Subtle Signs of Spring Slowly Slip In

Submitted by Art and Barb Straub

The story begins with Suzanne and Dan Buck snapping excellent bluebird photos in the early days of January 2024, a pair, yes, but a couple of males as well. For many, other than Dean and Judy Hathaway, who live near Rush River Park, bluebirds have been practically non-existent. A large flock, a dozen, appeared on electrical wires in October along Pumpkin Hill Road, while plentiful nest boxes had no renters in the summer of 2023. The Buck bluebirds were sipping water from a heated bird bath, thus taking time to place said water in winter has plentiful rewards. The only other time we’ve witnessed such an anomaly was an occasion whence Tom Rybus caught a photo of a single blue jewel sipping from a heated dog watering dish during a blizzard!

We came face to antennae with an interesting visitor early Sunday morning, January 21st. Our traveling companion is a fastidious housekeeper. A carpenter ant on the same kitchen counter a week before this startling event, met its sudden demise, a surprise from the skies. Sighting of the STINK BUG set off a series of memories in one’s cranial bank. In mid-summer, while picking strawberries, raspberries or other fruits,
It is not uncommon to spot the mottled brown 5/8th inch creature on a berry or to smell the odiferous creature. Once the bug has been handled, or if it touches a fruit, it will leave its defense mechanism, a stink, on an appendage or succulent berry.
Ugh! Oh, there are worse odors, but that of this bug stands out as one you don’t easily forget, one to be avoided.

Basic question: What was the insect doing in a home on a January morning? Same reason that one is tempted to stay in bed on a frigid morning. The wise little critters gravitate to warmth in the chilly autumn and choose our domiciles in which to retreat. Next stop? The Minnesota Department of Agriculture wishes the creature to be reported! They have a tracking sheet for outer Minnesota, as the beastie is a relative ‘newbie,’ keeping a record of where/when such evil-appearing beasts are spotted. Yes, our bug IS in captivity, and YES, these reporters will keep citizen scientists aware of its travels as reported to the MNDEPT of Agriculture.

Mourning doves are one of the gentle avian creatures that have become adapted to our Minnesota winters, probably due to many bird feeding stations. Finding a couple of the gray birds huddled in coniferous trees against the past cold January 21st gave way to gladsome thoughts of spring just two months away, the first day of such on March 19th in 2024. As we were rejoicing, a message from Greg and JoEllen Genelin, residents of Sand Prairie adjacent to Highway #93. January 19th found SIXTEEN of the gentle birds making use of the Genelin feeding station. Wintering-over birds or new arrivals hard to determine? However, a ribbon of blackbirds passed overhead at the Coachlight the following morning, making yearning for the months’ away spring to continue to yield promise of a change of seasons, and anticipation of that which is to come.
No, the ribbon was not a murmuration of starlings.
Although these speckled sooty thieves have been roaming the area in flocks numbering over a hundred; this was a ribbon, not the soft murmuring sound of the wretched starlings. In studying the final report from Ney Center Christmas Bird Count, 55 citizen scientists put in 91 count hours; with the greater number of birds, Canada Geese! Twelve pileated woodpeckers were in the count circle; 44 Trumpeter swans; and 39 species were observed, with 3,933 birds zipping about on a cloudy, windy, chilly day. Finally, the humungous numbers of over-wintering robins reported from LeSueur the last five years, are not where they’ve been. Sets one wandering and wondering?