There is a hint of a chill in the air. It's both ominous and refreshing. The falling leaves begin to dance a dance choreographed by the wind. The landscape takes on a golden brown hue. I spotted an abundance of tree swallows perched upon utility wires.

World famous avian artist and naturalist Roger Tory Peterson wrote, "I have seen a million flamingos on the lakes of East Africa and as many seabirds on the cliffs of the Alaska Pribilofs, but for sheer drama, the tornadoes of tree swallows eclipsed any other avian spectacle I had ever seen."

The swallows, as if on cue, burst into flight from the wires. I heard a red-breasted nuthatch singing its odd call as if it were a feathered Felix Unger from "The Odd Couple" attempting to clear his sinuses.

I watched a young red-headed woodpecker fly into the feeders. It had a gray-brown head instead of the red head of an adult. According to Lakota legend, the red-headed woodpecker taught a poor young suitor how to make and play the first flute. Because of that, the man was able to win the respect of his tribe and the hand of the chief's beautiful daughter. That is why their flutes are made to resemble this bird.

I don't see nearly as many of this species of woodpecker as I did when there was an abundance of snag trees in the aftermath of Dutch elm disease. I saw red-headed woodpeckers in good numbers when we had some of the world's largest bird feeders - ears of corn stored in wooden cribs.

Echoes from the Loafers' Club Meeting

"No coffee for me."

"Why don't you ever have coffee at breakfast?"

"It keeps me awake."

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: few things are further from reality than reality TV.

Things I've learned about food

1. Man does not live by bread alone. He needs peanut butter, too.

2. A little boy told me that he'd learned that if eating a certain food made him throw up, he'd throw up on that food. That way, he didn't have to eat it.

3. A big boy told me that he could eat all he wanted to at a funeral because there was one less person to judge him.

The news from Hartland

Squash court closes after being filled with excess harvested zucchini.

Man wearing leisure suit to church claimed he was trying to be fashionably late.

Eagle snatches cat from a yard. In hindsight, it was a mistake to get the cat a fish tattoo.

A traveling man

I was near Saginaw, Mich. I was in a snazzy rental car because the rental company had upgraded me. The car was of the luxury kind that was much too good for the likes of me. It wasn't a foreign car, but it was foreign to what I was accustomed to.

The car had a GPS, a strange voice that told me where to go. I was OK with its presence. Not all roads lead to Rome. All roads lead to being lost. Besides, I wouldn't have to fold a GPS like I would a paper map.

I hoped I'd gotten a GPS with a sense of humor. One that would scream things like "Look out!" for no reason.

I entered the address of my destination into the GPS. The voice guided me better than the voices in my head typically do. It was good, but it sounded as if it had an attitude.

I saw the location, but drove past the turn in order to stop at a drugstore a block down. I needed to purchase postcards. I send my wife a postcard each day I'm away from home.

The GPS voice had a conniption. It told me how to perform a U-turn. Then, I'm pretty sure of this, it sighed deeply. I appreciated that. It made me feel like my wife was seated next to me, reading a map.


Clarence welcomed me. It wasn't a guy named Clarence. It was a sign welcoming me to Clarence, Iowa. I was in town to visit the library. I love libraries. I parked my car in the shade. Shade provides premium parking in the summer.

Before going into the library, I checked my smarter-than-I-am-phone. On that device, there was a message telling me that an old friend had died. I began to miss him instantly.

Each time someone dies, it's as if a library had burned to the ground.

Did you know?

A potato can be used to remove the jagged end of a broken lightbulb from its socket. Cut a raw potato in half and press the cut end onto the shattered glass. Be sure the power is off and that the potato is large enough to capture the glass edges and protect your hand.

The percentage of women who say they'd never date a guy who picked his nose is 84.

According to a recent survey from Pew Internet and American Life Project, nearly one-third of cellphone users have had their devices lost or stolen.

Roger Tory Peterson redux

Barbara Franklin of Minneapolis, daughter of Walter and Dorothy Breckenridge, told me a story of when Roger Tory Peterson was a houseguest at the Breckenridge home. Walter Breckenridge was one of Minnesota's legendary naturalists who used his incredible artwork to advocate for the preservation of our natural world.

Dorothy saw some birds fluttering outside the window. The birds had been there before and there had been some question as to the identity of the birds. Who better to ask than the author of "A Field Guide to the Birds" - a book that is so famous that it is known fondly as the "Peterson's."

"Roger, what kind of birds are those?" asked Dorothy, pointing towards the feathered beings in question.

Roger took a good look at the birds before saying, "Get me the Peterson's."

Nature notes

"I saw a nearly white robin. How common is this?"

True albinos occur in about one in 10,000 mammal births. Researchers found that albinism occurs in 17 of 30,000 birds or one in 1,764 birds.

Leucism in birds is much more common. It's a condition where pigmentation cells in an animal fail to develop properly. This can result in atypical white patches appearing on the animal, or, rarely, completely white creatures. An albino's eyes are usually pink or red.

Meeting adjourned

"Instead of putting others down, try improving yourself instead. The only person you have a right to compete with is you. In the meantime, treat others how you'd like to be treated. One trait that some of the best communicators share is empathy. A couple of kind words cannot only make a person's day, but earn you a friend and supporter for life. For the rest of the week, whenever you see someone you want to judge negatively, pay them a compliment instead. See what happens." ~ Neil Strauss

Thanks for stopping by

"You need to learn how to select your thoughts just the same way you select your clothes every day. This is a power you can cultivate. If you want to control things in your life so bad, work on the mind. That's the only thing you should be trying to control." ~ Elizabeth Gilbert

"Humility does not mean you think less of yourself. It means you think of yourself less." ~ Ken Blanchard


©Al Batt 2012