Sometimes No News is Good News!

Submitted by Art and Barb Straub

“Possibly two weeks will pass before we know whether Winky will survive.” You may ask, ‘Winky who?” For regular ‘Indy’ readers, you will recall Indy’s December 9th issue describing the discovery by Paul and Molly Fixsen along north Highway #169 of an injured Snowy Owl. The bird had a disabled left eye, yet otherwise seemed healthy…no obvious broken body parts. The Raptor Center of Minnesota sent a ‘carrier person,’ Heidi Bartos to LeSueur to pick up the docile body and transport it to Wildlife Intensive and Critical Care Unit in Savage. Upon examination by Michelle LaBelle Lake of that facility, Winky was moved to the Minnesota Raptor Center…all of the above tale occurring in a matter of hours.Interest upon the part of Molly and Paul Fixsen caused us to contact the Raptor Center whose courteous response was, ‘”Sorry, you’ll have to wait.”

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the preceding evening prior to Winky’s unsuccessful attempt at avoiding a car, during the dankest dark of December 5th, other owls were abroad hunting.
One, we’re assuming by studying just the top of its cranium and beak, was a barred, not a horned owl. Owls come often to the bird feeders in the woodland, not to capture birds, rather, mice. Mice are attracted to bird food, and it is a frequent occurrence that a mousling’s beady little eyes will get captured by the camera’s light. Flying squirrels are another mammal which visits in the deep of the night, their eyes, bright as full moons, gleaming for the camera. Hungry owls will convert the wee animals to welcome energy. Not being camera shy, the owl pictured last week had its photo taken over twenty times, with only one picture catching a recognizable profile. We believe that solves at least one ‘puzzle’ in the dark.

As mentioned in past columns, December 18th is the special day for peering from home windows to espy birds feeding at your trough of plentitude. A grand day historically, the twenty-fifth anniversary of the first Christmas Bird Count at Ney Center east of Henderson, spawned from the gray matter of one Larry Granger…planter of many seeds that have grown and are flourishing. Should you have done a pre-count activity this week, you may have found just a dribble of birds up to December 9th. Oh, to repeat the activity the day before the light snowfall of December 10th and eleventh on CBC Day! Whereas five dark-eyed juncos visited our feeders while we were present for a half hour 9 December, more than fifty scooted and scrabbled ‘neath the feeders on the 11th. Heavy snow, as discomforting and unwelcome as it is (other than those engaged in snow clearing occupations,) brings in the ravenous birds! Large numbers of many species usually precede a storm of humongous depth such as Friday/Saturday’s gift of precipitation.

The 2021 count brings back memories of stalwart volunteers who have given countless hours to citizen science. We recall two years ago, 2018, while checking the seeping springs near Bucks’ Lake, over a hundred American robins were chattering while they bathed in the chilly muck. Chances are excellent that no ducks or geese will add their numbers to this year’s enumeration, as it would appear all waters will be frozen tight, with the exception of the Minnesota River. Trumpeter swans continue to ply the skies near Blakeley, perhaps there are springs and open marsh waters in that area.

Please remember that the fifteen mile radius centered around Ney covers more territory than one might think. The circle stretches as far as LeSueur Airport; citizens in Rush River can count, the circle extends to Silver Lake just east of Green Isle. We’re hoping someone covers Maloney’s Corner and marsh area on Highway 19, while the southern edge of Belle Plaine is a legal count territory; the busy village of St. Thomas is eligible as well. A simple plink of the finger will bring up Ney Center Web site, with a complete map of the recommended CBC territory. Ney walking/snowshoeing trails will be open, as well as the Center itself.

Regardless of the weather, the CBC occurs on Saturday the 18th. A number of times eight to ten inches of snow have blanketed the ground; on another occasion, a wee 91 year young lady walked from the Ney Center to the former Peavey Elevator on East Henderson Station Road in a light sweater.

Participants are not at the mercy of the weather, the weather is present to be enjoyed (or sometimes endured.) Of course, lots of participants choose to drive and count, or perch safely indoors viewing feeders from the comfort of one’s abode. All are welcome. A call to 507.665.2658 will bring easy-to-complete forms to one’s doorstep. Whatever mode you choose, we predict an exciting adventure.