Allan Bell’s Birch Bark Nature Notes revisited:

On a bright sunshiny Dec. 1, Al Hanson and I were driving up the Minnesota side of the Mississippi River. Bald eagles were patroling Lake Pepin, wheeling and turning in their search for fish. Their white heads and tails shone in the sunlight. There were at least six or eight different birds. All of the backwaters of the river were frozen over. Ice fishers were trying their luck. I presume the eagles are staying just ahead of the freeze-up. Many eagles winter in the Cassville area south of Prairie du Chien.


On one of the football games telecast on Sunday, Dec. u, the camera zoomed in on a killdeer feeding on one end of the field, while the game went on, on the other end . . . I haven’t seen any deer at my home since hunting season. The fresh snow tattles on them now, though. They have been all over the yard and garden every night…

Dec. 6. Starling on the suet feeder…Tom Timm reports about a hundred cedar waxwings after his flowering crab apples…Ida Schufletowski saw three robins in her yard the same day…Mrs. William Engelman called and said a woodpecker was chiseling big chunks of wood from her maple trees. It sure was! I was surprised to see the red crest of a pileated woodpecker and it was really making the chips fly. She was concerned that it would kill her trees. This normally shy bird wasn’t bashful in its quest for tasty morsels.

According to the National Geographic Society’s book, Song and Garden Birds, colonies of black carpenter ants inspire this effort. They penetrate upward from the base of the tree and in time can kill it. Pileated woodpeckers unerringly locate contaminated tres and chop to the heart of each colony. In winter the birds banquet so extensively on these ants that stricken trees often recover.

Beetle larvae draw the huge bird to dead trees. The woodpecker combs a weathered snag with skill and energy, tearing off great sheets of bark and chiseling out every grub. Decayed trees are sometimes so weakened by this excavation that they fall to the ground.This bird was drilling on parts of the tree that were already dead. Instead of hurting the tree, it was actually helping it. Mrs. Engelman said the bird had been coming every day. Better take a look! Corner of Fifth Street and Somo Avenue.


A thump on the window. I went over and looked down, expecting to see a chickadee sitting there, trying to recover its senses. No bird. Then I noticed a tail sticking out of the deep snow, quivering. I put on my cap and coat and hurried out either to rescue it or administer last rites. When I got there, it had already fought its way out of the snow and was just sitting there. When I approached too close, away it flew.


Do you want spring right now? You can have it! Tune in WXPR, 91.7 on your FM dial, a few minutes before 6 a.m. The gurgle of running water and the pretty song of the thrush may greet you. WXPR calls itself a “Northern Voice” and uses bird calls and songs now and then. A nice touch. And what a way to wake up in the morning.


Late nature writer Allan Bell wrote this Birch Bark Nature Notes column for the Tomahawk Leader back on Dec. 14, 1983.

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