Our intrepid rural mail carrier, Brad Spooner of Hartland, reported seeing five bald eagles feeding on a deer carcass in a farm field not far from my hovel. Not long after that, I spotted a young bald eagle, very brown in color, eating an opossum on the road.

The bald eagle is a member of the sea and fish eagle group. Even though it is a fish eater, it will take ducks or other prey that are available and easy to secure.

In my experience, I have found that coots (mudhens) are a major prey item of eagles. A bald eagle can lift about one-half its weight. That would mean it could typically lift around 4 to 6 pounds.

They do not generally feed on chickens or other domestic livestock, but they do make use of available food sources. They are opportunistic feeders that will eat carrion.

When an eagle sees a fish swimming or floating near the surface, it moves in a shallow glide and snatches the fish out of the water with a quick swipe of its talons. Eagles can open and close their talons at will, but an eagle could be dragged into the water if a fish is too large to lift. Hunger might be the reason an eagle would refuse to release a fish. Eagles are strong swimmers, but in cold water, they may be overcome by hypothermia.

Because of the energy expended during hunting, an eagle spends a lot of time resting. Mature adults have much higher success rates while hunting than do the younger birds.

It's not just eagles, humans, bears and wolves that enjoy venison. I watched a red-tailed hawk feeding on a dead deer near the Harkin Store. The Harkin Store is an 1870s general store where, when I walk into it, I feel the need to play a game of checkers. When the railroad bypassed the small town of West Newton, Minn., the Harkin Store was forced to close with much of the unsold inventory still on the shelves, where it remains today. The Nicollet County Historical Society manages the wonderful site.

John Beal of Faribault wrote to me about hanging a rib cage of a deer from a tree to make a feeder for the birds. John wrote, "It is amazing how many woodpeckers, chickadees and nuthatches peck away all winter. By spring the carcass will be picked clean and will be white in color."

From The Raptor Center

The Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota treated 786 wild raptor patients last year, the highest number since 2005 and 87 more patients than 2011. The top five species treated were red-tailed hawks (166), Cooper's hawks (126), bald eagles (119), great horned owls (103), and broad-winged hawks (58). Of the 119 eagles admitted, 43 (36 percent) were suffering from lead toxicity. The number of red-tailed hawks was record-setting, beating the 2007 mark of 144.

Swan song

Someone told me that he had one week of work before he retired. He called it his "swan song." I hoped that it wasn't. In ancient legend, swans sang either most beautifully when they were dying or never sang at all until just before death. This is untrue, but lends itself well to poetic allegory.

Nature lessons

1. In some parts, the ruffed grouse is frequently called the "partridge." This leads to confusion with the gray or Hungarian partridge. The ruffed grouse is only distantly related to the gray partridge.

2. A Clemson University student wanted to study turtles in the hopes of finding ways to help them cross roads. He put a realistic rubber turtle in the middle of a busy road near the campus. He watched for an hour as seven drivers (out of 267) swerved deliberately to run over the rubber turtle. Several more drivers apparently tried to hit it, but missed.

3. Snapping turtle eggs often hatch in the fall. If the eggs are laid late in the season, they may not hatch until the following spring. The incubation temperature of the eggs determines the sex of the hatchlings.

4. Some fishermen hate cormorants. They see them as competition for fish. For generations, Chinese fishermen have used cormorants to fish. A fisherman tightens a small rope around the neck of a cormorant. The bird dives into the water and surfaces with a fish wriggling in its beak. The rope tied around its neck makes it impossible for the cormorant to swallow the fish. The caught fish ends up in the fisherman's basket. No hooks, no bait. Good bird, not bad.

Echoes from Loafers' Club

"I have a cold."

"I hope you're taking care of it."

"I am. I've had it for five days and it's still as good as new."

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: When you are seeing red, it's hard to notice when the light changes.

I've learned

1. Waiting until it's nearly empty before filling a fuel tank is called progastination.

2. Walnuts come from broken homes.

3. To err is human, to arr is pirate.

The news from Hartland

Heat goes off in Hacker's Smoke Shop, leaving the owner with frozen pipes.

Police believe that the woman who has been using knitting needles to stab people's posteriors is working from a pattern.

Buffalo ranch closes. Roaming charges were becoming too high.

In awe of Alberta

I spoke in Red Deer. I went to Banff without knowing how to Banff. I talked to real cowboys. They didn't twang a guitar and sing depressing songs. They worked with cows. They did a lot of herd work.

The three stages of man

1. How is the mother?

2. What a lovely bride.

3. How much did he leave her?

Cafe chronicles

I was having lunch with Gary Crumb of Matawan at the Village Inn. After we finished eating, Gary said, "It's already Tuesday. I'd just as well take the rest of the week off."

My mother said something similar. "Here it is Monday already. Tomorrow will be Tuesday. The day after is Wednesday. Then it's Thursday, followed by Friday. The week is almost over and I haven't done a thing."

A friend says, "Good morning, good afternoon, good evening, good night," in case he doesn't see the person he is greeting again that day.

It's a beautiful world if we take the time to look

I watched the sunset over Vern Eide Chevrolet while I manned a Salvation Army kettle. It was beautiful. It's nice to enjoy the sun instead of racing it. The world is a postcard. Not long before, I'd stopped at the 33 Mile Roadhouse on the Haines Highway. This home of the Super 33 Burger offers the last gas, propane, and cigarettes in the United States. Some people think Alaska is so cold that new colors were added to the weather map to cover it. Others imagine that shoveling snow there is a Sisyphean effort. Alaska was once an imaginary place to me. I'd uncorked a bottle of Alaskan dreams with an insatiable appetite for the written word. I'd read my way there - books by John Muir, Jack London, Robert Service, Joe McGinniss and others.

Years ago, I went to Alaska for the first time. I keep going back. I like going where baked Alaska is called "baked here."

"Alaska?" one of you is saying. "They eat whale meat and blubber there."

You'd blubber, too, if you had to eat whale meat.

Thanks for stopping by

"Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow." - Melody Beattie

"In the end, our society will be defined not only by what we create but by what we refuse to destroy." - John Sawhill

Meeting adjourned

Be kind. Just because.


©Al Batt 2013