It seems normal that these past several days have been above freezing, an old-fashioned January thaw with temperatures flirting up to forty degrees. A light rain Friday has melted half of the ten inches of snow that were on the ground. Thursday it was so nice out that there were hardly any birds at the feeders all day. They must have decided to play in the woods and explore the valley. At night, the flying squirrels still come to the bird feeders. I’m sure the warm weather has taken off a little of the pressure to find food. The snowmelt exposed enough greenish grass for the deer to eat. I haven’t seen them around for a couple of days.
It gets cold enough at night to freeze the mud puddles in the driveway and leave a frozen crust on the snow. It crunches like egg shells under my feet. I toss the morning bird seed across the frozen snow so I can watch the birds out in the open. It’s a good way to get a better count of how many there are, especially the bluejays. When the seed was all gone by late afternoon, I dropped a few handfuls in a circle about six feet wide so I could watch the cardinals flock together. It’s a good way to photograph these beautiful winter-red birds.
January sunsets can be very nice, even when it’s completely cloudy. Steel gray clouds are laced with a blush of yellow and pink. Bare black branches of a maple tree are silhouetted against the cold January sky, a striking pose. It reminds me that a tree doesn’t have to have leaves to be beautiful.
When the January thaw comes, it’s time for the opossums to wake in their dens and venture out to find something to eat. Unfortunately, they often find themselves along the edge of the road as they look for food. While it’s a good place to find something to eat, it’s a very unsafe place to be, especially if there is a lot of traffic. In the past couple of days, I’ve seen quite a few that were too slow to get out of the way of an oncoming vehicle and have become victims of the artificial trail.
A coyote also became roadkill when he was startled by a car’s headlights while he was dining on a roadkilled deer. He thought he could out run the bright headlights. Coyotes and foxes are beginning their courtship season and are very active now. It’s one of the first signs of spring and a good time to listen for their calls of love in the night.
Seeing any animal dead along the road is a sad thing to me. It’s so unfair to lose so many lives in such an unnatural way. Even though we humans are 100% to blame for this highway carnage, we don’t seem to be able to do anything about it. On this day, I pass by several roadkilled rabbits, a couple of squirrels, a cat and a large Tom turkey that, like the others, was simply trying to get across the road.
Prairie horned larks spend most of their time in the gravel at the edge of the road in winter. They pick up tiny weed seeds and bits of grain that have blown off grain trucks. Larks are usually seen in small flocks and fly up when a car passes, only to land again at the roadside when the coast is clear. Not only are they very hardy, they are very fast on the wing. I recall seeing only one road killed horned lark in my life. They seem to be able to play chicken with the traffic and always win.
Melting snow trickles in a small shallow stream across the black top, and a group of Guinea hens inspect the flowing water. They try to drink it up in their beaks, but the water is too shallow to pick up. I pulled the car over to watch them for a while as they played in the wet road before marching off single file to their nearby farmyard. I noticed that the Guineas avoid walking in the snow and prefer the edge of the road where the snow plow has left bare ground.
The Kickapoo River is one of Nature’s trails and has snaked through the Kickapoo Valley for countless centuries. Blue-black water rushes past ice covered banks where a muskrat sits, sunning itself, while preening his dark, wet fur. When ponds and potholes freeze over, muskrats turn to the river for a place to go for a swim. I’ve seen several of them today, all taking advantage of the open water of the river.
There are a couple of reasons why pheasants come to the roadside in winter. They too are searching for bits of grain and weed seeds where the snow plow has left the ground bare. They also pick up tiny pebbles which help them digest food. Receding snow has revealed bits of grain in corn and soybean fields which the ground feeding pheasants depend on to make it through the cold winter.