Al Batt: Black vultures migrate over Duluth in mid September

AL BATT/BLUFF COUNTRY READER An adult northern cardinal has a red-orange bill. A juvenile has a gray to black bill.

AL BATT/BLUFF COUNTRY READER A tip of the hat to Dustin Demmer for pointing out this monarch butterfly roost.
By : 
Al Batt
For the Birds

A black vulture was seen at Hawk Ridge in Duluth. Only eight have been seen in Minnesota, but it's a species moving northward. Last year, about 40,000 common nighthawks (not raptors) passed over Hawk Ridge.

Nighthawks look skinny in flight and a white stripe on each wing makes it appear as if their wings have windows.

Hawk Ridge gets approximately 18,000 human visitors each fall. Raptors migrate from as far as the Arctic to wintering areas as distant as South America.

Reluctant to cross a large body of water, they funnel down the north shore of Lake Superior, riding thermals and updrafts created by the shore's topography.

Hawks begin migrating past Hawk Ridge in mid-August and continue through November. Tens of thousands of broad-winged hawks fly over Hawk Ridge during Sept. 10 to Sept. 25.

October is good for viewing the migration of eagles, rough-legged hawks, red-tailed hawks and northern goshawks. 

Echoes from Loafers' Club

I'm feeling pretty fit.

Have you taken up exercising or acquired a fitness tracker?

No, nothing that foolish. I removed the full-length mirror from my house.

Scenes from a marriage

You've backed right into the cow tank.

I thought I had.

What were you thinking?

I was thinking I'd backed right into the cow tank.

Things full of life don't live long enough

A friend told me that his dog had died. The canine was a cute little thing. It wouldn't have made much of a cattle dog, but it made a wonderful friend. I enjoy the company of dogs. They gladden hearts. The entire world could be mad at you, but your dog still thinks you are the best thing going. It's a worthy goal to try to be what our dogs think we are. I thought of what Mary Carolyn Davies had written, “A good dog never dies. He always stays. He walks besides you on crisp autumn days when frost is on the fields and winter's drawing near. His head is within our hand in his old way."

I was a poor, wayfaring stranger

I told stories in Ohio. "Hang on Sloopy," a major hit for The McCoys in 1965, is Ohio's official rock song. In my free time, I went birding with some wonderful Amish men. Later, the wife of one gave me a large slice of sugar pie with its lard crust filled with butter, flour, milk, eggs and sugar. It was sinfully good. The lard works in mysterious ways.

Nature notes

Bonita Underbakke of Lanesboro and Rod Meyer of Mankato each asked the identity of a beautiful black and yellow spider that appears to be trying to write a novel in its web. It’s an Argiope (ar-JYE-o-pee) or black-and-yellow garden spider. It’s also called a yellow garden spider, a signature spider or writing spider. It’s an orb weaver.

They are typically found in late summer in the center of large, roundish webs. The spider's ample web often has an area in a zigzag pattern, called a stabilimentum, which resembles dental floss. The purpose for this is up for conjecture, but is thought to provide camouflage for the spider, attract flying insect prey by reflecting ultraviolet light or is a warning to birds to avoid the web.

There is much folklore as to what the spider is trying to write. As with many spiders, the female is much larger than the male. She has a body measuring about an inch long and, including her legs, can be several inches in length. 

“Where do wasps overwinter?”

The only wasps that survive winter are the queens. The other wasps perish with the onset of cold weather. In the fall, the queens find refuge in protected sites, such as under a rock or tree bark. The wasps that survive the winter are fertilized queens that build new nests and colonies from scratch.

Rachel Depuydt of Eagle Lake asked what the difference was between a frog and a toad. They’re not easy to distinguish. Most frogs have long legs and smooth skins covered in mucus. Toads typically have shorter legs and rougher, thicker skins. Toads generally find their way into gardens and yards more than frogs. Frog eggs are found in a mass while toad eggs are in a chain. I was taught that all toads are frogs, but not all frogs are toads.

Karen Wright of Mankato asked what butterflies do in the rain. They try to avoid it. Butterflies hide when it rains — under large leaves, in tangled thickets, in dense vegetation, under rocks, in grass or bushes, or anywhere else that would intercept the raindrops.


I watched birds stock up on seed and feed as ragweed, green on green, carried its misery on the wind. Ragweed is wind-pollinated, so the flowers don't need bright colors to attract pollinators. Its pollen sends season's sneezing to hay fever sufferers.

A bald blue jay joined a feeder. An uneven molt leads to uneven blue jays.

Henderson Hummingbird Hurrah

I had a wonderful time at the Henderson Hummingbird Hurrah (HHH) visiting with old friends and new friends from far and near.

I talked with Larry Pfarr, a garden expert on KSTP Channel 5, who had brought some of his honeybees to the HHH. Larry is a nice and interesting fellow who told me that every garden should have some blue color in it. It brings the sky to a garden. The question he gets the most often is: How do I get rid of creeping Charlie? His answer is to use an herbicide in the fall after a light frost and apply it again 10 days later. The applications are best done in early morning or evening. Larry said that the most popular perennial grown in gardens is the daylily, which is twice as popular as the hosta.

Rhonda, a retired elementary teacher from St. Stephen, told me how hummingbirds had landed on her hands while she held a feeder. Her face lit up as she described the experience, saying the feeling of having a hummingbird alight upon her was akin to the sensation felt when she touched her eyelash lightly with her finger.

Things to look for

1. Migrating monarch butterflies, shorebirds and confusing fall warblers.

2. Red colors on maples, sumac, Virginia creeper and poison ivy. Leaves of three, let it be warns us of poison ivy. Virginia creeper is five-leafed ivy.

3. Yellow colors on basswood, cottonwood and green ash.

4. Jerusalem artichokes, asters and Canada goldenrod bloom.

5. Giant puffballs emerge.

6. Milkweed pods open and their seeds are shed.

Thanks for stopping by

“In the end, we'll all become stories.”― Margaret Atwood

“If we're destroying our trees and destroying our environment and hurting animals and hurting one another and all that stuff, there's got to be a very powerful energy to fight that. I think we need more love in the world. We need more kindness, more compassion, more joy, more laughter.” — Ellen DeGeneres

Do good.

Meeting adjourned

Be kind. People like those who can fake a smile.

© Al Batt 2019