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July 2, 2020

6/4/2020 1:12:00 PM
Some Canada geese are migrating again

Ron Kuecker
Outdoors Columnist

As I drove along County Highway 13 northwest of Windom a good-sized flock of big Canada geese came into view. There were 75 of them as best I could count. They swam in a pasture pond on the west side of the road about a mile north of the golf course road.
I call it the Walinga Pond. It's been present most of the time the last three summers including 2020. Whenever the river bounces up from a rain, as has been common in recent years, the pond fills with river water.
Well, you might be wondering, what's going on with that? A big flock of migrating geese in late May when most of their buddies are setting eggs or herding little, but fast-growing goslings.
It was a flock that comprised a natural, every year event called the molt migration. They were made up of yearlings from last year (they don't nest their first year back home), and adults that may have lost this year's nest.
They were gathering for a long trip north called staging. When the wind turns just right from the south, they would jump on it and head north once again. And if the wind was strong enough and blew long enough they would arrive at their destination 800 to 900 miles north in a single day.
Those big birds would fly at around a 1,000 feet high and would probably not stop until they reach their summer home, most of them for the first time. Amazing you say, me too!
They've been feeding heavily here in the Midwest on grasses of several types and maybe a few high protein soybeans. They can be differentiated from local adults and young goslings that stay closer to water.
These flocked up molt migrators tend to land on hilltops to gobble up some just emerged soybeans. No one wants too much of that, for sure, but it is what it is. It is legal to haze them away and I believe a permit can still be gotten to shoot some. Hunting seasons are designed to reduce numbers and those molt migrators will be back in September/October for hunting season.
Meantime, while they are "up north for the summer" they will lose their flight feathers and be grounded for around three weeks. They'll be as helpless as our old hen chickens running around the yard "molting".
Good bird sightings
If you quit feeding birds in your backyard the last month, figuring it's warm enough, let them fend for themselves, you are probably right. They can. But you missed a few really good sightings.
My personal best spotting, a rarity at least for me, was that of a scarlet tanager. I only saw one male and to the best of my knowledge he only stopped for one day. Feeling good I sent a text to the Kueckers in Marshall. Lo and behold, they had also seen one that day, hopping around in the newly mowed lawn.
Then they did me one better. They spotted a blue tanager which I couldn't match. I've never seen one and hope I can someday.
Otherwise the migration seemed late. The glutinous rose-breasted grosbeaks arrived suddenly and en masse. One day I counted nine at my feeders. They filled their bellies for several days, then moved on.
I also noticed the birds seemed really thirsty this spring, spending way more time at two waterers I provided. I think it's a sign of a tough migration north against prevailing northerly winds. It's been reported worldwide, so, very interesting.
The diphtheria epidemic
I'm guessing most know of the famous dog sled run from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska. It was February 2, 1935 and the good Dr. Curtis Welch needed help with the outbreak of diphtheria he had on his hands.
Helpless, he felt, without antibiotics to treat the contagious bacterial infection. An infection of the larynx, pharynx and trachea that killed, especially children, the only hope was an antitoxin!
That antitoxin, developed in the 1890s from animal sources by a German doctor, certainly wasn't in stock at either doctor's offices or a non-existent pharmacy.
He used some type of radio communication from his office on that remote Arctic coast and asked for help, can someone get me some antitoxin? Medical teams responded and in temperatures around -36 degrees Fahrenheit a dog sled team started out from Anchorage.
With kids dying every day from an asphyxiating disease it was urgent. A willing musher, Gunnar Kaasen, left with the medicine on his dog sled and in an incredible race against time delivered the meds in less than five days.
It became known as the Great Race of Mercy and is celebrated each March as the Iditarod race. The race was first run in 1973.
I was able to visit the museum that recognizes that great event in Wasilla, Alaska, one June day. There, taxidermied up, was a full mount of the great lead dog, Balto.
Although other members of the dog team had to be replaced along the way, Balto, the 35 lb. Siberian husky led them all the way.
And that's the way it was, a short century ago.

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