Another beautiful week here in the Kickapoo Valley, but it was a little sad to see June pass by. I loved every part of those June days from the cool foggy mornings to the often colorful sunsets. Sometimes the whole valley seems cast in a golden hue just before sunset. It’s like the sunshine settles into the valley and covers everything in a yellow gold mist. Monday evening, I could see storm clouds building to the south and, as the sun set, the huge rolling clouds turned yellow. It was definitely a sunset you would want a picture of.
The turtle I spotted in the gravel road stuck out like a sore thumb—even from a hundred yards in front of me. To my pleasant surprise, the turtle I was going to help across the road was a rare Blanding’s turtle. He was the first of his kind I’ve seen this summer, so I thought I should check him out a little closer before heading him in the right direction, off the opposite side of the road. Blanding’s turtles prefer a fresh water habitat and a clean environment. They have a roundish shell, almost like that of a box turtle, but they can grow somewhat larger. Small, yellowish spots decorate their dark shell and their throat is a dark, rich yellow. These beautiful turtles were once a common sight here in the Kickapoo Valley but are rarely seen these days. The lack of a healthy habitat no doubt has something to do with their declining numbers.
A green heron wades through the duckweed near the shallow edge of the marsh pond. He stalks slowly in search of his breakfast; this is a good place to find frogs, tadpoles and insects. There is a good chance that he is also trying to catch breakfast for some young herons that are still in their nest. I once watched a green heron catch 30 minnows from a shallow (16 inch diameter) pan of water in less than 10 minutes. He didn’t have any more trouble catching the last minnow than he did the first one. He strikes so fast with his sharp beak that you see only a blur. He usually gets what he’s after. Green herons are not as conspicuous as their much larger cousins, Great Blue Herons, so they aren’t noticed nearly as often. An adult Green Heron is roughly the size of a crow, which it may be mistaken for in flight.
There are still lots of young birds coming to the bird feeders and many of them are still begging their parents to feed them. It pleases me to know that many of the wild birds have been successful at raising new families this summer. This morning I watched the first fledgling chickadee as it was fed sunflower seeds by one of its parents. The ravenous youngster was anything but patient as he waited about thirty seconds for his parent to pry out a single seed from the black shell. I wondered how many more of those seeds would have to be cracked open to satisfy the young bird’s hunger. I watched and counted, but only got up to ten before the phone rang. Well I still don’t know how many seeds the youngster got from his parent but I think it was as much a session in how to open the seeds as anything. The youngsters quickly catch on to how to do it themselves and are kind of on their own after only a day or two. Young chickadees look pretty much like their parents; when they stand side-by-side, you would have a hard time telling who was who.
I counted more than eighty young cliff swallows lined up on a power line near a bridge. These young swallows were raised in a mud nest built under the bridge over the river. Tens of thousands of cliff swallows are raised each summer in the Kickapoo Valley, thanks to the many bridges that cross the Kickapoo River.
The pair of barn swallows who built their mud nest up under the eve of my house are happy parents of three or four wide-mouthed babies. I love to watch the swallows fly across the blue sky above me. In a week or so there will be three or four more. I can always distinguish the male barn swallow, because it is the one with the longer, forked tail.
The sandhill crane family is doing fine and their baby is now half-grown. Although he is still covered with down he has learned how to catch much of what he eats. The cranes spent their morning in a fresh-cut hayfield, a good place to find grasshoppers and crickets now that the grass is gone. The young crane was so busy snapping up insects that he hardly ever looked up.
It’s been a beautiful green June and I wish it would last forever but I’m sure looking forward to July, August and September. The Kickapoo landscape is as lush and green as it will get. It’s been on the buggy side so far this summer. The black flies seem to reappear about every other week, and this week they were pretty nasty again. But the summer breeze helps to keep them away. I have done quite a bit of gardening in spite of the bugs.