Tying Up Loose Ends, and Then Some

Submitted by Art & Barb Straub

Regular readers of the “Indy” will recall the August photo of a drone circling above a pasture assessing the progress of milkweed growth. Everyone knows the integral part of the Monarch butterfly’s necessity for milkweed plants in sustaining monarchs’ plummeting numbers and their contribution to pollination and beauty all across America. Unless one has been in a basement hiding from storms, all are aware that the majestic monarch is one of earth’s many creatures facing extinction. By mid-September,time came for the pods of what was (and still is in some circles) considered a weed to be harvested.

The results of that endeavor are in, according to Wendy Caldwell, executive director of the Monarch Joint Venture Organization. (Her local office is located in Jessenland Township.) Volunteers scurried to ditches, prairies, CRP fields, etc. to gather pods, sack them, and deliver them to a Sibley County farm site. Volunteers, working individually or in groups, had 12 adult helpers along with seven children and gathered pods which weighed 2111 pounds….over a ton! The pods were dried, (see photo) and off went the orange sacks via a huge truck to Nebraska to be processed. The ‘fluff’ is put to many uses, while the seeds are given freely to the public, continuing one of many conservation ventures which come under the Monarch Joint Venture Organization. For further inquiries, Google the organization named above. Congratulations to Wendy and her numerous helpers, tall and small.

If you are a birder, this is one of those most exciting weeks of the year. Of a darkening evening, November 22nd, a tinkling bell-like sound echoed across the valley ‘twixt Belle Plaine, Henderson and LeSueur. Even for those of us who are hearing impaired, hearts leaped within the breast. Due to the heavy cloud cover, the Tundra swans could only be heard, not observed; but once the cackling, laugh-like, excited call of the giant bird is experienced, the call imbeds itself in one’s soul. Tundra swan nesting occurs in the far reaches of the Arctic, Alaska, and the Canadian wilderness. Come autumn, the eastern flock heads down into the Dakotas where they may be hunted. Swans, both Trumpeters and Tundra, may NOT be hunted in Minnesota. Tundra’s fly across the state, drop down to feed on the Mississippi River bays, especially near the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife Refuge. When water bodies freeze and aquatic plants are unavailable, they move across the country to the Chesapeake Bay area, enjoying the hospitality of Delaware, Maryland and North Carolina. (Total flight – 4,000 miles more or less.)

Blackbird behavior has been incredible the past weekend, November 12th to present. Mixed into ENORMOUS flocks of migrators have been red-wings, cowbirds, grackles,. But as octonarians, we’ve often experienced the firsts, but never a live Rusty blackbird. We’ve viewed deceased Rusty blackbirds… accidental kills, yet a single bird dropped down at the ancient bird-view shack, and our chief photographer bagged one. A real thrill, as the bird returned for three days. Next, our bones were rattled by a triple first, Harris’s sparrows! Purple finches arrived, (no, not house finches,) and November 14th, a lone Fox sparrow, plus a bird from our past, a Golden-crowned kinglet. Our photo guru snapped three of the four, (kinglet was too busy hunting insects) for proof of the pudding…and it WAS a delicious dessert, light calories on blueberry bread! Finally, a couple of Tom turkeys raided the bird feeders and lo and behold, showed their May ‘strutting stuff’ in November! (Must have been hen turkeys close by.). Yes, birdseed may be expensive, but well worth the enjoyment. Which of the above will stick around for the Winter Bird Count on December 17th?