I was picking up dead sticks in my yard and tossing them into piles. It's a chore common to spring weather. Winter's winds prune trees. An ebullient robin sang a repetitive tune full of hope and promise. A song inspired by day length. In the midst of dead things, life sang.

I listened to the gossip of newly arrived red-winged blackbirds. It was full of travel talk and winter tales. I found their talk intriguing enough to make a visit to a local lake.

Minnesotans love lakes. That's why we have so many of them. Henry David Thoreau wrote, "A lake is the landscape's most beautiful and expressive feature. It is earth's eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature."

Killdeer, common grackles and American kestrels provided company on my journey. I saw large numbers of Canada geese, many standing in pairs on ice or mud. I stopped to see eagles at the lake. They were fishing. They were all bald eagles - adults with white heads and mottled immature birds. Young golden eagles often have white patches under the wing and on the tail, but their white is more clearly defined than the white mottling on the wings and body of a young bald eagle. Spring rose up on eagles' wings.

I watch birds not only to marvel, but also to learn. Anna Botsford Comstock, the first woman professor at Cornell University and a pioneer in nature study, said, "The reason for studying any bird is to ascertain what it does. To hear some of our bird devotees talk, one would think that to be able to identify a bird is all of bird study. On the contrary, the identification of birds is simply the alphabet to the real study, the alphabet by means of which we may spell out the life habits of the bird."

Echoes from Loafers' Club

"We haven't had a single customer today."

"That's the way I like it."

"How do you expect to pay the bills?"

"Who said that I expect to pay the bills?"

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: if only Daylight Saving Time saved daylight that we could use whenever we needed it.

I've learned

1. I have to buy a ticket before I can win the lottery.

2. Not every restaurant serves food.

3. An alarm clock going off is better than one not going off.

Smile, you're on a trail cam

Neal Batt of Hartland showed me some wonderful photos taken by his trail camera. A deer captured in the instrument's eye licked the lens of the camera. Trail cams have become so popular that one might wonder if there is a deer in Minnesota that hasn't had its photo taken. I'd like to have a hood cam - a camera that would take the place of a hood ornament and provide a snapshot of whatever that was that scurried across the road in front of my car.

The cafe chronicles

I could have inhaled a meal in this eatery. It was a restaurant where this discussion could have taken place, "This isn't what I ordered."

"You wouldn't want what you ordered."

"Well, I don't want this either."

"Then what difference does it make?"

I was sitting in a cafe having no need for a furnace. The customers brought their own hot air. It wasn't a restaurant requiring a clean gimme cap. I was talking to an old friend and classmate who resides in a house made from tires. I resisted the impulse to ask him if he needed to rotate his walls. Someone asked him what color his earth-sheltered home was. It was a hard question to answer. The house is covered with vegetation, so it is green in summer, brown in fall and white during the winter.

I was as happy as a hand fed hog as we talked about his time spent working in Antarctica. We talked briefly about school days when it was my job to talk our teachers in from the ledge and we struggled with word problems such as, "If train A leaves Minneapolis at 8 a.m. going 60 miles per hour and train B leaves Chicago at 9 a.m. going 75 miles per hour, how long will it take you to fail this test?"

Moving on up

I'd met the caller years ago when I'd told stories at a casino in Reno, Nevada. He lived in a small town in Nevada that had grown from 225 to 176 during the years he had lived there. He called to tell me that he was moving to Minneapolis. I asked him why he was moving to a city with such a large population. He answered that with so many people, it should be easy for him to find one who is nice. He was moving in March and wondered if he should bring a jacket. I advised him to bring a fire.

Time management

I had a lot of work to do. I knew I would kick myself if I didn't finish it as soon as possible. A loved one was playing in a basketball game at the same time as I should have been working. I decided to work later when I should be sleeping. I drove to Redwood Falls to watch her play. I had to. I knew that I would kick myself even harder if I didn't.

Nature notes

Do birds have taste buds?

Birds have taste buds, but not nearly as many as man does. Rabbits have about 17,000 taste buds, pigs 15,000, humans 9,000, mallards 375, starlings 200, pigeons 50 and chickens 24. The tastes perceptible to us are sweet, sour, bitter, salt, umami (characteristic of monosodium glutamate) and lutefisk.

About 50 percent of fledged robins die each year. If a hatch-year robin makes it to mid-winter, it will live an average of 1.7 years.

According to the National Audubon Society, common grackle numbers have shrunk by 60 percent in the last 40 years.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issues depredation orders allowing the killing of migratory birds such as crows, grackles and red-winged blackbirds damaging property or posing a health hazard. New regulations removed the rusty blackbird, a species in serious decline, from the list of birds considered under such orders. It also banned the use of lead shot to kill birds under a depredation order because lead's toxicity might poison other animals.

A woodpecker has a zygodactyl foot. The first and fourth digits face backwards while the second and third toes face forwards. This type of foot is excellent for clinging to the trunks of trees.

I've been reading

This from "Kin and Kind" by Jonah Lehrer in the March 5, 2012, issue of The New Yorker, "Although the vampire bat has traditionally been seen as a ghoulish predator, it interests biologists for another reason: it is deeply altruistic. The bats live in expansive colonies, with hundreds or thousands sharing the same dark cave. Bats must feed constantly - they starve to death within 60 hours - and this has led to the evolution of an unusual way of sharing food. If a vampire bat fails to find a victim during the night, it will begin licking under the wings and on the lips of a chosen colony member. The animals then lock mouths, and the successful hunter starts vomiting warm blood. If such sharing did not take place, scientists estimate that more than 80 percent of adult vampire bats would die of starvation every year."


The Bluebird Recovery Program Expo will be on Saturday, April 14, at Byron Middle School. It will feature Minnesota Raptor Center birds, Tom Comfort speaking on the key factors in bluebird nest box locations, Keith Radel on fledgling rate improvement and safety, Mike Jersek on buffalo gnat control on baby bluebirds, Kelly Applegate on purple martins, Roger Strand on wood ducks and heaps of hot air from this hick from Hartland. There will be vendors, food and friends. Find more information at http://bbrp.org, by calling (507) 332-7003 or emailing jmmclm@localnet.com.

Meeting adjourned

When Mother Teresa accepted her Nobel Prize, she was asked, "What can we do to promote world peace?"

She replied, "Go home and love your family."


© Al Batt 2012