Q: Hey, Ask Us Guy:
I spotted the corpse of a decapitated rabbit lying in front of a front door the other morning, and obviously my first thought was that the curator of headless bunny tales (you) needed to be notified. Am I the first Mankatoan of the spring to report one?
A: You are! And thank you for the report. Others track the first robin of the spring, the date the ice goes out of area lakes, the first blooming lilacs, the first mosquitoes, but Ask Us Guy is hoping to be a phenology pioneer in the noggin-free rabbits category.
For new readers of this column, rabbits who had lost their heads have been a hot topic (relatively speaking) since 2013 when a North Mankato resident reported finding bunny bodies without their heads. In following years, more reports came in, followed by tales of bunny heads without bodies.
With help from wildlife experts and readers, it was definitively determined that the decapitations were being performed by house cats or weasels or great horned owls or crows or lawn mowers or foxes, or possibly some combination of those working in tandem.
In 2017, a photo was sent to The Free Press from rural Fairmont showing a rabbit with both a body and a head. This would not have been newsworthy except for the fact that the bunny body was separated from the bunny head by about three inches. Also, there wasn't a drop of blood to be seen.
In 2018, by contrast, there was nothing. Ask Us Guy's theory was that the bunnies had learned to fight back, possibly getting coaching from The Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog.
But then this report arrived May 10 from the Lincoln Park neighborhood. What's really sort of creepy is that this question came into Ask Us Guy's email at the precise moment he was reading a wonderful 2017 story in the Prior Lake American, headlined "A Murder Most Fowl," about a reader who had found a pile of gray feathers with an unfamiliar white-speckled pattern, along with some guts, in her yard. She cleaned that up, and the next morning there was another batch of the same strange feathers, and "some stringy entrails" on her front door step. The reader wanted the newspaper to track down the species of the victims and the likely culprit, which a reporter named Hannah Jones did.
The casualties were guinea fowl, according to Jones, and the likely killers were owls, hawks or eagles.
Just to be clear, Ask Us Guy doesn't routinely spend his time looking for stories online about animals ripped to pieces. He came across the Prior Lake story because he'd done a Google search on "guinea fowl in Minnesota."
See, Ask Us Guy has long wanted to do a story about the strange birds that live in the Tourtellotte Park neighborhood — basically ever since seeing birds on the softball field that looked an awful lot like walking basketballs encased in gray feathers. He later learned that they're guinea fowl — ancient African birds that somehow ended up living in the wild on Mankato's north side.
Despite owls, eagles, hawks, foxes, house cats and weasels, they've been surviving year after year, including through the just-concluded brutal winter. So, if anybody in the Tourtellotte Park neighborhood has tales to tell — or pictures to share — about living with guinea fowl, please do.
Q: I love running on the Red Jacket Trail from the YMCA. The section before Mount Kato that has been torn up for nearly a year is pretty rough and muddy this spring, not to mention the creek nearby smells like sewage. Any word on when this project will be completed?
A: As part of the big multi-year reconstruction of Blue Earth County Road 1 (formerly state Highway 66), a small stretch of the Red Jacket Trail is being relocated to make for better sight lines for bikers and drivers where the trail crosses Indian Lake Road.
That's why there's a temporary gravel trail for that portion of the Red Jacket near the Weagel Park rest area/bike repair station, said county Public Works Director Ryan Thilges. The trail route reconfiguration and new crossing will be completed when County Road 1 is ready to be paved late in the construction season.
"It'll improve the crossing from a visibility standpoint so the motorists will be better able to see the bicyclists," Thilges said.
As for the stinky creek, Ask Us Guy is hoping that's subsided since this question arrived early in the spring. Because Thilges has nothing to offer on that one.
"I have no information on that particular part of their inquiry," he said.
Contact Ask Us at The Free Press, P.O Box 3287, Mankato, MN 56002. Call Mark Fischenich at 344-6321 or email your question to firstname.lastname@example.org; put Ask Us in the subject line.