A gray squirrel performing a death-defying high-wire act

A gray squirrel performing a death-defying high-wire act

Monday morning I spotted a Gray Squirrel crossing the road, heading for a large walnut tree. It was pretty obvious what he was up to. Who knows how many trips he has made to get a walnut? I thought I’d watch him for a while to see what he did with so many nuts to choose from.

The frisky squirrel hopped from nut to nut until he found just the right one. It took him no time at all to chew the outer husk from the large black nut inside. As hard as the nut is, he could easily chisel it open with his strong sharp teeth, but he chose to hide it instead. He has probably buried hundreds of nuts already, but I was curious to see where he would plant this one, so I kept my eye on him.

I was surprised to see him scurry up a utility pole not far from the curb. Then he took a different route across the road, along a power line to the other side. He wasn’t afraid of losing his footing, and he held the nut tightly in his teeth as he hurried on along. What amazing balance these little animals have. I’m always in awe of their monkey-like acrobatics. You would think that squirrel would have been happy to get to the other side and come down when he reached another pole, but he just kept on running along the power line. He came to another pole on the east side of the river and didn’t come down that one either.

He finally came down a pole on the west side of the river two hundred yards from where he started without once touching the ground. I lost sight of him when he jumped from the side of the utility pole to the tall grass below. Seemed like an awful lot of work for just one nut, but it looked like a lot of fun. He won’t remember the exact spot where he buried his treasure, but he’ll remember the general area, and his keen sense of smell will find the nut, even under a blanket of snow.

 

Morning fog hangs on the treetops in the Kickapoo Valley

Morning fog hangs on the treetops in the Kickapoo Valley

 

The nights were fairly warm this week. The early morning fog can be a beautiful sight in the river valley. It seems to hug the tops of the trees like a white blanket of thick smoke, slowly moving with the slightest breeze. I’ve always loved these foggy, damp mornings, especially all those hours spent watching the view from a duck blind so long ago.

There are a few white-throated sparrows hanging around the yard this week. They stop each fall on their migration south. There are not as many this year, but I’m glad to see them. They prefer to search for food on the ground like the Juncos, and rarely come to the window feeders. They will be gone soon, but I’ll look forward to their familiar spring song when they return in April. “Poor Sam Peabody. Peabody, Peabody.”

Some of the mud nests that were built by last summer’s cliff swallows are starting to crumble apart but some are still intact. A female house sparrow thought that one of the swallow houses would be a good place to find a little shelter from the rain.

A nice flock of Canada geese circle high above a large marsh pond. They call out to the geese that have already landed on the pond and with a clamor of excited honking, they drop to the water and join the others. Two hundred geese can make quite a ruckus when they greet each other. The Canada geese may or may not stick around the area. They may like the nice weather and have a good source of food, so staying around for a while might seem like a good idea, or they may get the urge to head south at any moment. I suspect that a lot of them will hang around as long as there is food and open water, maybe another month or so.

I noticed a single diving duck on the still water near the center of the pond. The duck was too far away to identify without a closer look with the camera. What I thought was a grebe turned out to be a single female bufflehead duck who dove over and over again for something edible on the bottom of the pond. The bufflehead was once called the bumblebee duck because, when in flight, its wings sound almost like a buzzing bumblebee. It’s rare to see them in the early spring or late fall. The only other ducks on the pond were a pair of pretty hen mallards staying close together at the water’s edge.

 

Strange "tree-fellows" enjoy a moment earlier this week

Strange “tree-fellows” enjoy a moment earlier this week

 

There are still some red-winged blackbirds passing through, and I stopped to watch a large flock all sitting together in the same tall elm tree. I enjoy watching red-winged blackbirds when they flock up, but what I really enjoy is listening to so many at once. The high pitched “conk-a-ree” from several hundred blackbirds at once, in a kind of off key chorus, is still music to my ears. Besides, they all had something to talk about as a large bald eagle perched in the same tree with them. The blackbirds didn’t seem to mind the eagle and the eagle didn’t seem to mind the singing. All was well.

 

buck

The white-tailed buck is looking for love in all the right places this time of year

 

You would be well advised to slow down when driving where there are a lot of deer. The white-tailed bucks are in “rut” now, which means that they are pursuing does. Since the deer are on the move now, they appear in the road from out of nowhere, day or night. You could make all the difference by simply reducing your speed ten miles an hour.

The pair of sandhill cranes that I saw Tuesday may be the last pair in the area. They have turned from cinnamon brown to a light warm gray that makes their red cap stand out even more. It was a tough year for the sandhill cranes here in the Kickapoo Valley. I saw only one young crane this year.

The weather service says that September was the warmest September on record; October hasn’t really been so bad either. Truth is, I have no idea what the next few months may bring. It doesn’t bother me that I don’t know what the weather will do, but I don’t like not being able to feel it in my gut.

Naturally yours,

Dan