The surest sign that spring is here, sandhill cranes are back in the Kickapoo Valley

The surest sign that spring is here, sandhill cranes are back in the Kickapoo Valley

The cold is still lingering over the Kickapoo Valley as March can’t seem to make up its mind what to do next. To me, it means everything is pretty normal for this time of year. The days may be sunny and the temps “warming up” into the twenties, but the cold March wind makes them bittersweet.

The winds that carry the migrating birds north haven’t been very favorable lately but there are some new arrivals in spite of it. There haven’t been lots of Canada geese returning but there have been a few seen in the area. I’ve noticed several pairs of sandhill cranes along the river valley in the past few days. They are wearing their finest spring plumage and their red crowns seem to have an intense glow. It’s the mating season and the cranes are off to a good start as they bow to each other before raising their heads to the sky to bugle a loud call that can be heard a half-mile away, ker-loo, ker-lee-loo (repeated 3 or 4 times). They then dance on their long legs and leap high into the air with their wings spread wide. The dance of the cranes will always be one of my favorite of nature’s springtime rituals—so much energy and beauty.

My sister told me she had seen three large birds flying together and thought they were great blue herons because they fly with their necks tucked in, not stretched out like the cranes. It’s a good tip when trying to identify one from the other when they are in flight. I’m looking forward to having the cranes and herons around the river valley this summer.

A pair of wood ducks soak in the March sunshine, hoping for warmer days to come

A pair of wood ducks soak in the March sunshine, hoping for warmer days to come

A pair of wood ducks enjoy a sunny place near the river bank. They are the first of their kind to arrive this spring; in fact, they are the only two wood ducks I’ve seen since last fall. If the weather warms up, like they say it is going to, there should be a lot more waterfowl returning in the coming week.

I didn’t get a photo of the first turkey vulture I saw a week ago and I didn’t see another one until today when one sailed lazily over the house. Still seems a little early because it’s still so cold. I think the turkey vultures would be more comfortable if it was a little warmer, seeing they don’t have feathers on their heads to keep them warm. The temperature could drop to ten below zero tonight, so I think a sleeping vulture will surely have his head tucked under his wing for the night.

Melting snow creates a welcomed, lovely pattern across the landscape

Melting snow creates a welcomed, lovely pattern across the landscape

The landscape looks a lot less cold now that most of the snow has melted. It will be a while before things start to green up, but once it starts, spring will come fast and the snow on the land will be just a memory.

If you haven’t cleaned out those bird houses yet, now is the time to do it, especially if you would like to have bluebirds move into them. There will be a lot of migrating bluebirds passing through in the next few weeks and they are looking for nice, empty birdhouses to live in. If the birdhouse is still filled with last year’s nesting material, the bluebirds will pass it up for one they can build their own nest in.

The female bald eagle is barely detectible as she hunkers down in the massive nest, siting on eggs

The female bald eagle is barely detectable as she hunkers down in the massive nest, sitting on eggs

I pulled off the country road and rolled down the window to take a couple of pictures of the old eagle’s nest. It looked unoccupied but when I zoomed the lens up I could just barely make out the head of the female eagle peeking up over the edge of the nest; she’s on eggs! Not wanting to disturb her, I drove off knowing that the bald eagle’s nest was active. The eggs will be incubated for about 35 days before hatching, which should happen about the 25th of April. Both the male and female help with keeping the eggs warm and the care of the young when they hatch. The young bald eagles will spend their first 10-11 weeks in the nest before fledging.

This male Cooper's hawk has been terrorizing the song birds around my feeders all winter long

This male Cooper’s hawk has been terrorizing the song birds around my feeders all winter long

I finally got a good look at the male Cooper’s hawk that has been making surprise attacks at the bird feeders through most of the winter. He usually doesn’t stay around for more than a few seconds, but today he sat on a nearby brush pile for ten minutes then flew off empty-handed. His favorite prey birds are the little juncos who feed on the ground under the birdfeeders. The juncos usually stay pretty close to the brush pile and when a hawk appears they simply dash into the think pile of sticks to avoid being caught. This Cooper’s hawk is an adult male who is about 15 inches tall, with a 30-inch wingspan, somewhat smaller than the female. The adult Cooper’s hawk has blood-red eyes and very pretty blush breast feathers.

The white-tailed deer must be glad that most of the snow has melted, making it easier for them to find food. Some of them have lost quite a bit of their body weight and look a little on the thin side. The deer are not out of the woods yet, especially if the weather turns cold again and we get some late snow, but with luck, April will be good to them.

Naturally yours,

Dan