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August 23, 2019

7/17/2019 2:08:00 PM
I'm missing meadowlarks, bobolinks and song sparrows

Ron Kuecker
Outdoors Columnist

Growing up on a diversified farm in Iowa, then Minnesota was pretty common. It was designed to spread your risks out amongst many ventures on a single farm.
Our 160-acre farm in Murray County, neighboring Wilfred Metz and Steve Fresk, also of Windom, was similar to most of that era.
We raised beef cattle, dairy cattle, a laying flock of hens, a free ranging batch of roosters for the frying pan and a farrow to finish hog farm.
In the fields we grew oats, alfalfa and corn. I was even there when soybeans first became popular. It replaced flax as a cash crop with either or both helping to pay off the mortgage.
Flax has now gone north to Canada, beans have expanded to nearly half of our cropland and sold around the world.
But the farms of that era were also very compatible to a wide diversity of wildlife. Every year we hatched and raised two or three clutches of pheasants and one covey of grey partridge on that quarter section, naturally, in the wild. No incubator, no fence, no chick feed bought at the feed store.
One of the biggest diversities of that habitat of small grains (oats, barley, wheat) and alfalfa were the small, non-game birds. On that grassland even though most of the native prairie was already gone, we still saw many ground nesting small birds.
My favorite, then as now, were the big three that I grew up with; the meadowlark, bobolinks and song sparrow. They had adapted to the changes in farm practices.
But they couldn't adapt to the row crops of corn and beans.
The meadowlark song
For years when we lived on Verona Avenue in Windom, north of the Methodist Church, we had an alley lined with electric poles. During those early years meadowlarks would perch on those "light" poles and sing their heart out each early morning. It seemed they were saying get up, get going, it's going to be a good day, in lark language.
But that eastern strain of the meadowlark (western strain is doing fine) gradually disappeared. They had no stubble to nest in, no insects to feed on, and no seeds to devour prior to their fall migration.
Luckily, I saw a nice singing meadowlark three weeks ago. It was sitting on the wooden fence surrounding a parking lot on a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Waterfowl Production Area west of Windom.
He wasn't exactly singing its early morning medley, instead he was putting out a warning chirp to his mate nesting nearby. Look out little lady, there's a human with a big, brown dog nearby.
I stayed in the designated parking area and kept the brown dog out of the undisturbed area of prairie grass. Unfortunately for all ground nesting birds, I couldn't keep out other members of the canine, raccoon, possum and skunk families.
Two bobolink families
Around the same time I spotted three bobolinks in a private CRP field. It was two males and a female. I assume the second male, that was close by the other two, had a female nesting in the mixed grass.
Bobolinks also have a softer call they use for communication. It does appear to me they also warn nesting mates with a nervous flight pattern when you get close.
They can be best identified as a bird a bit smaller than a robin with black feathering and a white rump patch. You should also be able to see some white on the wings and a yellow cap.
Song sparrows, I just don't hear any, anymore, even though I am wearing pretty good hearing aids.
Pheasant crow counts
I really believe in crow counts as an early means of evaluating how pheasants wintered. This spring while turkey hunting I identified three different roosters crowing at day break.
That might sound okay but it is where I had usually heard eight to 10 roosters. The worst part of it is that our hen counts remain so low. I am continually seeing only an average of one hen per rooster. It should be three hens per rooster to indicate a healthy flock
I had hoped for a good season for fireflies (same as lightening bugs) this year because of it being such a wet spring.
Well last Saturday night, alongside a reclaimed wetland, it came true. Just as a huge flock of mosquitoes emerged, a flickering light show of the light producing beetles hovered over the reed canary grass.
This year's dampness is producing a large crop of insects of all kinds. It bodes well for the birds, toads and frogs that feed on them.
Be careful out there, you might step on an American toad in one of your evening walks. They are fat and slow but thick enough to go squish. Also, keep your dog away from them. If they grab one they will usually foam and salivate; swallow one and you may need to call the vet.
They will only do it once, the taste is so awful. Like the stink of a skunk, it is their defense.

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