I stepped outdoors. It was a sweet evening. My eyes went skyward, both in gratitude and in curiosity. The action there set the stage. It was a gateway to wonder. Swallows flew high in the sky, feeding on dragonflies. The day had reached new heights.

I paused to marvel. What a generous world this is to provide endless wonder. I look at nature and become too blessed to be stressed.

Echoes from Loafers' Club

"What are you going to do today?"

"I'm going to try to remember what day it is."

"That sounds exhilarating."

"It can be on the days that I remember what day it is."

Driving by the Bruces

I have two wonderful neighbors - both named Bruce - who live across the road from each other. Whenever I pass their driveways, thoughts occur to me, such as: a journey of a thousand miles gets a late start.

I've learned

The check may not be in the mail, but a credit card offer is.

The shortest line will be the slowest.

Make one person happy and you will make two.

Over here

I travel as a part of my job. I enjoy traveling, even with all its blemishes. I visited Kilkenny, Minn., a small town so proud of its Irish heritage that it holds a Half-Way to St. Paddy's Day Community Celebration in September.

The road to Kilkenny was dotted with sweet corn that had fallen from over-filled trucks. It was road kill for vegetarians.

When I was a boy, we raised sweet corn for Birds Eye. When I was a neophyte nebbish yoked to an agricultural enterprise, I watched geese fly overhead. I wanted to know where they were going long before I asked where they came from.

I knew where I'd come from and where I was headed as I pulled into a convenience store, that I still call a gas station. My car was thirsty. There were no other vehicles at the gas pumps. I filled the tank. The price was $3.58. I thought about the lack of customers and considered the law of supply and demand before I offered the clerk $3.50 a gallon. She laughed before charging me the full price.

The photos weren't smiling back at me

I looked at some old photos. There wasn't a smile to be seen. An old Hank Williams song found a place in my mind.

"If it was rainin' gold I wouldn't stand a chance. I wouldn't have a pocket in my patched up pants. No matter how I struggle and strive, I'll never get out of this world alive."

The folks whose images I looked at had hard lives. Because of the early deaths of loved ones, mourning was a natural facet of their lives. They grieved. Was that why there was no smiling?

Getting your photo taken was a big deal that didn't happen often. It was expensive. So you dressed up and tried to look serious.

Dental hygiene wasn't as prevalent as it is today, so maybe people kept their mouths closed to hide decayed or missing teeth.

Those somber faces may have been because the exposures in early photography could last a long time. It would have been difficult to remain still for the required amount of time, let alone smiling while you did.

A euphoric anniversary

Ours is a marriage of long ago but not far away.

You know what they say in French. Of course you do. They say everything in French.

We were teenagers, I'd just been named the promising young squirt of the year by the American Grapefruit Growers Association, when I asked Gail, "Are you walking my way?"

"Yes," she responded. She'd just had a fight with her parents and wanted to disgrace them.

"So am I," I replied smartly.

"You're the most handsome boy in Hartland," she said sweetly.

"You're kidding," I was more than willing to be flattered.

"I was kidding," she admitted.

It was the thought that counted.

We celebrated our anniversary recently. My wife's family likely drowned their sorrows.

Happy anniversary, honey.

Nature notes

Fred Fiebelkorn of Thompson asked why there are so few monarch butterflies this year. Monarchs are scarce this summer. There were only 60 million monarchs wintering in Mexico last winter. That's 80 percent below the 350 million average.

The monarchs covered only three acres of forest, compared to a 17-acre average. Drought and excessive heat during the summer of 2012 resulted in low reproduction. This spring was unusually cold across the middle of the country and that delayed the northern migration.

The first monarch generation was slow to develop in the southern states and late to migrate northward. Monarchs can produce a new generation in about 30 days. The monarchs that migrate to Mexico this fall are the great-great-grandchildren of those that left Mexico last spring.

Monarchs have a high reproductive potential and they breed across a wide area. I hope that brings recovery. I've seen good numbers of monarchs wherever there are blazing stars.

Q-and-A

"I found a nest with a couple of cigarette filters in it. Whose nest was it?"

I often find such things in house sparrow nests, but they might be found in the nests of a number of other species such as house finches, tree swallows, chickadees, starlings, etc. A recent study suggested that the smoked cigarette butts may function as a parasite repellent.

"How is our pheasant population doing?"

A long winter followed by a cold, wet spring contributed to a significant decrease in Minnesota's pheasant count, which declined 29 percent from 2012, according to the DNR. The highest pheasant counts were in the southwest region.

South Dakota had a 64 percent decrease in its brood survey. North Dakota's most-recent rooster crowing count is down 11 percent from last year. And Iowa reported a 19 percent decrease in its August roadside count.

Minnesota's 2013 pheasant index is 64 percent below the ten-year average and 72 percent below the long-term average. The steady downward trend in Minnesota's pheasant population during the past several years is primarily due to habitat loss. Weather has caused minor fluctuations. High spring precipitation and below average temperatures hurt nesting this year.

This year's average hatch date was delayed to June 20, which is 11 days later than the 10-year average of June 9. The pheasant population estimate is part of the DNR's annual August roadside wildlife survey, which began in 1955. DNR conservation officers and wildlife managers conduct the survey during the first half of August.

This year's survey consisted of 171 routes, each 25 miles long. Observers drive routes in early morning. Their monitoring provides an index of relative abundance of pheasants, gray (Hungarian) partridge, cottontail rabbits, white-tailed jackrabbits, and mourning doves. Gray partridges decreased from last year and were below the 10-year average. Cottontail rabbits increased from last year, but were below the 10-year and long-term average. Jackrabbits were 87 percent below the long-term average. Mourning dove numbers were 20 percent below last year and lower than the 10-year and long-term averages.

Bob Krenik of Madison Lake asked if pelicans eat bullheads. Pelicans have a rough diet.

Pelicans eat mostly rough fish, near the surface, not game fish. Some biologists claim that when the bullhead population is down, pelicans move to another lake. Their feeding is restricted to shallow water, as they aren't diving birds. Pelicans fish communally.

Lucas Luna of Hollandale has seven hummingbirds fighting over a feeder and asked how to keep a bully from dominating a feeder.

Hummingbirds are aggressive and territorial. They don't feel the need to share. When they find a reliable source of food, they aren't going to divvy it up amongst other hummingbirds. Put up more feeders. You can separate the feeders or cluster them together.

Harlan Lutteke of Alden asked how fast the wings of a hummingbird beat.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, their wings beat 53 times per second on average.

"Is there a hunting season on crows in Minnesota?"

Yes, season dates are Aug. 1 through Sept. 20, Dec. 15 through Jan. 15, and March 1 to 31. According to DNR surveys of small game hunters, the average annual crow harvest is about 11,500 birds.

"When are fall leaf colors the best in Minnesota?"

Colors typically peak between mid-September and early October in the northern third of the state, between late September and early October in the central third, and between late September and mid-October in the southern third.

Nancy Skophammer of Albert Lea asked for a recommendation for a bird book for a third grader.

I like "The Young Birder's Guide to Birds of Eastern North America" written by a friend named Bill Thompson, III. It was written for kids 8 and up. It's good because it was written after consultation with children as to what they'd like in a field guide.

Meeting adjourned

If you can't be kind, impersonate someone who can.

Thanks for stopping by

"To find the universal elements enough; to find the air and the water exhilarating; to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter; to find a quest of wild berries more satisfying than a gift of tropical fruit; to be thrilled by the stars at night; to be elated over a bird's nest or a wild flower in spring - these are some of the rewards of the simple life." - John Burroughs

"I was strongest when I laughed at my weakness." - Elmer Diktonius

DO GOOD.

© Al Batt 2013