The extended cold has everyone asking when it’s going to end. The folks here in the Kickapoo Valley are used to cold winters but this prolonged cold spell has created extra hardships for everyone. This is tough weather if you are a farmer. There is a lot of extra work when everything is always frozen. After three months of this harsh weather it finally showed signs of turning around. The temperature got up into the twenties and the fresh air didn’t have the same bite. It was nice to be able to go outside without having to bundle up and cover my ears. Of course the warmer weather brought several more inches of new white snow, which always means I get some more exercise, and the forecast calls for more exercise.
Oh, those rascal blue jays! Sometimes I struggle with who they are and what they do. I love them, but their greedy manners make it hard for me to make peace with them. There are twenty-seven blue jays coming each day to the bird feeders and they all have an instinctive habit of caching their food. Each jay will pick up 100 or more sunflower seeds before flying off to hide them. It only takes two hours for the jays to pick up all the seeds—and then they wait around for more! I try to limit the wild birds to a gallon of sunflower seeds every day, but it’s been so cold and the birds so hungry that I put out another half-gallon in the late afternoon, in six locations. I wouldn’t worry about how much seed the jays take if I could afford it, but they challenge my limited budget and, therefore, my desire to love them for who they are, the rascals.
Not much stirring just after sunrise as I drove slowly along the snow-covered gravel river road. Last night’s beautiful full moon came with clear skies and by morning it was bitter cold. The river is completely frozen over and covered with snow. The tracks of a beaver made it plain to see what he was doing. The wide tracks in the snow led from the snowy riverbank and out onto the river then disappeared into a three-foot-wide hole in the ice. I drove on, knowing that the beavers are fine and doing what they do.
As I drove by a farm, I noticed a single bird perched on the top rung of one of the silo ladders. At first I thought the bird was a single pigeon standing in front of the half-open silo door, but I decided to turn around for a better look. Sure enough, a stunning adult female cooper’s hawk was standing in front of the silo door and no doubt very interested in what was inside the silo—pigeons, of course. I knew it was just a matter of time before she went in after them but I couldn’t wait to see what happened because it wasn’t the safest place to park for pictures. I’d like to think she didn’t leave hungry.
There must be something in those cedar berries that gives the winter birds the energy they need to survive through such a cold winter. I’ve watched many of the different birds eating them, including crows, starlings, robins, blue birds, cedar waxwings and others. I took a picture of a single cedar waxwing in a flock of thirty; it shows the bright yellow tips of his tail and the tiny spot of red at the end of the secondary wing feathers.
The white-tailed deer are searching for food nearly around the clock now that the land is under two feet of snow and winter browse is harder to find. Their tracks lead out onto the frozen river where they nibble at the tender ends of the branches that hang over the bank. The deer look to be in pretty good shape now, but March and April can be their toughest months.
The fourteen robins that spent the winter in my little valley have grown to a flock of thirty. It’s the first year in my life that I’ve heard and seen robins every day in Wisconsin. They have been spending a lot of their time eating sumac berries but they usually prefer the safety of the cedar boughs. Today I spotted a flock of twenty blue birds, also in a large patch of sumac, at the side of the road. Blue birds in winter are extremely shy and it’s very difficult to get a picture of them. Like their cousins the robins, the blue birds aren’t nearly so weary in the summer. They don’t seem to have any trouble finding enough to eat in the winter no matter how cold or snowy it is, but I don’t think I’ll ever get used to seeing robins and blue birds in the middle of a Wisconsin winter.
I never get used to the beauty of winter, either, so even in the cold every day brings joy and peace.