Allan Bell’s Birch Bark Nature Notes Revisited

April 15, 1984. It wasn’t exactly a wild goose chase, but then again it wasn’t a big success as a sandhill crane count either. The final tally was 0. That’s spelled, ZERO, NUTHIN’, NIL, NOUGHT, NUN!

I was at my appointed site, between Spirit and Ogema at 4:30 a.m. My only companions were unseen robins, singing for unexplainable reasons, in the unromantic blackness. I had tendered invitations to several individuals. I believe they all have hearing problems, as I got no response.

The Spirit River gurgled in the distance. In 10 or 15 minutes it began to lighten a bit, just enough to show black clouds almost all over. It wasn’t raining, it was calm and quiet. A great horned owl hooted far off. By five o’clock visibility was good.

A strange sound came out of the sky. Four ducks came rocketing over, one of them making a queer cat-like mewing sound. What kind were they? Beats me. A rooster crowed. A mallard quacked a long way off. No big birds in sight. No karoo, ka-roo, that haunting trumpeting sound of the sandhills.

By 6 a.m. it was raining. Perhaps the application of water did the trick. Reason returned. I jumped into the car and headed for the groceries.

It really was pleasant to welcome the dawn with no distractions. No gasoline engines, no squealing tires, slamming doors and other man-made noises. For a little while it was – long ago. Peaceful – serene – my kind of natural stress management.

Watchers near Merrill saw 10 sandhill cranes. Others in Lincoln County saw an additional 15 birds. Marathon County volunteers reported 144 cranes in 29 separate locations by 46 people. Wait ‘til next year!


Have you wondered why some of the birds return to northern Wisconsin long before others? One of the main reasons is availability of food. Worm and seed eaters (robins, juncos, etc.) are relatively early arrivals. The insect eaters (swallows and martins) must wait until the temperature is sufficiently warm for insects to hatch. Occasionally these birds get caught in a late ice or snowstorm. If the storms don’t last, the birds make ou okay. It isn’t the cold that kill them, it’s the lack of food.


Cardinals have been reported from all parts of town, West Kraft and Tripoli. Now Jack Spellman saw one on County Trunk O near the Spirit River. Still none at Road Acres, though. While watching the Masters golf tournament I could hear a cardinal chirping its head off.  Did you hear it too?


Dorothy Wolfenberger had a robin at her home that continually flew at one of her windows, banging into it. It just wouldn’t give up and was apparently near exhaustion Why? What to do?

The National Geographic book on song and garden birds said this was a fairly common behavior for males during mating season. The bird was attempting to drive off is reflection in the glass and would continue until exhausted. Hanging yarn, strings and aluminum pie plates on the window only served to send the bird to another window. At last report, the battle had been going on for seven days. The robin was pooping out, but not giving up. Dorothy was!


Every morning at 6 a.m. a woodpecker is hammering on my neighbor’s metal chimney cap. Loud! Loud!  What an alarm clock!


The Northwoods Wildlife Center in Minocqua provides care, treatment and rehabilitation for injured birds and animals. Teaching programs inform and instruct young people in the ways of wildlife and attempt to instill a respect for nature and our environment. There are no other facilities like this nearer than Milwaukee or Minneapolis. We are fortunate to have a center so close at hand. Visit them. Give your support. Share your good fortune. Send money. Northwoods Wildlife Center, Highway 70 West, Minocqua, WI 54548.


Late nature writer Allan Bell wrote this Birk Barch Nature Notes column for the Tomahawk Leader back on April 25, 1984. In revisiting some of his insightful writings into nature, we can appreciate that prehistoric karoo, ka-roo call and how hearing it reminds us that spring has once again arrived.

Scroll to Top