We all thought that the lion of March had come to stay. The first three weeks, although typical, did little to resemble a gentle lamb until this week. The temperatures finally rose above freezing and with the help of sunny days, the snow is slowly disappearing. I love the way a little nice weather lifts everybody’s spirits, and it’s finally legitimate to talk about spring.
A few of the ice fountains are looking quite impressive. They’re formed from small trickles of spring water that constantly leak out of an outcrop of rock sandstone. When it’s freezing cold at night, the trickling water forms a frozen waterfall. Depending on the weather, they may last well into May on some years.
The Kickapoo River is now free of ice and the water level is up due to the melting snow. The backwaters and ponds near the river still have some middle ice, but there is open water along the edges.
It’s always a surprise to see the first wild ducks of spring, and Monday, I saw a pair of hooded mergansers swimming against the current. These beautiful little diving ducks stop here in the spring before moving further north. I hadn’t seen them since last spring so I pulled over along the gravel river road to get a better look at them. I got lucky when the fancy male hooded merganser fanned his beautiful white crest at me. Then the male, together with his mate, dove under the water and came up fifty yards downstream.
A little male kestrel is perched high on a power line watching the ground below for any signs of a meadow vole. Kestrels are North America’s smallest falcons. Built for speed, they are capable of catching small birds, but catching voles is an easier way to make a living in the winter. When the warm weather comes, the robin-sized kestrel will switch to eating large insects, snakes and frogs.
It was good to see a few flocks of robins on Monday. They always seem to know when the time is just right to move north. By Sunday, there seemed to be red-breasted robins everywhere, even though the afternoon got a little rainy. There was plenty of bare ground by Sunday, so the robins were busy finding bits of this and that to eat.
Wherever the snow has melted, turkeys are searching the ground for weed seeds or anything that looks green. The turkeys stick close together and peck at the ground like a flock of chickens picking up grain.
There are lots of turkeys in the area. I see them every day as they search for food. Their spring courtship season seems to be getting off to a slow start this year. I haven’t seen very many toms doing their strutting displays, and I really haven’t heard that much gobbling yet.
The three crows that come to Organic Valley’s bird feeder remind me of the three amigos that came each day to my feeders at home ten years ago. Only one crow has come to the bird feeder since. I’m thinking that the three crows at Organic Valley were nest mates last year. I’ve never thought it common to have crows visit the bird feeders, but when they do, they are fun to watch. The crows in my valley have been very vocal lately and they are chasing each other up and down the valley as they court and establish nesting territories.
A few red-winged blackbirds showed up in the river valley on Monday. By the end of the week, there were lots of them, but not nearly as many as there once were each spring. I’m not saying there are fewer red-winged blackbirds in the world, they just don’t use the Kickapoo Valley like they used to. This is due, I believe, to the loss of the cattail marshes to a reed canary grass invasion. Blackbird song is one of my personal favorite spring songs: “o-ka-leeeee.”
I took a closer look with the camera at a pair of ducks as they swam in the shallow water at the edge of a marsh pond. They turned out to be a pair of wood ducks, the first ones I’ve seen this spring. The male wood duck is one of the most colorful wild ducks you’ll see. His feathers seem to be made of all the colors in the rainbow and are topped off by his blood-red eye. I’m sure I’ll be seeing more of these beautiful ducks in the next few days.
I can’t help mentioning Mister Barred Owl again. He’s been showing up nearly every day and hanging out in the trees by the yard. I haven’t seen him the past two days, but the noisy crows usually let me know where he is. Saturday morning there were a half a dozen crows calling excitedly in a grove of tall pine trees at the end of the valley. They were probably giving the barred owl a hard time. There’s no harm done. For the crows, it’s all in fun.
There’s a feast for your eyes and ears this time of the year. All you have to do is get outside and take a walk down nature’s trail.