It’s freezing cold with blowing snow, but spring marches on. Wednesday was the first day of spring, but you wouldn’t have known it by looking at the winter landscape. Snow, wind and rain are what you usually expect from March, but this year it’s been extra cold. There were three nighttime lows of zero or below this week, and without much sunshine, there was very little snowmelt. The folks around here are impatient for a change in the weather. It’s been a long winter.
Monday it snowed big, fluffy flakes that quickly added up to about four inches. I saw the first sandhill cranes of spring, ghostly dark figures in a field of white as snow fell around them. It was definitely a winter scene, so different from last year when the cranes returned a month early. Everything is frozen, including much of the Kickapoo River and its backwaters. Last year, I heard the first spring peepers on the thirteenth of March. It could be quite a while before we hear them this year.
The first thing I heard at 5:30 a.m. on the first day of spring was a pair of barred owls singing their wild courtship songs outside my bedroom window. “Oh, who are you? Oh, who are you all?” or, “Who cooks for you-all?” Tuesday, I got lucky with a better look at a barred owl that’s been hanging around near the house. He didn’t seem surprised to see me as I shoveled a little snow near the driveway. He just sat there while I reached in the car and grabbed my camera. Again, I thought it a little strange to see a barred owl hunting at midday and how little fear he shows when he sees me.
At the edge of a tall grass marsh, a rough-legged hawk perched high in the tiny branches of a tall, soft maple tree. The hawk spends every waking hour watching for voles below. Often, he hunts by hovering above the grass while his long wings keep him stationary. I only see these hawks in winter. Soon, they will return to their summer homes in Canada’s northern tundra.
A large, dark object standing in the snow some 200 yards out in an open pasture caught my eye. To get a better look, I had to find a safe place to pull over. I discovered that the large dark object was a bald eagle standing next to the carcass of a coyote. Did the eagle kill the coyote? I doubt it. But how did the coyote end up dead in the middle of an open pasture? There are always some things that we may never know, but I did know that the eagle was doing his job as one of nature’s recyclers.
I thought it strange to see the tracks of the woodchuck in the snow near the brush pile. For one thing, it was kinda cold for ole Woody to be out (26 degrees), and secondly, I don’t remember seeing woodchuck tracks in the snow too many times in my life.
It was good to feel the sun on my face Friday afternoon, even though it was only 30 degrees. Woody spent about an hour basking in the sun on top of the brush pile. I can only imagine how good the sunshine must feel to him.
While driving slowly down the gravel river road, I pulled up next to a yearling raccoon. He had been patrolling the side of the road for something to eat. When he saw me, he tried to hide by lying down. I snapped a quick picture, then drove off and let him go on about his business. I haven’t seen many raccoons or skunks yet this spring. Guess it’s been too cold for them.
I have to admit I was rather surprised to see a couple of black turkey vultures soaring the blue skies on Thursday. They were the first ones I’ve seen here this spring, and I really didn’t expect to see them until it warmed up a bit. Their large, long flight feathers, in their wings take on an almost silver color on the undersides, and they are true masters of gliding on them. They have plenty of warm feathers except for on their bare, red heads. Nighttime temperatures have been below zero in the Kickapoo Valley, so you can understand that having no warm feathers on your head could be a problem. Then again, wild turkeys are also bare-headed, yet, they don’t fly south for the winter.
I heard a flock of Canada geese last Monday, but I was too far down in the valley to see them pass over. The first geese I saw this spring were a pair standing on the river bank on Thursday. When I stopped for a closer look, a flock of 25 red-winged blackbirds landed in the top branches of a large willow tree directly over the geese. They were too far away for a decent photo, but I did get to hear the first blackbirds of spring.
Spring may seem to be on hold, but if you just look around a little closer and listen, you will see and hear it as it’s sneaking up on you. The subtle signs of spring mean that it’s getting ready to spill over with the first rush of warm air from the south. Prevailing winds seem always to be in control of seasonal changes, and wind is the hardest of the natural elements to make peace with.