Natural history by the yard



It was nice to step outside and not be punched in the nose by the dead skunk on the road. The skunk's final spray smell had either faded or taken the day off.

A chipmunk was making a stump speech in the woods near my house. In autumn, chipmunks gather seeds and other foods into their cheek pouches and carry them to their burrows to store for winter.

This chipmunk didn't have bulging cheeks as it made its "chuck" call. Chipmunks also make a high-pitched "chip" call when they are alarmed. The chip sounds like a birdcall. Some researchers believe that the "chip" is made in response to danger on the ground, while the "chuck" is in response to a predator in the air.

I listened for a bit before succumbing to the need to be gainfully employed. Before leaving, I wished Chip, Dale, Alvin, Simon or Theodore the very best of days.

Echoes from Loafers' Club

"My grandfather carried his wooden leg over his shoulder."

"Why on earth did he do that?"

"So he could scratch his back."

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: Man does not live by bread alone. He needs duct tape, too.

I've learned

1. Making pie is not as easy as pie.

2. More is learned from having empty pockets than from having full ones.

3. No treatment for an owie is more effective than a mother's kiss.

The news from Hartland

Buzz Honey, local beekeeper, stung while texting while hiving.

Zoo goers treated at hospital after porcupine sneezes.

Bungee jump opens on farm. For $10, you are tied by a bungee cord to a combine and then allowed to run away as fast as you can.

Ask Al

"What is the secret of a long marriage?" A husband and a wife should never be mad at the same time.

"How does a man know when he is getting old?" It happens when you care more about how easily a bottle opens than what is in the bottle.

"I'd love to go camping next summer, but I don't want to spend much money. What can I do?" Leave the houselights on and the doors wide open.

Adventures of the vertically-enhanced

I am tall.

I walked into a gold dredge, an apparatus not built for the vertically-enhanced.

I entered the gold dredge with a bad altitude.

I hit my head on a metal bar overhead. It hurt. Stars appeared.

That wasn't the worst of it.

On the way out of the dredge, I hit my head on the same bar.

Customer comments

Bill Heinsen of Red Deer, Alberta, told me that he had participated in a teacher exchange program that allowed him to work in Australia for a year. One day, he and his family went on a bus trip. Most of the passengers were older women who found the accent of Bill's 4-year-old son intriguing. They loved to hear it and continued to ask the boy questions until he finally replied, "I'm done talking today."

Bill added that he was once rear-ended because he did a bad thing. He stopped at a red light.

It was so dry

I've visited areas of the country that have been so dry that some fish have never learned how to swim.

On windy days, there was so much dust blowing around that the gophers were digging holes in the air.

Crows flew backwards to keep the dust out of their eyes.

Talking baseball

We were walking down a shaded lane while talking about the Minnesota Twins baseball fortunes. The catcher, Joe Mauer, was the topic when I heard a bird call in the trees.

"Blue gray gnatcatcher," I said with little thought.

My walking companion suggested that Mauer should continue catching and not change to another position.

I heard another bird vocalizing and said, without consciously doing so, "Great crested flycatcher."

The other walker paused before asking, "Are those catchers in their farm system?"

A question for baseball fans. What are the seven ways a batter can reach first base? Mauer would know all seven.

1. Hit 2. Error 3. Base on balls 4. Hit by pitch 5. Dropped third strike 6. Catcher's interference 7. Fielder's choice

Nature notes

"Am I seeing both bald eagles and golden eagles along the lake?"

Bald eagles belong to a group of sea eagles that live in or near aquatic environments and are piscivorous (fish eaters). Golden eagles belong to a group of true or booted (feathered legs) eagles and are upland eagles, meaning they're not near water. They primarily hunt upland mammals instead of fish. One good identification tip is that if there is visible white in the body feathers on the back or underparts (not including wings), the bird is almost certainly a bald eagle. The ecology of the two eagles means that an eagle in the immediate vicinity of a river or lake is most likely a bald eagle hunting fish.

"What do red-tailed hawks eat?"

They prey mostly upon small mammals, including: mice, gophers, voles, shrews, moles, squirrels, chipmunks, rats, rabbits, opossums, muskrats, cats, skunks and bats. They also feed upon snakes, frogs, lizards, salamanders, toads, birds, crayfish, insects, fish and roadkill. I saw a study that asserted that a red-tailed hawk is successful in about one out of ten hunting attempts.

Nature lessons

The Incas believed that the Andean condor, with its 10-foot wingspan, carried the sun into the sky each morning.

Judy Boyd of Red Deer told me that she applies used cat litter to pocket gopher mounds to make the gophers vacate the premises. Judy, who volunteers in wildlife rescue and rehabilitation, said that she once rescued a cormorant that had landed in a kiddy pool in LaCombe, Alberta. Judy hurried to remove the bird before everyone wanted a cormorant in his or her kiddy pools. The bird was unhurt and released into bigger water.

NASA engineer Mark Rober says that statistically six percent of drivers are animal-haters. Rober placed rubber snakes, turtles and tarantulas on the shoulder of the road and observed the actions of 1,000 vehicles. Six percent of those drivers proved to be "cold-blooded rubber-animal killers" who were willing to put themselves at risk in order to drive over an animal on the side of the road.

Goatman

No, he wasn't a superhero. He was spotted in Utah, on his hands and knees, lurking among wild goats. He wore a crudely made goat suit.

Wildlife authorities were concerned. The fellow didn't seem to be harming anything, but he might have been in danger during the hunting season. There is no hunting season on men who dress like goats, but there is a season on wild goats.

The man turned out to be an archery hunter who wanted to make certain he could get close enough to a goat for a good kill. He was practicing his goat stalking.

The man prefers to remain anonymous, but look for him at your door on Halloween. There will be a herd of goats with him.

Thanks for stopping by

"The man who keeps busy helping the man below him won't have time to envy the man above him." ~ Henrietta Mears

Meeting adjourned

Don't let the worst people get the best of you. Give them your best. Be kind.

©Al Batt 2012