The week started with a sunny day and the first fleeting whistles of a male cardinal. At times there may be 25 male cardinals in the yard, but that day the first spring song came from only one of them.
The male’s spring song is a distinctive loud clear whistle: wheat-wheat-wheat-wheat, what-cheer, what-cheer, what-cheer, what-cheer! It may be one of the first bird songs a child learns to identify. That call may be the one that compels a youngster to follow the path down Nature’s trial. I didn’t hear the cardinal’s song the rest of the week, probably because the weather turned very unspring-like. It got very cold for a few days, below zero cold, and when it warmed up into the twenties, we got five inches of snow. I guess it wasn’t much to sing about if you’re a cardinal in love.
I really didn’t notice many signs of spring this week in the Kickapoo Valley, but some of my readers did. From Tennessee, Jan told me to keep an eye out for sandhill cranes because she saw them passing through the area where she lives. Jan said there were several flocks moving north, totaling some 500 cranes. There were also many reports of folks in southern Wisconsin who had seen a robin. That always gets people to start keeping their eyes open for that first red-breasted harbinger of spring.
A brisk wind blew snow across the road as I drove along the ridge road. It was a wet snow, so I had to keep the wipers going, making it a little harder to watch for any signs of life on the landscape. I wasn’t really expecting to see much in that weather, but I can’t help keeping an eye out for, say, a hawk or some horned larks. I was thinking I should just stay focused on getting home ahead of the snow storm when I saw them scattered along the side of the road: eight plump bobwhite quail. I knew what they were the instant I spotted them, even though I hadn’t seen any in the area for some five years. It was a safe place to pull over and I was able to snap a few quick pictures. Sometimes when you least expect it, you see something profound.
Twenty years ago, I could still hear the sweet whistle of a male bobwhite quail in the evenings. They’ve been on the decline since then, and I rarely ever see or hear one these days. The male quail has a white throat and cheek with a white streak above his eye. The female quail has the same markings, except hers are beige. The eight quail looked very busy as they searched for bits of grain or weed seeds at the edge of the road. It’s gotta be tough for them when the snow gets deep, since they are ground feeders. I remember seeing coveys of 30 or more bobwhite quail huddled together in a small, compact circle. They would ride out a snow storm or spend the night this way. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this once common sight. Hope you like the photos, they are the first I’ve taken of bobwhite quail in 15 years and who knows when I’ll get another chance.
I photographed a large opossum as he wandered across the deep snow Saturday afternoon. His strange, pink feet kicked up snow behind him as he waddled along. The tip of his tail had been frozen off, and I didn’t get a good enough look at his ears to see any frost damage. He looked pretty fat, happy and healthy otherwise. His kind spend most of their time sleeping through the winter months and only come out to search for food when the temperature is 30 degrees or warmer. If you happen to see some little star-shaped foot prints in the fresh now, they’re probably made by an opossum.
Along the edge of the river banks, where the water meets the ice, I could see where a beaver had left a path in the snow. The beaver had chewed off a few branches of a small boxelder tree. I was quick enough with the camera to get a picture of him as he slid off the ice and into the river. I waited for him to reappear but never saw him again. Beavers are very shy for the most part and I’m rarely lucky to see them let alone get a picture of them, but I keep trying. The Kickapoo River looked cold and lifeless, but there’s always something interesting to see if you look closely, even in winter.
Little black-capped chickadees are some of my closest neighbors. They greet me as I come out the door and often follow me around the yard. They know I keep sunflower seeds in my coat pocket and, if they’re patient, I’ll share some with them. Whenever I have a little mood attitude, I step outside and let my friends the chickadees cheer me up. They’re always in a good mood.