Late Aug, Early Sept. Spawns a Host of Surprises

Submitted by Art and Barb Straub

Swanee the Silver Ford couldn’t believe the action immediately outside her garage stall on Sunday, August 27th, 3:30 p.m. A brown-headed cowbird was tearing asunder the head of one of the many sunflowers growing next to her domicile. To Swanee’s owners, it was no big deal, other than no cowbirds had been observed in the immediate area since June, and surely not eating sunflowers. A second peculiarity of the brownish bird with a streaked breast was its docility. Curiosity drove Swanee’s owners to take photo upon photo, creeping nearer to the odd bird just to test its apparent tame behavior. It was then that our sharp-eyed partner noted that the tip of the bird’s bill was somewhat crooked!

Hastening to Stan Tekiela’s “Bird’s In Minnesota,” we discovered that the brown toned sunflower muncher was and is a Red Crossbill, probably a juvenile female? It had many features of its cousins, the finch family. Next, we consulted with Chad Heins, ornithologist extraordinaire at Bethany College in Mankato, who reported a small flock of the wayward birds on the Bethany campus, and another in Brown County. Usually the crossbill may be observed in or near coniferous forests, as in northern Minnesota north to Canada and Alaska, thus what a surprise for us. The bird returned again on August 29th and 29th. What a gift!

While tooling through a local hardwood forest over the August 27th weekend, almost hidden by the shade, Swanee espied two large white pillows on the dim forest floor. Turned out they were not comfortable bed accessories, rather, a pair of puffball fungi, six to eight inches thick and a foot long. Salivary glands immediately turned on, anticipating a sumptuous evening meal, but when examined, the white bread-like delicacies were found to be green inside, crumbly, and were inhabited by various ants and grubs. No mushrooms for Sunday supper! Depending upon your taste buds, puffballs can be delicious. Fried with garlic or onions, in soups, but best of all, breaded. If the inside of the ‘roon’ is pure white, you may enjoy a rare autumn repast. With current heat and drought, puffballs will probably be in short supply the 2023 season.

“Ditch weed” continues to exist, not nearly as prevalent as once upon a time, but may still be found. A remnant of what was once very common, “Mary Jane” or hemp has become rare in country areas due to current farming methods, disappearing field borders, mowed ditches, cleaning up around old buildings, etc. Often planted by nomadic finches flitting about and defecating, one was once compelled by law to remove the same. A huge growth of tall ‘weed’ surrounded our battered domicile on the Minnesota River bank. Rather than suffer a monetary fine, on a beautiful Labor Day weekend, we cut and piled a huge amount of the gorgeous green plant on the bank and set fire to the bushes. As the air was still, the smoke from the treasure drifted down upon the river. At that moment, round the bend, came a canoeist. His water vehicle drifted into the smoke. Immediately upon entering the evidently familiar odiferous cloud, he whipped his watercraft around and rowed back upriver as though the devil was on his tail. We’ll never know how that story ended, as we ran to the top of the hill and vamoosed from the area. Do you have a marijuana tale you’d like to relate? We’ll remain anonymous, promise.