Mother Hubbard Went to the Cupboard...

Mother Hubbard Went to the Cupboard, but the Cupboard ALMOST BARE!!!

Submitted by Art & Barb Straub

The early part of February, 2023, did not have record cold, but surely reminded one of how below freezing temperatures go for the gizzard. Melting snow comes as a welcome relief for the wood’s critters, but depth of drifts does determine a shortage of mast and other animal foodstuffs. Consider the faithful opossum that lives near Kim and Terry Bovee near Allanson Park. That particular creature with its bare footsies, see-through ears and long hairless tail must have a den very close to the walls of the Bovee home or deep in a crevice of a brush pile nearby. Numerous reports of ‘possums’ chowing down on cat food or dogfood in garages have floated our way, but the Bovee marsupial took even more courageous steps…right up to the front door of their abode and knocking on the window. We imagine that food was the ‘draw’ for such fearless behavior.Hmmm, ‘possums’ are so intelligent, if this one could have reached the doorbell, it might have done so. What a surprise for the Bovees’ that would have been on a cheerless icy eve!

Surprises galore surfaced in January and early February. Around Christmas Day, 2022, more than 5,000 American Robins cavorted in Henderson/LeSueur and Belle Plaine. Each evening, just after sunset, it was common for 3,000, then 2,000, followed a pattern of ‘dropping down’ to roost, always entering the coniferous roost from the northwest. The number has since dropped to 10, then just a single on February 14. However, when one traveled on Sunday the twelfth…Highway #6 (Scenic Byway,) and along gravel roads in Sibley, Scott, and LeSueur County, small groups of orange-breasts could be observed wherever snow melt occurred near the roadways. Thus, we went from NO robins in the usual large migratory spots of September 2022 to bushels of the birds during the winter months of 2023!

With a lack of food, especially flowering crab applets, robins have been noted eating unusual foods. A friend of Jim Gilbert, Minnesota Naturalist extraordinaire, relayed photos of robins eating mice and even FISH! (These from a stream near the Twin Cities.) The photographer, Tera Scoville of the Mn Freshwater Society, sent the photos along, leaving us gape-jawed.

These are tough times for Trumpeter Swans attempting to ‘winter’ on a bleak white landscape. A pair of Master-farmers in LeSueur County have assisted chances of the giant white birds’ survival in a unique fashion. Animal waste, manure, piles up in the barns and livestock yards on farms by February. Enlisting their largest/heaviest tractors, along with ‘spreaders’ filled with manure, the conscientious pair of agriculturalists chugged/sludged through the great drifts, hauling their treasures behind them. In that waste material may be uneaten corn and other cattle food that will serve as fertilizer for Mother Earth. Two purposes are fulfilled, enrichment of terra firma and energy for hungry birds. Bravo! This is NOT an easy task, hard on machinery, but the birds appreciate the nourishment!

Eastern Red Cedar trees are taking ‘a beating’ from the deer. White-tails will eat bottoms of prickly coniferous trees when food is short. Currently, the bucks are losing their defense system. Watch area roadsides for obvious signs of desperate bovines attempting to stay alive by eating the repugnant cedars. Melting snow pack is but one subtle sign of ‘one season sliding into another.’ Robins are just ONE strange sign of change, however, the FIRST HORNED LARK appeared in our travels across highways and byways on the 12th of February, with many more to come in March. Raccoons have emerged from area dens, and we anxiously await a skunk’s sweet calling aroma soon. Best sighting of all was a lone weasel wagging its little black tail tip on Ground Hog’s Day. Yes, there will be more frigid snowy days ahead, but hope is on the horizon. Soak up that sunshine!