“August 29th was your dad’s birthday, Mistress, aren’t we going to pay our respects?” Sure enough, Frances, the never forgetful Ford Focus was absolutely correct, and as long as she has been in the family, Frances prods us to visit the cemetery monument on this important date. For it was near that place of honor, years ago, that we first experienced the great Monarch butterfly aggravation or gathering.

Monarchs were hanging in the red cedar trees on that memorable day, thus each year, beginning in late August, we visit spots where monarchs have been experienced in great numbers over past years. 2020 found us on Sept. 3 at the NEY Center, one mile east of Henderson. Becky Pollack, Ney Executive Director, reported that over two hundred monarchs had been ‘tagged’ by NEY personnel as the threatened insects headed for Mexico the last week of August and early September.

We were not to be disappointed, as at least a thousand orange and black beauties had come to rest on the oak and walnut trees leaves northwest of the big red barn. The experience was breathtaking, and in the late summer’s sinking sun, we were spiritually awakened to the beauty we had been missing by staying inside. A brisk north wind the following day, September 4 th , whisked all but a few of the insects southward, as but a dozen or so bouncing, twirling and exploring orange exquisites came to rest in the twilight.

From NEY we hastened to a Chimney swift roost in LeSueur, there to be greeted by 676 sooty gray ‘flying cigars’ as they channeled themselves into the jammed chimney for the night. The haven was rightly chosen, as during the Sept. 5 evening, 2.5 inches of precipitation fell while lightning illumined the sky accompanied by great claps of thunder! Not long ago, four large LeSueur chimneys and one in Henderson were ‘capped,’ thus just one cavern remains, that of a school chimney haven. Use of that edifice has been consistent, as, working backward from the 5th , witnesses have experienced 1,190, 956, 929, and a summer high of 1,500 birds coming to roost.

This is not the highest count recorded at the limestone chimney at Le Sueur, for numbers of roosting birds were well over 1,200 in 2016 many nights in the same week in August/September. (Numbers of ‘roosters’ (play on words) and weather conditions have been kept since August first for anyone interested. Simply contact 507-665-2658 after 6 p.m. for additional data.) So many questions remain, such as: How do the birds find this particular chimney? Where are the mysterious birds coming from? Will the same birds return to this chimney the following evening? So much to discover/uncover/theorize.

Due to the great drop in numbers of swifts across the country and world, organizations such as Audubon have been building artificial but substantial ‘swift towers’ since at least 2012. In fact, the Linnaeus Arboretum in St. Peter has a tower built right into a building. The Ney Center and Hummingbird Garden at/near Henderson both have towers built under the auspices of Audubon and leadership of retired Ron Windingstad. All three edifices are symbols of the need for flora/fauna conservation and preservation.

As we write this article, we are breathing a sigh of relief. Readers familiar with nature are aware of the historic Trumpeter swans at the Coachlight Ponds between Henderson and Le Sueur.

‘Newbies’ to the area for the past five years or so, the swans, Sylvia and Sylvan, have weathered a late snowfall, up to five inches of rain, five road closures, giant snapping turtles, bald eagle threats, muskrat/mink attacks, etc., and as of a week ago, kept their six (historic) cygnets alive. At the end of August, parents and cygnets disappeared, nowhere to be found! Opening of Canadian goose season began Sept. 6.

Picture six cygnets, still with juvenile color (as in Canadian geese) scudding through the mist of an opening day. All about would be hunters, trembling young and seasoned old, lying in wait for their first trophy bird. There is not hunting season on trumpeter swans. As of 9 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 6, the elegant birds had returned to their home of origin, Coachlight Pond. Whew! Spared another day!

The late summer slithers into autumn. So much to write about, so much to observe. Please keep your eyes to the skies and your feet above ground!

Art and Barb Straub are local naturalists, spending time observing and recording wildlife in the area. The couple lives together in Le Sueur.

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