Sunday, January 11, 2015

Foraging Sandhill Cranes

Yesterday on a hike around the neighborhood (5 mile hike - big neighborhood) I came upon my resident pair of Sandhill Cranes busily foraging in the lawn-like vegetation adjacent to Honore Avenue.  Unlike cranes on the prairie that spook and take flight when you are 18 miles from them, these urbanized cranes have become habituatied to humans and allow very close approach as long as there are no colts around.

My pair was busily probing the ground as I walked up to them.  At first I sat on the grass 2 feet from one of them (I could hear it breathing) and watched as they probed the soil.  They were probing so quickly it was like watching Dowitchers or Stilt Sandpipers do their sewing machine-like foraging technique.  They are fast.  The birds probed with their mandibles open and very rapidly scoured the earth.  Whenever they found something they'd stop, pick it up with the very tip of their bill, and then quickly swallow it.  Curious about what they were eating I laid down on the ground so my eyes were almost at ground level with the tip of the birds mandibles and saw that they were catching ants.  Lots and lots of ants. Granted one ant isn't going to provide much nourishment but given the volume they were consuming I'm guessing they were obtaining lots of their dietary needs. 

The exoskeleton of ants is made up almost entirely of chitin which is very high in protein.  For instance the skin of shrimp is made up of chitin which is where most of the protein humans receieve from eating shrimp lies.  Another important component of ant exoskeleton is calcium carbonate.  My guess is that with the onset of nesting season the female of this crane pair was pigging out on ants to get protein for the embryo that's going to form in her egg and calcium to help create a solid shell for the egg in which the embryo will develop.  Once again, like everything else in nature, everything is connected.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Lois Nelson Died on Wednesday

A recent picture of Lois Nelson and her daughter Greta

Very few of you reading this knew Lois Nelson or her husband Glen M. or their daughter Greta.  However, even if you didn’t know them, you lost something Wednesday when Lois passed away unexpectedly.

Lois was from Milltown, Wisconsin, a little farming community at the edge of the great north woods in Polk County about 40 miles west of where I grew up in Barron County.  Her husband Glen M. was my college roommate my second, third and fourth years as an undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin – River Falls.  Even though there was only one Glen Nelson on the entire campus all four years of college Glen signed everything, including his test papers, as “Glen M. Nelson” and soon we all referred to him simply as Glen M.

Glen M was one of my groomsmen when I married Ruth in 1974 and a few years later I was one of his groomsmen when he married Lois, a farm girl from near Turtle Lake.  Together for many years they operated Forest Park Farm at the very edge of Milltown where they bred and raised award winning Ayrshire cattle.  Despite working full time on their farm they both went back to college and received Master’s degrees from UW River Falls, commuting the 90 mile each way distance each day. Somewhere along the line they had time to have a beautiful daughter who in true Norwegian tradition, they named Greta.

With the passage of time and distance I lost contact with Glen M and Lois until one day a few years ago when she contacted me on Facebook and asked to be my friend.  Soon Glen M was my Facebook friend and Greta shortly thereafter.  We shared all kinds of stories and got caught up on important Wisconsin news like the Green Bay Packers.  Given her educational background it wasn’t surprising that Lois was a staunch liberal like me who was beyond incensed with people attacking Barack Obama and especially his championing of the Affordable Care Act.  After all as Lois once said to me “Why do people oppose other people being healthy?”   It was a damned good question

On Wednesday morning January 7 2015, Lois sent me a private message in Facebook asking if I had heard about the large number of Snowy Owl’s that had migrated to the Cheesehead State this winter.  She sent a link to a story that summarized the several hundred Owls that have taken up residence around the state.  Our conversation then drifted to the Packers and their chances in the upcoming playoffs.  We talked about the weather and how bitter it was there this year and we chatted about other things until finally we had to sign off and go about our daily tasks.

Lois died a few hours after we said “see ya later” on Wednesday.  She wasn't feeling well.  She laid down to take a breather and died instantly from a massive heart attack.  She was only 59 years old.  One second she was jovial and telling stories and the next second she was gone. Poof. Just like that.

I will never understand why kind and sensitive people like Lois have to die and why their loving and caring family and friends have to suffer her loss.  There are truly wicked people on earth and they seem to skate by unscathed yet someone with a heart as big as Lois’ dies out of the blue and with no warning.

As a kid growing up when I would get in trouble with my parents I used to say in my defense that whatever the issue was “it just isn’t fair.”  My mom would instantly reply “nothing in life is fair” and time has proven her correct over and over again.  Lois Nelson dying so young and leaving Glen M and Greta hurting isn’t fair either and that sucks.