Sunday afternoon and I’m reflecting over this week’s nature notes. A half-darkness has settled outside and the rain beats a rhythm on the roof. It’s been raining off and on all week—all spring for that matter. But life goes on, even without the sunshine.
One nice thing about a wet spring is the abundance of the American toad, and it’s soothing song.
I’ve been wearing my pull-over rubber boots on my walks lately; the wet grass always means wet feet without the boots. What with all the rain lately, there is usually a couple of sets of clothes hanging over chairs to dry. Seems like if I go outside for any reason, there’s a chance of getting wet unless I put on a raincoat and boots. I’m the guy who doesn’t know when to come in out of the rain. I love the rain, but in moderation. I also like the feel of dry clothes and the sun on my face, even if it’s only once in a while.
I noticed several ducks on the surface of a backwater pond, so I stopped for a closer look. The three drake mallards were busy preening their feathers and two male wood ducks were swimming together in the middle of the pond. There was another duck swimming along with them that I didn’t recognize at first. It’s very unusual to see a female hooded merganser in the Kickapoo River Valley this time of the year. In fact, I don’t recall ever seeing one here after mid-May. Hooded mergansers are small ducks, about the size of wood ducks, and they both lay their eggs in the cavities of trees.
A newly fledged blackbird blocked my path to the car when I returned from my Monday morning walk. He seemed fearless and didn’t move until he heard his mother’s alarm call from the trees, then he made a hasty, fluttering retreat for the shelter of the tall grass.
A pretty female bluebird held a bug tightly in her beak. She was patiently waiting for me to pass by the bluebird house attached to the side of a wooden fence post. As soon as I was out of her way, she flew to the birdhouse with breakfast for her chicks. It sounded like the excited chatter of several young bluebirds inside.
The familiar song of a meadowlark came from the tall grass meadow. How beautiful is this yellow-breasted songster of the grassland as he raises his head and sings his song to the world. “Spring O’ the Year!” I seem to have seen a few more meadowlarks in the area this year. Not sure why.
The new little cottontail rabbits are out and about and I often see them along the gravel river road. They always stay near the tall grass so they can dive for cover if they need to. It’s been three years since I’ve seen a rabbit in my little valley. Seems they show up for a few years, then are gone for a few years. Rabbits tend to move around from place to place so I’ll be watching for them to come back this year.
There’s a fawn nearby. The doe’s body language told me it was so. While on my Sunday morning walk through the meadow, the doe snorted from the edge of the woods then pranced out into the tall grass in front of me. She stopped and faced me with her head up and ears erect, than she lifted her left leg and stomped her hoof to the ground three times. I begged her pardon, turned an about-face and walked in the opposite direction. She always lets me know that I’m too close to her hidden fawn and I give her lots of space. The next morning I just happened to glance out the kitchen window and there was the little, spotted, week-old fawn playing in the yard. He ran and jumped like a frisky lamb and then made a couple of circles around his mother. He just couldn’t stand still as he trotted from one interesting new thing to another, bending down to sniff the irises and poppies. Then on to the garden shovel leaning against a tree, his nose twitching as he smelled the handle. I was grateful that the doe brought her fawn for me to see. She probably wouldn’t have come so close if she thought there was anything to fear.
Monday afternoon I nearly stepped on a two-and-a-half-inch-long, winged insect. I recognized the salmon stonefly and bent down to pick him up, knowing he was harmless. In fact, most stoneflies and Mayflies don’t eat at all during their adult stage of life. They may not eat, but they are food for many insect-eating birds. This large bug would be a fine meal for some little nestling.
There are several pairs of cardinals nesting in the valley this year. I never tire of seeing red or hearing their cheery whistle. I’m grateful to them for sticking it out with me through the long winter, and for just being there when I can use some color to cheer me up.
The black locust trees are one of the very last trees to get leaves, and this year they leafed out later than usual. Their lovely scented white blossoms will cover the tree and attract bees from all directions. It’s Tuesday and a beautiful sunny day for a change and I’m hoping the bees find their way to the locust trees.
I take the ridge road on my way to town this morning. You never know what you might see in open country. I notice a distinct-looking black and white bird flying out from a small grove toward the hickory trees, then fly across the road in front of me. The redheaded woodpecker flew up to a utility pole and let me get his picture. I noticed that the pole had been wrapped with woodpecker-deterring hardware cloth. It’s not often I see these once-common birds in southern Wisconsin. Their numbers have dropped dramatically over the last twenty years.
Down the road a ways, I watch another one of my favorite grassland birds as he hunts for insects. He, too, has a striking black and white plumage. In typical flycatcher fashion, the kingbird flew from his perch on a fence post, promptly snatched a flying insect from the air, then returned to the post. I watched the kingbird’s hunting skills for a while before heading out, pleased I decided to take the high road.
The ridge road finally dropped down into the Kickapoo River Valley and merged with the river road. I always slow down when I see something in or at the side of the road ahead of me. This time, the something turned out to be a large snapping turtle that had decided that the edge of the road was a good place to lay her eggs. She was still in the process of digging a hole in the wet gravel with her hind feet. I took a couple of photos and left her alone to go on with her important task. Hope she knows enough to stay out of the road!
The river winds through the pastured bottomland, and often comes close to the road. I’m lucky to see a family of Canada geese as they make their way up the riverbank. The ten downy goslings follow close behind their parents. Although they have yet to grow feathers, they are already half as large as the adults. Everybody looks happy and healthy, and it should be a good summer for the goose family. My trip to town can often be an adventure, especially in the summer when I never know what I might see next. It really pays to slow down and notice the natural world all around.
How about a little fun?! Can you tell me what this is?