A stunning blue jay.
A stunning blue jay.
I don't often eat too much, but I frequently eat too fast. I blame my haste on growing up on a farm. I ate lunches on hayracks and tractors. I had to eat quickly before the food got dirty.

A cousin from the city stayed overnight at our farm. We were youngsters. We spent much of the first day of his visit exploring the mysteries of the farm. He thought I was lucky. I had a tire swing. He knew kids who lived in the city who had no tires.

The next morning, we were up at five to do chores before breakfast.

As we staggered toward the barn, my cousin said, "It sure doesn't take long to stay all night at your place."

From over here

I spotted a large flock of wild turkeys near the Fort Snelling Cemetery. I've seen many grasshoppers and they're a favorite food of poults.

On my drive home, dead raccoons dotted the road. Why did the raccoon cross the road? To get to the middle.

I went for a hike later. The last time I walked the trail, swallows traveled on invisible highways above me. I watched bank, barn and tree swallows in flight. The bank swallows looked as if they were wearing bankers' bow ties, the barn swallows carried forks (tails) and the tree swallows looked nothing like trees. Those swallows had left the area.

Spider webs hit me in the face as I walked the trail. I like spiders. I don't measure other living creatures. I marvel at them.

A young northern harrier flew from the side of the trail. I knew it was a juvenile because of a rusty wash underneath. I suspect it had a prey item, but I found no evidence.

Later, I spotted a Cooper's hawk flashing by and a red-tailed hawk soaring overhead. The red-tailed hawk had a brown tail. A red-tail is probably the most commonly seen hawk in North America, but doesn't get a red tail until following the molt in the year after its hatch year. The Cooper's hawk (an accipiter) is slender like a fighter plane and the red-tailed hawk (a buteo) is bulky like a bomber.

Squirrels aren't nuts

A caller asked where all the birds were. A few minutes later, another caller told me that she's never had so many birds at her feeders. As birds search for food, they don't take the time to distribute themselves equally.

No one called to ask where the squirrels were.

There are two groups of oak trees, red oaks with high fat and high tannin acorns and leaves with pointed lobes; and white oaks with less fat and tannin in the acorns and round-lobed leaves. Red oak acorns remain dormant through the winter whereas white oak acorns germinate almost immediately.

Squirrels store red oak acorns and eat white oak acorns. They might store a white oak acorn, but only after biting off the end of the nut containing the embryo to prevent germination.

Echoes from the Loafers' Club Meeting

"What did the cow say to the dentist?"

"I don't know."


"I don't get it."

"That's because you're not 65."

I've learned

1. Anytime is a good time to start something, but next to yesterday you can't beat today.

2. TV news is just the thing to watch when you've run low on things to worry about.

3. Age is nothing more than a state of body.

In the neighborhood

My neighbor Bob the Olson was in the Eat Around it Cafe, when he reached down and picked something up from the floor. Everyone assumed it was a gnawed bone until Bob looked around the eatery and asked, "Did anyone lose $20?"

Four men immediately claimed that they had.

Bob smiled and flipped the dime he'd found in their direction while saying, "Well, I found part of it. Divide it among you."

Traveling is a course in everything

I was headed out of Red Deer, Alberta, when I spotted a sign advertising a campground named, RV There Yet. Later, I visited the world's largest cream can in Markerville, Alberta. I thought it was large. People likely think that a lot.

Red Deer was just like home, only different. Kilometers replaced miles and the temperature was in Celsius instead of Fahrenheit. Tony Blake of Red Deer told me that all I needed to know about the temperature in Celsius was that 40 above was damn hot and 40 below was damn cold.

Francis the Pig

A hog was taken to a slaughterhouse in Red Deer in 1990. When unloaded from the truck, he made a run for it. The 240-pound hog jumped a fence and made his way into the Red Deer River valley. He was frequently seen living in the wild over the next six months.

Antje Espinaco-Virseda of Edmonton, whose love of pigs had caused her to become a vegetarian, gave the pig the name Francis, after Saint Francis of Assisi. She believed the pig's daring and bravery had earned him his freedom.

A man, worried that Francis would not survive the winter, shot him with three tranquilizer darts. Unfortunately, one of the darts meant to save him punctured an internal organ and that, combined with injuries from a car collision, brought death.

A member of the Alberta Legislature said, "I think it's fair to say he's been an example for all of us of our own province's motto: strong and free."

In 1997, Francis was immortalized in a life-sized bronze sculpture in downtown Red Deer.

Café chronicles

A visitor stopped at the Village Inn in Hartland. Hartland has a population of 315 with four last names. The man was from the big city. I can't say exactly why that was evident, but you could tell.

He was a friendly fellow who said to one of the patrons of the cafe, "It must be nice living in the country."

"I wouldn't know," came the reply. "I've lived here in Hartland all my life."

Nature notes

Woody the Woodpecker is based upon an acorn woodpecker.

Passerines (songbirds) are perching birds that have involuntary leg muscles that make it possible for them to grip a branch and not fall while sleeping.

A Bat Conservation International study found that temporarily shutting down wind turbines during low-wind periods at night could reduce bat fatalities at wind-energy facilities by up to 93 percent.

Of the nearly 2 million species of living things described by science, less than 5 percent are bigger than a breadbox.

A peregrination

I spoke to a gathering of the Red Deer River Naturalists in Alberta. A wonderful group. While there, I had the pleasure of getting a tour of the Ellis Bird Farm in the Lacombe area from Myrna Pearman, the director of that fine enterprise.

Ellis Bird Farm was established in 1982 to maintain the legacy of Charlie and Winnie Ellis whose farm was a well known provider of nesting habitat for mountain bluebirds. The couple sold their land to Union Carbide Canada, Ltd., on the condition that the company continued the couple's conservation efforts.

A total of 320 acres support a petrochemical complex, a section (640 acres) is farmed and 112 acres are reserved to promote environmental education, mountain bluebird and tree swallow conservation, a winter bird feeding program, scientific research on cavity nesting birds and public education. It's a delightful place where a bird bum like me feels at home.

Myrna told me that she remembers well the first great grey owl she saw. It was a stormy day and lightning hit the tree next to the one holding the owl. And there are those who think that birding isn't exciting.

Thanks for stopping by

"Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity or registering wrongs." - Charlotte Bronte

"As I make my slow pilgrimage through the world, a certain sense of beautiful mystery seems to gather and grow." - A. C. Benson

Meeting adjourned

"If you can learn from hard knocks, you can also learn from soft touches." - Carolyn Kenmore. Be kind.


©Al Batt 2012