Such utterly fantastic weather this week—a perfect encore for summer. Sunshine and temperatures around eighty degrees made it pretty hard not to be outside doing something. There is plenty to do around the yard and gardens besides the other things that need to be done before winter. Even with so much work to do, I still find time to take a short walk or two. It helps temper my urgency to get things done. It feels good to get in touch with the slower pace that nature offers. Things can be seen from a whole new perspective by simply taking a walk down Nature’s Trail. “In every walk with Nature, one receives far more than he seeks,” said John Muir.
It’s the end of September and the Kickapoo Mountains are a blaze in autumn colors and the fields of soybeans are brownish-yellow. I hear calling geese and the rustle of dry corn leaves in the breeze. I would like to say that I’m enjoying the flocks of red-winged blackbirds passing through, but they haven’t come yet. I miss the large flocks of red-winged blackbirds that used to follow the Kickapoo Valley by the thousands on fall migration. I miss their excited calls, especially when they were all talking at once. I miss watching a long black wave of blackbirds as they keep coming from the distant horizon. I’ve seen a few scattered bunches of these beautiful birds this fall, and only a couple of larger flocks of about two or three hundred, tops. Thursday, I pulled the truck over off the gravel river road and rolled down the window so I could listen to a flock of red-winged blackbirds on a hillside pasture. There were about two hundred of them and they had a lot of talking to do. They made quite a commotion, but nothing like the sound of two thousand red-wing voices.
I’m always on the lookout for that unusual bird that might be passing through but I haven’t seen too much in that respect so far this fall. The two large white birds swimming together on the marsh pond were tundra swans. There isn’t a more peaceful scene than two lovely swans, together on the still water. It was a treat to see the white swans and I’m hoping that more of them decide to stop for a visit in the Kickapoo Valley.
Not far from the marsh pond, five graceful gray sandhill cranes lit in a grassy hayfield and began searching for crickets, grasshoppers, frogs and voles in the grass. It was fun to watch them stretch their long necks to the ground and snap up a bug. It’s been a good year for crickets and grasshoppers, even though they came late in the season. The four adults and a single juvenile crane looked to be in fine shape, ready to make the trip further south. If the weather stays reasonably warm, the cranes may stick around till November. The young sandhill crane may return in the spring. He should by then wear a red crown like the adults.
A fancy, female king fisher perched quietly on a utility line stretched over a backwater pond. It’s unusual that a king fisher will allow me to take its picture, but she seemed to be okay with it. I could tell she was a female by her single gray-blue band across her breast. The male belted king fisher has a gray-blue band across his chest but he also has an orange-brown band below. Then I realized what he was watching: four young muskrats were playing in the water below. I watched as they swam across the surface of the pond fairly close to each other, then rapidly splashed the water with their tails and took off like little speedboats. It was as though they were playing tag with each other. Occasionally one of them would climb to the muddy shore and preen for a while before getting back in the game. I wondered if the king fisher was watching to see if the muskrats might stir up a minnow for his breakfast, but he soon flew off to a more peaceful place. Not far away stood a brand new muskrat house and it looked like a big one. I wondered if the four young muskrats had helped build it. I also wondered if it was where they will spend the long winter, snug as bugs in their cozy shelter of reeds and grass.
Like the king fisher, the bluebird usually doesn’t sit still long enough to get its picture taken. They seem to let you get only so close, and then away they go. I looked up when I heard the familiar song of a bluebird (ch’r-weet, ch’r-weet). Five happy bluebirds spread out on a high line above me, probably a family group. I haven’t noticed a bluebird migration yet, only family groups who are moving through the area. I’m thinking that the next serious cold front that comes through will encourage a lot of songbirds to go further south. The bird watching should pick up then, nothing to do but wait and see.
The brown bats are still busy chasing insects around the yard after dark on most nights. I was relaxing with a good book at about 8 o’clock last night when the flutter of bat wings caught my attention. I had left the door open to the screen porch and after getting lost on the wrong side of the screen, the bat found his way into the house through the open door. He made only a couple of passes around the room then flew through the doorway and out to the porch. I had no trouble catching him with my butterfly net to let him go outside. It’s a much better place for him.