Hendeson Feathers Update 1/10/24

Submitted by Art and Barb Straub

Does anyone ‘out there’ in readership land ever had to say, “I was wrong?” An incident on a recent morning will stick with this writer for some time. While making a quick foray into Henderson the week of January 1st, a well-known gentleman stopped Swannie, the silver Ford Focus to ask, “Are there vultures in Minnesota in January?” Seems the fellow had seen a number of large black birds sailing above Henderson and deduced from past experience that he was observing vultures. As the skies have been cluttered with many crows and eagles as of late, my inaccurate response was a resounding “No,” carrion such as road kill is normally frozen solid in January, and “Yes, vultures have sharp tearing beaks, are considered raptors, but have very weak talons for carrying dead prey away.” Also, “The earliest we’ve experienced vultures in the past has been from mid-March on.” With that, Swannee zipped down the street leaving the questioneer puzzled.

You will not believe this, folks, but while retrieving our trail camera chips that very same day, then posting them, before our doubting vision was a vulture…bald head, blackish gray in color, long black wings…attempting flight with a small chunk of tallow in its talons. Advise? A bird in the bush is more easily identified than a description of a bird in the air. David Kolter, please accept our apologies.

The ‘chips’ revealed other oddities for January.
Numerous days in a row, a member of the woodpecker family, a pair of Northern yellow-shafted flickers, appeared crisp and clear in many photos. Other woodpecker species have been common suet customers…downy, hairy, red-bellied, even a large startled pileated woodpecker pretending to be an ivory billed. Few Northern yellow shafted flickers over-winter, as they prefer ground dwelling bugs, worms, insectivores, and especially associating with ant species on open lawns and prairies.
That excludes normally snow-covered grasslands such as lawns and ditches. Nice surprise to see them.

Were you aware that January 21st is National Squirrel Appreciation Day? We missed knowing that important fact until perusing David M. Bird’s BECORNS Forest Folk 2024 calendar, a very beautiful mini calendar, an appreciated gift from friends. The reminder fits so well, in that squirrels have been giving us
‘fits’ as they ransack the bird feeding stations in numbers, and their antics have been profuse the last week or so. Walnut and oak trees produced an abundance of foods during the summer of 2023, and little Reds, Gray and Fox squirrels were busy stocking their pantries with the same. The scampering and chasing has been obvious in January, and the MNDNR has a ready explanation, as December through March is mating season. It may appear that they are ‘just playing around,’ but they are engaged in serious business, promoting the preservation of the species.

A third citizen scientist asked about the bundles of leaves high atop forks in trees in Henderson/LeSueur. The technical name for such is ‘dreys.’ They are actually summer homes for females and babies, assembled from leaves, small branches and the like, with the entrance facing the trunk of the tree.

Squirrels do not depend upon dreys in winter, too drafty we assume, but rather, in the holes of trees. You will note that the greater number of dreys are close by walnut and oak trees. We’ve often disclosed that one observes more squirrels in cities rather than woodland. Have you pondered “Why?”
Relying again upon trail camera ‘chips,’ until January 8th, opossums are still about at night, foraging in garbage, dog-food bowls, and the like. With the intense cold predicted for the weekend of January 13th, they’d best stay where their ears, tails and noses won’t be frost- bitten. Raccoons, as well, have been up and about, turkeys and deer have easy access to acorns, and readers will have to admit, we’ve had a real break from the usual Minnesota winter, much to the chagrin of ice fisherpersons, snowmobilers/skiers and the like. Although ‘someone out there’ has photos of a pair of January blue birds, the “other shoe is about to drop, friends!