Look closely to see the sandhill crane chick hiding in the tall grass

Look closely to see the sandhill crane chick hiding in the tall grass

Heading into the first week of June, this little valley in the Kickapoo coulee has turned into a wonderland of green. These are the days that I dreamed about while shoveling snow and filling the wood stove all winter. The door to the screen porch and a few screens in the windows will stay open until mid-September, when the nighttime temperatures will drop enough to fire up the wood stove again. It’s so nice to wear only a T-shirt and shorts, not feel a chill, and walk barefoot through the lush green grass.

A pair of handsome Canada geese swims across the still water of the pond. They are the proud parents of three yellow down goslings who feel safe close to their parents. The adult geese will stay close to their goslings until they are able to fly. It will take many weeks for the young geese to fledge, so in the meantime, the adult geese will take the opportunity to molt their own feathers and replace them with new ones. Lots of young geese are taking to the water in the area; it’s always fun to watch them grow with the summer. A kingbird is hawking flying insects in the shade of a cottonwood tree. He is a striking sight with his white breast and black coat of feathers. He is about the size of a bluebird—one of the larger flycatchers. Like most flycatchers, the kingbird is a busy sort, always on the lookout for another bug to fly out and grab. They are very protective of their nesting site and won’t hesitate to attack anyone who ventures too close. I have seen a kingbird perch on the head of a cow and peck at her skull until she got the message and left.

Perfectly colored to blend in, this bunny is the first I've seen in a few years

Perfectly colored to blend in, this bunny is the first I’ve seen in a few years

The little bunny I saw in the flower garden this morning wasn’t much bigger than a chipmunk. It was a surprise because I didn’t see a cotton-tailed rabbit in the valley all winter and this little Peter Rabbit is the first of his size that I’ve seen here in three years. It was nice to see a baby rabbit again but I tapped on the window when I saw him sampling the new flowers I had just planted. He got the message and, quick as a wink, jumped into the thick cover of the phlox. I wonder if he has brothers and sisters. Of course he has.

A great blue heron stalks crickets in the short grass of the pasture. He is many yards from the stream where he usually can be seen hunting for frogs and minnows. The large heron has a big appetite and will eat anything from insects to mice, voles, snakes, fish, frogs and baby birds.

See the chimney swift in the lower right corner?

See the chimney swift in the lower right corner?

The small river town of viola has lots of older houses and many of these houses still have old brick chimneys rising above the rooftops. For decades, these chimneys have been used by the chimney swifts as a place to build their nests. Swifts are one of the fastest of birds—the little “bows and arrows of the sky.” They build their nest of twigs, which clings to the inside wall of the chimney. They are often mistaken for swallows but their wings in flight are more bowed and they appear to have no tail.

It’s definitely tick season now. I encourage everyone to take precautions, even if you live in town. I took a picture of a tiny deer tick nymph on my thumbnail. The nymphs are sometimes hard to see or feel crawling on the skin because they are so tiny. The nymph may be very small, but its bite could change your life.

The rains came Friday night and Sunday. Nice to get some moisture on the newly planted fields and gardens, but not that much! Some folks told me they had gotten five or six inches of rain in a couple of days. Of course the river rose up over its banks and flooding closed some of the roads in the river valley.

Mama and papa crane

Mama and papa crane

I watched a pair of sandhill cranes who were slowly walking through the tall grass. I knew that they might have a chick or two with them but the grass was too tall to allow me to see them at their parent’s feet. Then, for just a few seconds, a little brown downy head peeked up through the grass. Hopefully this little one will be the first of many young cranes I’ll see in the next few weeks.

A bald eagle flew straight up the valley with a pair of red-tailed hawks on his tail. The hawks were escorting the eagle away from their nest, hidden in the branches of an oak tree high on the wooded ridge. The eagle finally took a perch in a dead pine tree a mile out of the red-tailed hawks’ territory. Seems like nobody likes an eagle flying around this time of the year.

The adult kestrel is almost all in as it feeds its chicks in the nest box

The adult kestrel is almost all in as it feeds its chicks in the nest box

The kestrel’s eggs have hatched and the adults are busy catching insects, frogs, small snakes and voles to feed their offspring. I won’t know how many hatchlings are in the nesting box until they start to appear in the hole, there are usually 4 or 5. A meadow lark perches on a highline only a couple of yards from one of the adult kestrels. He is about the same size as the small falcon, and his nest is in the tall grass at the edge of a nearby cornfield; he keeps a sharp eye on the kestrels.

There is so much going on now and so much to see if we simply keep our eyes open to the real world around us.

Naturally yours,

Dan