Look Up, Look Up, IT IS Coming!!!

Submitted by Art and Barb Straub

We’re not referring to the snow, as yes, that will be arriving for some time to come. We are speaking of the subtle signs of the change of seasons. Geese are yammering in long lines overhead, seeking sparse foodstuffs; swans are a-swimming and prowling snow-bound fields for the same purpose; robins have dispersed into smaller flocks; but what catches one’s attention is the small birds skittering along gravel country roads, seeking seeds as they follow their beaks north. For the most part they are off to the prairies of far northern Canada, some will linger to nest in Minnesota. The first singles were observed in late February, but since then, triads, then fives, wherein the first week of March as many as twenty could be observed along Lehnert Lane east of Henderson. Look for brown birds with white tummies rising from edges of roads, crouching or wildly flying as you pass by, but relatively tame. The male in spring looks like a teen on his way to a prom, feathered horns on its head, V black on throat, with a hint of yellow on the neck. Your peepers are observing the joyful Horned Larks.

In their pursuit of food, hampered by the deep crusty snow, death haunts the roadways. White-tailed deer, skunks, coyotes, raccoons and even great horned owls were discovered over the March 5th weekend, most auto casualties. An emaciated red-tailed hawk sporting attractive feather coloration was found in a grove of trees near Ottawa, but to illustrate the hunger of raptors, we have this story. Immediately outside our apartment window we place suet for members of the woodpecker family. On March 1st, a beautiful red-tailed hawk dropped from the skies and snatched a suet hunk, the chunk being the size of a person’s fist, and made off with its treasure. The chunk was so large, the raptor dropped its prize. It then tried unsuccessfully to retrieve the piece. (No, it was NOT a regular feeding station hawk like the Coopers’ or Sharp-shinned, it was a hungry Madam Red-tailed.

In a somewhat related case, note the photo of the wee black Screech Owl. A local family was checking their wood-burning stove in an outdoor building kitchen. In the ash bin of the little heater was a freshly deceased owl, blackened by the wood ashes. Theories? Owl was atop the building’s chimney seeking nesting spot, fell down chimney, starved. (Eastern screech owls mate/nest in late February, early March.) Or, owl was sitting atop chimney, heard mice sounds in chimney, hungry bird dropped into chimney and couldn’t get out. What is YOUR theory?

When we’re unable to sleep at night, we continue to ponder the ‘case of the dead blue-jay and red-phased screech owl.’ A number of winters ago, (a winter with deep snow and hungry birds like this one;) a niece spotted what appeared to be a dead pheasant in a cornfield off Pumpkin Hill Road. Upon assessing the situation, a red-phased screech owl was found with its talons imbedded in the back of a bluejay. There were no tracks nearby, no gun pellets in either body, but dead they were. We welcome theories on this mystery.
During the night of March 5/6, heavy rain-soaked snow fell in Henderson and LeSueur; the kind of snow that curls instead of lifting easily. With citizens falling on the ice, shoveling heavy snow, gloomy days, it’s up to us all to ‘put on a happy face,’ and observe the subtle positive changes in nature. Spring WILL eventually SPRUNG!!!