A river of birds flowed along with me as I drove down a rural road. The river was a flock of mixed blackbirds traveling an untroubled sky. I have never texted while driving nor have I ever looked through binoculars while driving. Therefore, I can only guess that the twisting group of birds consisted of various blackbird species, grackles, cowbirds and starlings. Birds that share feeding habits often flock together.

It was owly in Manly

Some years ago, a northern hawk owl was visiting Manly, Iowa. Manly isn't far from the city of Fertile. It is difficult to visit either place without the cartoon bubble over my head being filled with a newspaper headline reading, "Manly man marries Fertile woman."

That aside, Manly is far south of a northern hawk owl's typical range. This owl of the boreal forests being in Manly was as unlikely as Charlie Sheen marrying Paris Hilton at a Lutheran church in Manly. The owl was being seen near the library. I wanted to see the owl in both the worst way and in the best way. I made plans to see the owl at my earliest convenience, which proved not to be convenient or me. If I'd have had the time, I'd have been too busy.

I did make it to Manly and the owl was kind enough to wait for me. I saw it not only near the public library, but perched upon the library sign. It was looking for lunch. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology says that a northern hawk owl can detect a vole up to a half-mile away. The owl is diurnal and it doesn't really hoot, but it was difficult not to imagine that the owl was hanging around the library because it enjoyed hoot-dunits.

Caterpillar hamburgers

There are over 250,000 species of moths and butterflies. For every butterfly you see in your yard, there are about 19 species of moths there at night. Caterpillars are everywhere. They eat more leaves than any other group of organisms in the world. Dan Janzen is a professor of biology at the University of Pennsylvania who studies caterpillars in the Costa Rican rainforest. He said, "Caterpillars are food for almost every carnivore. That means birds, mammals, spiders, beetles. Everybody eats caterpillars. So it's a sort of hamburger in the world."

Echoes from the Loafers' Club Meeting

"I planted some birdseed."

"Trying to grow a bird?"

"No. If a bird comes up, I won't have anything to feed it."

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: two words have opened a lot of doors for me - push and pull.

I've learned

1. To make myself into someone with whom I'll enjoy spending time.

2. Roy Rogers taught me that if I wanted to wear a white hat, I sometimes need to saddle up and ride.

3. If I use my head, I can find a low doorframe.

Ride 'em cowboy

I was teaching a writing class at Bethany Lutheran College when a student from New Ulm leaned too far back in his chair and tipped over. I was relieved to see that the young man was unhurt. I told him that it was nothing to be ashamed of. The chair was a former rodeo chair and had never been ridden before.

Does the five-second rule apply to what I hear?

My mother was adamant that I washed my hands thoroughly before coming to the table. She even demanded that I washed behind my ears. I guess that was so I could hear the food better. I scrubbed my hands briskly before sitting down to eat. The meal wouldn't be of long duration before I dropped a piece of food to the floor. Mom advised me to pick the food from the floor under the five-second rule. Apparently, it takes germs five seconds to climb onto fallen food. It was part of a mother/germs agreement. I snatched the food from the floor with my extremely clean hands and ate it. The area behind my ears remained immaculate.

Church shoes

As the minister talked, my attention was diverted to the bright white shoes worn by the man seated next to me. I call such shoes "tennis shoes." I'm sure they have another name, but I'm not sure what it is. They were so incredibly white that I wished I'd been wearing sunglasses. The man was sound asleep, snoring lightly. Occasionally, he'd make a "huh" sound in his sleep. He was entertaining, to say the least, but I couldn't stop looking at those white shoes. I wondered how he kept them so white. His wife glared at him as if she wished that he had a snooze button. I noticed she was digging around in her purse. I feared she was searching for a hammer to use to awaken her husband. She pulled out a small, folding scissors. I worried that she was going to stab her slumbering spouse, but she used the scissors to clip a product tag (it looked like a price tag) from his brand new shoes. That was why they were so white. I went back to listening to the minister. I hoped I hadn't missed too much important stuff.

My neighbor

My neighbor Bob the Olson told me that he was tired. I asked him if he had stayed up too late. He told me that wasn't the problem. The problem was that he got up twirly.

Twirly? Oh, too early.

Bob the Olson names all of his dogs after himself. That way he doesn't forget their names.

Nature notes

"A crazy robin is bashing into my window. What can I do?"

It's likely a male that feels a powerful urge to chase other males away from his territory. The window turns into a mirror when the light hits it right. When a territorial bird sees its image in a reflective surface such as a window, it perceives its reflection as a rival and tries to drive the intruder away. This is how the fight starts. Reflections in windows refuse to retreat, so the fight continues. When the robin assumes an aggressive pose, so does his opponent in the glass. Cover the outside of the window with a screen, soap, cardboard, painter's drop cloth, wax paper, spray frost, or opaque plastic that breaks up the reflection. If you cover the inside of the window, draw the blinds, or close the curtains, it aggravates the problem because it enhances the mirrored image. If the robin is intent on finding a fight, it will search for imaginary opponents in other windows. I've had robins fight with the outside mirrors on a car. I covered the mirrors with a bag held in place by a rubber band until the robin's hormonal level dropped or he became too busy with nestlings.

Nature lessons

Baton Rouge owes its name to the French explorer Sieur d'Iberville, who while leading an exploration party up the Mississippi River saw a reddish cypress pole festooned with bloody animals that marked the boundary between the Houma and Bayou Goula tribal hunting grounds. They called the pole and its location le bâton rouge or the red stick.

The right whale is the size of a school bus. They are called "right whales" because whalers believed the whales were just the "right" ones to hunt, as the whales floated when killed and often swam within sight of shore. They were also incredibly tame and swam near boats. They were hunted to near extinction during the busiest years of the whaling industry.

The Norse god Odin had a pair of ravens. They were named Huginn and Muninn - Huginn is thought and Muninn is memory. Odin sent ravens off around the world at daybreak, to bring him the daily news.

Black-tailed prairie dogs live together in numerous underground burrows called towns. An average prairie dog town may cover less than half a square mile, but the largest recorded town spanned 25,000 square miles of Texas.

Meeting adjourned

A kind word is a spring day.

Thanks for stopping by

"In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

"Anyone who has accustomed himself to regard the life of any living creature as worthless is in danger of arriving also at the idea of worthless human lives." - Albert Schweitzer


© Al Batt 2012