Old Dog Continues to Learn New Tricks

Submitted by Art & Barb Straub

We’ve often stated, “We know a little about a lot, but not a lot about a lot.” That was proven true again the last week of April. Sunday, April 23rd, found Swanee the Ford Focus Swan Street sleuth performing a feathered count in LeSueur/Henderson. Spotting a friend from the past pursuing yard chores, Swannee beeped to a stop. As we visited, the homeowner asked us to examine an object on the windowsill of his brick home. There, on the sill, sat an easily identifiable bird’s nest, gussied up with grasses and twigs. Inside that small abode were three tiny blue eggs plus a larger grayish egg decorated with many spots. Remember, this was April, the temperature had maintained thirties through low fifties for days. Believing that the eggs were frozen, upon touching one of the blue eggs, it broke. These eggs were laid in 2023! Three were House finch eggs, birds whose tuneful red/scarlet colors are bundles of spring/summer joy! The single spotted gray-shelled marble was that of a Brown-headed cowbird. What does all of this mean? Birds are already laying eggs in the cold weather!

Later on, the same day, a couple of cowbirds appeared at our yard bird feeder, brazen, sassy and brassy. They had arrived from the south with hundreds of other ‘black’ birds which included grackles, rusty and red-winged blackbirds and whomever else joined the feathered melee. House finches are among ‘city birds’ which had remained silently at feeding stations through our seemingly endless winter. Should the eggs of the bird-in-the-nest-on-the-sill survive, the young will find a big brother or sister cowbird cozily nestled beside themselves. The big brother/sister will grow fast, chowing down on offerings of mom finch, and eventually the smaller step-kids will be kicked from the nest. Mother finch will then feed the remaining chubby bird until it hops from the nest, follows the unsuspecting step-mom about until it, the cowbird, joins its parent family without saying ‘Thanks’ to the hapless finch. The entire process on the part of the cowbird is called “parasitism” and has been going on (according to ornithologists) for centuries, ever since cowbirds followed wandering bison on the prairies. These incidents leave us wondering about which other birds have begun laying eggs?

With the (temporary?) opening of Highway #93, one may continue to view the Trumpeter swans, (Sylvia and Sylvan) busily engaged in nest building. Where no abandoned muskrat house was apparent all winter, the graceful birds have claimed a spot, and since April 23rd, having been dredging reeds and muck from the Coachlight Pond floor to perfect a palace on which to deposit their treasured eggs and raise a family of cygnets. There seems to be a race between home builders and the rising waters. A similar episode occurred in summer of 2022, the murky flood seemed to have won the battle, when in May, eight little pipers followed parents out of the cattails, to delight of human passersby. Unfortunately for the swans, just one cygnet survived to join the parents in the skies that autumn.

Keeping an eye on Rush River detracts your designated observer from an ongoing scene west of the Rush River bridge. Seemingly overnight, (well, maybe two weeks,) a brave bevy of hairy beavers have cleared perhaps a half acre of poplar, willow and other floodplain trees . Close to Highway #93 is a ‘sluice’ whence the flat-tailed creatures drag their treasures into the swirling churning mess which is Rush River at present. A reliable sharp-eyed Hendersonite reveals that downstream from the beaver project, the bustling laborers built a dam in 2022, resulting in a pond which harbored many other creatures, large and small. Bravo for the beavers!

We receive numerous photo contributions from Henderson Independent readers, and one of the masterpieces taken this week was by Bruce Bjork, a LeSueur photographer who captures many a valley scene that others might miss. We assumed the gorgeous birds subsisted on acorns in season, fruits, insects, arthropods and plant material. Yet in this case, when viewed closely, the male wood duck is gulping down a large SNAIL. If the creature IS a snail, they belong to the class of gastropods, DO correct us if we have it incorrect. And, THANKS, Bruce!