When I go into the office and begin to deal with the various things people request of me, I am always somewhat nervous. If I could just check the official email and phone messages, that would be one thing. However, nowadays I find this just scratches the surface. I am apt to find messages on a couple of different phone lines, my cell phone, three different email addresses and a host of social media sites. I am always on edge for fear someone will come in, see me on the cell phone with Facebook up on the computer screen and wonder just what I am doing to earn my pay.

The same is true for questions and comments on this column. In some cases, they may even be comingled. One lady took me to task most viciously for something in the county budget and then asked a question about her bird feeders. This was exacerbated today when I discovered there was a whole other level of messaging available on the cell phone.

Chastised for not responding to a message, I went through the hoorah of downloading the app and was astonished to find my message center already filled with missives from as long ago as six months. I spent several hours getting those answered personally and then, as I was about to put the phone away, it beebled and presented me with a new message — scolding me for not doing a questions column in November. Sorry about that — here is one only three days late.

Bob, I know you’re full of Avian knowledge, so I’m hoping you can tell me why Mergansers keep flying down my wood stove chimney, this has happened three times so far!! Thanks for your time.

I have heard of both mergansers and wood ducks getting in trouble in chimneys. Both species are cavity nesters and both genders spend a lot of time checking out tree holes and nest boxes for good sites. However, I always noticed this in the spring and all my calls on ducks in the stove have been in the spring. Maybe just some precocious males trying to get a jump on the breeding season? I’ll ask some of my duck biologist friends and see if they come up with anything different.

I have to ask. In the tsunami article, which was great BTW, you mentioned your favorite weather lady. Would you care to tell us who that might be? Do you also have a favorite weather man?

Both my favorites happen to be on the same channel. I find Stephanie Abrams and Jim Cantore pretty interesting folks, in general, as well as quite knowledgeable. Would like to have lunch with either one of them.

Nice one on the northern lights and sunspots. Can you tell us when the sunspots are supposed to peak again?

Last peak was 2014. The bottom of the cycle will be mid 2020 and the next peak in 2025. Therefore, you should (1) buy stock in whatever alternative energy system is hot in 2020 as well as the carbon credit business if Al Gore has let it go public, (2) get your next birddog puppy in 2023, (3) sell off the stock when it peaks in 2026 and (4) use the proceeds to buy a new shotgun then travel around the world with your now well-trained dog hunting various species of grouse. As for me, I will be busy cutting an extra two cords of wood.

I have it on highest authority that the orange stain on the skunk in the picture was from red clay down south.

Could be but I do not think the Fort Miller skunk found any of that in his very short life. However, as is often the case, some of the folks I know can help out when I run dry. In this case, Laura McDermott sent me an email that explained perfectly.

Her message was, “I read the caption under the skunk picture and I’m fairly sure that the orange coloring on the white stripe of the animal is due to the orange rust spores on the grass it was walking through. You may have noticed your own sneakers temporarily discolored this fall. This disease is pretty common on long grass or low maintenance turf — it was particularly bad this fall. The cool wet weather in the spring exacerbated the disease, which can be caused by a few different fungi but mostly in the Puccinia spp.” Now my only dilemma is, when I tell my retired conservation officer friend in South Carolina why the full-stripe skunk in his backyard is orange, do I give Laura credit or just let him think I am that smart?

So why does the partridge cycle coincide with the sunspot cycle if it is really a result of intestinal worms?

Because God has six arms or I have been particularly bad in a previous life or global warming or the Trump Administration — take your choice.

Finally, for a month or so, the mail has been swamped with reports from all over the area regarding the dearth of birds at the feeders. In many cases, it seemed to be that, while the songbird hatch was damaged by the late cold and wet conditions this spring, the raptors were not similarly affected. Most of the people reporting few little birds were soon able to detect one of the bird hawks, either sharp-shinned or Coopers, hanging around the feeders. A somewhat twisted friend of mine pointed out that this was also a way of feeding birds — just a different sort of bird than usual. However, in the past couple of days, the reports have begun telling me the little birds were back. Smaller numbers than last year, but still decent numbers. This has also been my experience, the seed in the feeders is beginning to disappear in prodigious amounts as usual.

OK, I believe we are caught up on questions, unless there are more hiding in some other sort of social babble I have not yet found.

Bob Henke writes a weekly outdoors column for The Post-Star.


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