Straub Nature Report 9/6/22

Submitted by Art and Barb Straub,

According to historians, the summer of 1818 had been dry in Indiana, similar to autumn 2022 in the Henderson/Le Sueur environs. Farmers in rural areas had cleared the land in order that their cattle might graze, but as summer turned to fall, grasses were scarce, thus milk cattle grazed close to and into woodlands adjacent to pastures. The bovines ate weeds and forage they’d normally turn their tails on, and among that vegetation was an innocent appearing green plant, one with beautiful but deadly white flowers. At first, settlers believed the plant was good for treating snakebite, thus they termed it White Snakeroot. Cattle consumed the deadly blossoms, the sap containing toxins entered their bloodstream. Pasteurization was unknown by the farmers, milk from the affected animals passed the poison on to innocent consumers, one of whom was Abe Lincoln’s mom. According to records, Nancy Hanks Lincoln passed away in autumn of 1818, after a short yet agonizing fatal illness, leaving Abe motherless and Tom Lincoln a widower. (Kids, don’t use this story as an excuse for not wanting to drink your milk.) Due to today’s keen animal husbandry, farmers don’t allow their milk cattle to consume snakeroot. Even if they did, milk from a single cow is mixed with that of many cattle. There goes THAT excuse for balking at milk. Dilution is the solution! When taking snakeroot photos for the Independent, we discovered many tiny bees sharing the flowerets, indicating that the plant has additional beneficial uses, that is, serving as plants for pollinators.

Should you have had the extreme luck to go to the hills and waters over the Labor Day weekend, you may have come home happy, refreshed, ready for the next adventure in your life. It is entirely possible that you brought home with you unwelcome guests; wasp stings, ticks of different species, dirty clothing, and nasty little clinglets on your pants or socks. We, too, picked up unwelcome visitors of the clinging kind. After researching the MNDNR Websites, we discovered that those wretched clingers on lower extremities, particularly close-woven socks, have a name…or number of names, (some of which are unprintable.) The little beggars are called just that, Beggars’ Lice, Virginia Stickweed, or better yet, ‘stick tights,’ or even ‘little nuisances.’ Yes, they cling, and are wretched to remove. First off, the plants and seeds are poisonous. (That word, poisonous, seems to keep popping up in this column.) Yet, a redeeming quality…indigenous peoples, especially the Cherokee, used the crushed roots with bear oil for kidney conditions and to improve memory. (Hmmm, where does the line form for that memory juice?)

As of late, white-tailed doe deer have been dropping by our woodland bird feeders, and we thought the mammals were ill due to the condition of their hides. A close-up view by the trail cameras solved the mystery. Deer rumps are covered by the clinging nasty burrs. We thought, “How uncomfortable,” and then discovered…of all things…deer LOVE the plant, the seeds taste like soybeans, and some PEOPLE eat the dried burrs. ??? Don’t you wonder who the first person was to taste those little clingers? Boys and girls, when you are late for school, please don’t use the excuse “I was cleaning ‘beggars’ out of my socks.”

Monarch butterflies continue to ‘nectar’ on clover fields and garden flowers as they saunter on their way to Mexico. Normally, we’d observe many at both our rental home and in property along Pumpkin Hill Road. Tiger Swallowtail butterflies have been more plentiful the last weeks of August than monarchs. Observers report humming (sphinx) moths as regular flower visitors just before darkness sets in each evening.

Speaking of which, Chimney swift numbers are down, down, down from previous years at our designated former brick school in LeSueur. On Labor Day Eve we observed just 228 dropping into the maw of the tower at 8:00 p.m., while a year ago 1,190 stopped for a rest, same time, same place. Less numbers have been true since August 1st. Is climate change in the swift’s nesting region to blame? Are they late at the gate? In the meantime, Northern orioles remain through Labor Day. Reports from Joe and Judy Luskey, Green Isle; JoEllen and Greg Genelin on the ridge above Bucks’ Lake; and Jeanne and Kerry Renneke, Pumpkin Hill, indicate a healthy crop of youngsters feeding for the long migration flight. BEST NEWS of all though, Sylvia and Sylvan, local Trumpeter swans, after disappearing for two weeks, are back on their original home on Coachlight Pond along with six cygnets. Incredible. We needed good news! Eyes to the skies, more excitement to come.