I can’t complain; the weather has been pretty decent for the month of January. The week had seen temperatures in the teens at night and mid-to-high twenties during the day. The sunshine was welcomed, and it gave way to bright, twinkling stars and a Cheshire cat moon. It felt almost like spring on Saturday with a warm sun and 48 degrees. The wind picked up and started to howl after sunset, sending small branches to the ground and garbage cans rolling. Within a couple of hours the temperature dropped to ten degrees, and the melted snow puddles froze solid. The mercury dropped to fifteen-below-zero overnight and it felt suddenly more like January than March.
In spite of the cold, the very first signs of spring can be heard in the Kickapoo Valley, as the coyotes and red foxes begin their courtship season. The howling and yipping by the coyotes can be heard every night now. Their excited songs are passed on from valley to valley. The more subtle barking of the foxes is heard by only those who are listening for it. I’ll keep my eyes and ears open for them—sure would be sweet to catch a red fox in the camera’s lens.
Another courtship call can be heard in the evenings as pairs of great horned owls sing their love songs to each other. They are the first birds to start their seasonal love songs in Wisconsin, and they have chicks as early as February. If you want to hear the owls singing their songs, this is the best time of the year to listen. The horned owls will be less vocal once their eggs are laid, but the two adult owls will resume hooting to each other often after the eggs hatch.
These are the very first signs that Spring is on the way. I guess nature says it’s okay to “think spring.”
The icefalls are forming where tiny streams of water flow from limestone outcroppings. They are some of my favorite natural, winter art forms—common sights in the Kickapoo Valley.
A white-tailed yearling deer at the edge of the woods kept her head to the ground, sniffing out anything that smelled edible. I doubt she weighs 80 pounds—small for her age. She is notably smaller than most of the yearlings I’ve seen this year. Other than her size, she looks in good shape, in spite of having lost her mother to the recent hunting season. If the weather is kind to her, she should make it through the winter.
Whenever the temperature is above thirty degrees, one is apt to see an opossum out searching for food. Opossum don’t have a real thick, warm coat of fur to keep them warm like other winter animals. Their ears and tails are completely hairless, and are at the mercy of the freezing temperatures, so when it’s bitter cold, they hole-up to keep warm. The lucky little yearling opossum that I saw on Friday had discovered a dead turkey and was eating as much as he could hold. He was a very small fella, and I doubt if he weighed three pounds, but he looked to be in good shape—his tail and ears hadn’t even been frost bitten. As long as he’s able to find food when it warms up, he should be just fine.
The local pair of red-tailed hawks have been hanging out in this small valley more often lately. I enjoy seeing these large hawks fly over the house, and it will be about a month before they get in a courtship mood.
That little black gray squirrel still comes to the bird feeder every morning. I think his home turf is quite a distance from here, because I only see him for about an hour before he’s gone until the next day. I saw one of the tiny flying squirrels at the window feeder last night. They’re so cute with those big, round black eyes that help them see in the dark night.
I haven’t noticed anything that may indicate the gray squirrels have “spring fever,” but I expect they will start showing more interest in each other in the next week or two. On the other hand, I watched a pair of fox squirrels playing some love games—nothing too serious, just a little chasing after each other. It was a warm, sunny morning and these two were feeling their oats, but the next morning was below zero and the fox squirrels were too busy eating to think about each other.
I got a nice picture of a white-breasted nuthatch while he clung to the tree trunk, waiting for a turn at the suet feeder. I got an even better look at a female cardinal, but sadly, it was because she was dead on the gravel driveway next to my car. It was a nice day yesterday, so I washed some outside windows on the house, and the car windows as well. I felt pretty good about having clean, shiny windows for a change, until I found the dead cardinal later. She apparently flew into the window, seeing the reflection of the trees in the glass. I felt some guilt the rest of the day, and I thought that the least I could do is show everyone how beautiful she is close up. I’m always reminded of where our good intentions often lead us.