eyesight of one or more hen mothers. Often, the toll of hungry predators both from terra firma and sky, will reduce a dozen poults to three or four. In that case, a number of hens will gather three or four different sized small broods into one larger flock. A couple of warning “puck, puck, pucks” will scatter the crew, confusing would-be diners long enough for the flock to disperse and gather again later. Few bird mothers are as fierce at defending a brood as a female turkey. Those sharp toes and battling beak aren’t meant for friendly footshakes. (By the way, the ‘guy’ turkeys are off with the ‘other boys’ whooping it up eating, drinking and being merry until spring-time of another year.)

Once upon a year, ring-necked pheasants behaved in a similar fashion, a beady eye peering from above the ditch-side foliage, followed by a scattered crew of rag-tag youngsters. In much of the Tyrone Township territory, pheasants are rarely observed, which coincides with Minnesota Department of Natural Resources recent report, “Pheasant numbers have declined by 25 percent from 2020, but numbers remained on par with the 10-year average.” Tim Lyons, DNR upland game research scientist states, “This year smoke from wildfires and dryer than average conditions during the annual pheasant survey made birds less detectable.” When one observes the number of raccoons and skunks splattered on the highways and byways, one knows that yes, weather IS a factor, but beasts and birds of prey take their toll as well.

Speaking of ‘prey.’ One evening this past week, (9/15/2021) sharp-eyed young Jack Ammann of the Sand Prairie area parked his faithful steed (truck) in its stable (garage,) and when alighting from the faithful charger sensed a small pair of eyes observing his movements. He glanced at his golf clubs stored in a corner, and noticed an insect watching him anxiously. Taking a quick photo, he checked his Google App and discovered that the insect was a Praying Mantis. Our encounters with mantises in the ‘wild’ in the past have been few and far between. Some consider such a find ‘rare.’ Jack released said mantis back into the wild after the bug photo session where it seems to have thrived. Great sleuthing, Jack!

What we do know about this insect is that most do not survive the winter in Minnesota. With their triangular head and bulging eyes, they appear dangerous. However, they are deadly only to other insects, WHICH may include pollinators. They sometimes dine upon critters as large as shrews, mice, and…. even hummingbirds!

While ‘eyeing’ hummers and monarch butterflies this week, Michelle Burns of Pumpkin Hill Road came across yellowed, brown dying leaves on her lilac bushes, and one stem which was blossoming with a monarch butterfly aboard. Upon further inquiry, numerous other folks are experiencing the same. Henderson’s Jeff DuCharme also reported spring buds and flowering lilacs along his hedge, Main Street, Henderson. Inquiries resulted in the following information. The lilac problem is most likely a fungal disease or lilac leaf spot probably caused by a stress-filled summer…heat, drought, sporadic rainfall, etc. Hopefully, a normal May 2022 will see lilacs flowering as usual. Seems all nature including humans are currently experiencing ‘stress-out.’

Eyes under the ‘pet’ LeSueur chimney spot find less and less Chimney swifts of late. From a ‘high’ count on September 5th of 1,055, latest tallies from September 17th,126; 18th, 100; 19th, 190, it would appear the mysterious charcoal birds are well on their way to Brazil, Peru and Chile. We wish them well, as we keep our eyes to the skies.