I drove past Rock Dell. It's a name that has outlived any village that ever existed. There were hundreds of crows in a farm field. I pulled over and used my binoculars to see what the big birds were eating. They didn't appear to be consuming anything. They weren't mobbing a raptor. It was just a gathering. A meeting. A convention of crows,

Later, I looked out the window into our yard. There was a mash of birds there. I rattled off the names of the species in a kind of bird poetry. My bird nerditude shifted to a wish that a bird seen by one could be seen by all. I thanked the birds for being poetic.

That's right, I talk to chickadees and I vote.

Whose nose was it?

The squirrel fell from the roof of my house onto a small platform feeder affixed to the window by suction cups. It was the first assault by a squirrel on that feeder in the good number of years it had been in place.

I banged the glass with my hand. The squirrel didn't flee. It looked my way. It didn't have Betty Davis eyes. We swapped eyeballs for a bit.

There was something about it that reminded me of the chicken of my school's lunch program back in the days when the school lunch was usually one color - beige. My fowl meal was always the south end of a northbound chicken. The squirrel's nose reminded me of that part of a clucker that we called the parson's nose.

A hot pocket for a wren

In summer, it seems as if every woodland in the eastern U.S. sings "teakettle, teakettle." The Carolina wren can be hard to see, but it has an amazingly loud voice for one so small. It has a rich cinnamon plumage, a white eyebrow and an upward-cocked tail.

The Carolina wren thrives over much of the eastern U.S. Harsh winters can reduce local populations, but they soon recover. In fact, this wren has been wintering farther north in recent decades. This allows us to see them in Minnesota.

The species benefits from both forest fragmentation and reforestation as those things create tangled, shrubby habitat that is preferred by wrens. Carolina wrens love brush piles and profit from increased backyard bird feeding. They visit suet feeders and will take shelter in nest boxes containing dried grasses.

Brian Plath hosted a Carolina wren in his Austin yard. The bird found a large nest box to call home - the Plath's garage. The wren came into the garage every night and either Brian or his wife would shut the door behind it. When they opened the garage door in the morning, the wren flew out. One day, it followed Brian's wife into the house from the attached garage.

We all make wrong turns. Some bird stores sell roosting pockets. They are little shelters, like tiny birdhouses, where birds can roost and find shelter from the wind.

Brian hung a discarded Baltimore oriole nest in the garage. The wren found the nest to be a good place to spend nights. If Brian came into the garage at night and turned on the lights, the wren did nothing more than peek out of the nest to see what was going on. It slept well, and why shouldn't it have. The bird had the best wren house in town.

Echoes from the Loafers' Club Meeting

"It feels as if this is last year."

"That's because you didn't make any New Year's resolutions. Mine is to stop putting my foot in my mouth. I'll bet yours is to lose 100 pounds."

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: I remember when I knew more than my phone.

I've learned

It's not difficult to be overdressed.

Honesty is the best policy - unless you want to be elected.

The Mayans taught us that a calendar isn't the end of the world.

It's the cold and flu sneezin'

My son recovered from the flu, but claims to have dirt under his fingernails from clawing his way from the grave.

I was heartened to see his miraculous recovery. I remember boarding one of those "Get in, sit down, shut up, and hold on" buses. It was overcrowded. I stood next to an older woman on the bouncing vehicle. As the blocks passed slowly, I noticed a young man, seated, with his eyes closed. "Are you OK?" I asked. "Are you ill?"

"No, I'm OK," he replied. "I just hate to see an old lady have to stand."

The cafe chronicles

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. That's when retired guys decide whether to go back to bed or not. The rest of us talk about what kind of jobs we want after we retire. The retired lot claimed that getting older is a walk in the park. One of those parks where no one picks up after their dogs. We talked of hybrid cars we'd owned that ran on gasoline and prayers.

Unrelated dog tales

I spoke in Indianapolis and met a man covered in leather. So much leather that the Hoosier State must be devoid of cows. He wore only one glove. Either he'd lost one or it was a very narrow cold front. He held a tiny dog. It was a miniature Doberman pinscher. I asked him, "How much smaller will it get?"

I watched another man walk on the ice of a Minnesota lake. The man looked cold. He moved with the shuffle of one tormented by a brisk wind. I watched a dog run to the man. The happy hound bounded about, wagging its tail. The dog didn't want to be the man. Dogs are great companions because they are happy being a dog.

Did you know?

A Public Policy Polling survey showed that Congress is less popular than head lice, cockroaches, Donald Trump, root canals, traffic jams, Brussels sprouts and colonoscopies. It is more popular than John Edwards, the Kardashians, telemarketers and Lindsay Lohan.

Customer comments

Brad Edwin of Albert Lea told me that a hockey game had been canceled because of ice.

Rich Murray of Albert Lea passed along good advice to a family member. "Why am I working harder to resolve your situation than you are?"

Tom Stockwell of Burnsville told me that his dream is to have the light bulb concession in Las Vegas.

Tom Benson of Hartland told me that there is a city in Faribault County that is so cold, it says "Frost" on its water tower.

I asked Don Lau of Glenville if he goes south for the winter. Don lives in Minnesota not far from the Iowa border. He told me that he had driven south a few times, but if the weather was no better by the time he got to Kensett, Iowa, Don turned around and went home.


Thank Goodness It's February. My wife's birthday is in February. I struggle to find suitable gifts. One year, we rode in the basket of a hot air balloon over a desert in Arizona. We did that so we could see what a desert in Arizona looked like from the basket of a hot air balloon. The flight was amazing. There was little sound. Landing was a drag. We landed in the desert and the basket, including us, was dragged for quite a distance. I don't think it was a record, but it was memorable.

Nature notes

Shirley Gunderson of Albert Lea saw a bald eagle being mobbed by black-capped chickadees while it was perched in a tree. It presented a bizarre scene. The bald eagle was about 500 times the size of a chickadee. Why do birds mob raptors? Mobbing is a collective response to danger. The chickadees were either trying to drive off the eagle or calling attention to its presence.

Meeting adjourned

When patience ends, let kindness hold.

Nature lessons

The coldest temperature on Earth, −128.6 °F, was recorded at the Soviet Vostok Station in Antarctica, on July 21, 1983.

The coldest temperature recorded in Minnesota was -60 °F on Feb. 2, 1996, in Tower.

Dung beetles navigate by using the Milky Way.

Thanks for stopping by

"It isn't man or nature, it's man and nature." - Al Batt

"If we take the time, no matter how crazy and troubled we feel, we can find something to be thankful for." - Terry Lynn Taylor


©Al Batt 2013