4/23/2014 9:31:00 AM Bald eagle flyovers still turning heads
Ron Kuecker Outdoors Columnist
I'm aware of at least six active bald eagle nests within a dozen or so miles of Windom. There are almost certainly more tucked away in our big cottonwood trees somewhere unknown. Once the big apex avian predator started to identify a prey base of fish, dead deer and various other smaller sized wildlife they could "grab", nesting soon followed. As you read this our area's big white-headed birds are most likely deep into incubating their eggs and maybe a few will have already hatched a pair of eaglets. I'm guessing one of the first things Cliff and Mary Ann Ling look for when they return to their riverside home from Texas each spring is the eagles. Did they survive the winter? Will they nest again in the big cottonwood tree along the river just south of their home? And, did they bring along some yearlings to watch and learn nearby as they build or update last year's stick nest? Sometimes it seems to me we all humanize wildlife a bit too much such as cameras in the eagle nest or bear dens but there is no doubt it is fun and it gets people involved in the outdoors. And, in the end, that may be the only way we can save a portion of the outdoors from the never-ending attempt to develop it or crop it. The occasional golden Hunting ducks in Saskatchewan for the last five or six years has been enlightening for me regarding the golden eagle. If you watch closely as you travel through western Minnesota, diagonally across North Dakota and continue a third of the way up through Saskatchewan you can see the shift from bald to golden eagles. The bald has traditionally been the eagle of the Mississippi flyway, the golden the eagle of the central flyway. Certainly, there have always been overlaps and in the last 10 years or so my best eagle sightings have been that occasional golden. They can best be identified by their slightly bigger size, their somewhat smaller head and beak, their shorter neck and in the case of mature birds, the golden feathers of the head. One evening, as I traveled home from the Twin Cities, I passed through Mankato just before the sun dropped below the tree-covered bluffs of the river. A very big eagle flew low over the open river just to the left of Highway 169, then he banked just a little and his golden-napped head caught the light of the setting sun just right. The gold lit up like that of a little blond girl. Once you've seen that you start double checking every brown eagle to see if it's an immature bald or a golden. If you want more help differentiating immature, non-white-headed balds from goldens check out the January-February, 2014 issue of the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer magazine. They have some very good pictures on the differences. That issue also talks about the increasing numbers of goldens, 200 or so now, that winter along the upper Mississippi River. It includes some interesting migration studies that show goldens traveling from northern Arkansas several thousand miles to the Northwest Territories of Canada. I'll be waiting and watching here in Cottonwood County for that first golden nest. Probably won't happen but that's what we thought about the baldies just 20 years ago. Feral cats of Windom I've seen the famous polydactyl (many toed) cats of Ernest Hemingway's former home in Key West, Florida. They wander freely in and out of his past writing site, the entire residence carefully maintained by the local historical society. They are a key attraction for many. Not quite so endearing are the feral cats of Windom. Yet, their plight is pretty sad. Living in abandoned homes and garages or in junk piles near the alley, they survive, even multiply. A few days ago, JoAnne Kaiser, a board member of the Cottonwood County Animal Rescue group took me on a tour of Windom. She told me ahead of time I would be amazed what is going on behind the scenes in our town regarding building and yard neglect and it's closely related feral cat problem. Thinking I had seen it all in my 35 years as a pet vet in Windom I didn't expect to be surprised. I was wrong. JoAnne seemed to recognize many of the homeless cats and predicted where we would see many of them warming in the sun. Her group is trying to rescue some of those cats and put them into homes when it is appropriate. But she realizes that when you remove them they are soon replaced by others because the underlying habitat (decaying buildings and large trash piles) supports a continuing population. Recently a captured feral cat to be put up for adoption tested positive for Feline Leukemia Virus. Soon the entire population of feral cats will be positive and the threat to our domestic cats will be so overwhelming. The message I see, loud and clear, is the clean up efforts of many here in Windom needs all the support it can get. And, that includes the pile of snow, salt and sand just south of the liquor store along the highway. It was put there by the city during winter snow removal from our streets. It enters the Des Moines River during the spring thaw. It looks awful to passerby's and shows a disregard for water quality in the river. We need to find a new place to pile our winter street snow haulings.