Few birds are as lovely as the orange and black Baltimore Oriole

Few birds are as lovely as the orange and black Baltimore Oriole

It was a big week for migrating spring birds. They were coming through in all shape, size, color and song varieties. It was a good week to see warblers, thrushes, thrashers, whippoorwills, white-crowned sparrows, tanagers and hummingbirds. Last year I saw only a few orioles in the yard in the spring and this spring they just kept coming and peaked on Friday with twenty five in the yard at once. There are a dozen still hanging around for the orange halves I put out for them, and they have been visiting the suet feeders a lot. I think they use the suet feeder because there still aren’t many insects to eat; some warmer weather could turn that around.

I know it's spring when the bluebells and morels suddenly appear in the valleys

I know it’s spring when the bluebells and morels suddenly appear in the valleys

The grassy pastures have turned to a lush green, and many of the local farmers have turned their livestock out to eat the nutritious new grass. It won’t be long before we’ll taste Organic Valley Pasture Butter again. It’s what I want on my morel mushrooms and new asparagus. Truer words were never uttered: anything good is better with butter.

I haven’t found any mushrooms yet, but there are some happy hikers who have found some of the little gray ones. I’ve been getting my spring tonic on a regular basis from the very tasty young nettles and dandelion greens, my ritual each spring.

My two favorite soft-shelled turtles were out of the water again, lying together on the river bank enjoying the warm sun. I believe these turtles have a pretty good life. Not only do they have everything they need, they also have each other.

A great white American egret made a splashy visit to the Kickapoo Valley last week

A great white American egret made a splashy visit to the Kickapoo Valley last week

The tall white bird standing at the edge of the marsh was hard to miss; after all, he is stark white and nearly 5 feet tall. The great white American egret was stalking frogs in the shallow water. We don’t see them that often here in the Kickapoo River valley and it’s always a treat to see a great egret.

The muskrats that live on the marsh pond are busy taking care of their new families and enjoying all the fresh new green things to eat. Never far from the safety of the water, they go on with the everyday business of being a muskrat. This morning I watched a muskrat as he crossed a gravel road to get to the river on the other side.  A sharp-eyed guinea hen spotted him from a nearby farmyard and wasted no time chasing the furry water rat into the river.

The gorgeous house wren in its gray and brown spring plumage

The gorgeous house wren in its gray and brown spring plumage

Several of the little house wrens are back, but they seem to be rather quiet so far this spring. That’s unusual for these tiny birds, which are known for their big voices. I put up a couple of extra wren houses a few weeks ago but so far there are no takers; still a little early.

The mama woodchuck has appeared from her den under the brush pile. She has been a rare sight lately—caring for her babies in the den; her babies must now be big enough to leave alone. She spends a little time finding something green to eat. Her favorite food this time of the year is the new tender shoots of the cow parsnip. The young woodchucks should grow quickly in their nice warm den under the brush pile, and appear in about two weeks.

The turkey vultures are no strangers to my small valley. I see them several times a day as they glide along over the tree tops. I was a bit surprised to see one of them perched on the top of a bluebird house in the middle of the meadow. He sat there just looking around for half an hour before finally spreading his huge black wings and sailing away.

Garlic mustard threatens to take over the woodland floor if we don't change our roadside mowing habit

Garlic mustard threatens to take over the woodland floor if we don’t change our roadside mowing habit

Garlic mustard is quickly becoming the scourge of the Kickapoo Valley. This nasty invasive is spread from area to area by the workers who do the roadside mowing. It’s a big problem that is only going to get bigger if we allow these troubling mowing practices to continue. Any and all native plant species are at risk of being crowded out by garlic mustard, which would have a dramatic effect on the future of all plant, animal and insect life. It’s very important to know what kinds of plants are growing on your property and how to either sustain or eliminate them. Watercress is a pretty (and tasty!) green plant that’s also a non-native. It, too, can cause problems to the healthy diversity of a fresh water stream, pond or spring. Once it has taken over it is very hard to get rid of.

A mama robin has built her mud and grass nest deep within the thick leafless branches of a bush. When the branches are completely covered by leaves, her nest will be totally hidden from view, making a safe home for the baby robins.

It’s mid-May and leaf-out has yet to happen, which is normal for our area. The lilac flowers are only tiny purple buds on the ends of the branches. The Virginia blue bells are blooming along the wooded river bottoms and are among the most beautiful spring sights. Finally, there is a place for the hummingbirds and bees to collect some nectar.

There was a lite frost covering the grass on Wednesday morning and the outside thermometer read 30°. A little fire in the woodstove still feels pretty good in early morning. Taking the chill out of the house in the morning is something we valley folks do until the first of June; it’s just part of life here in the Kickapoo Valley.

The tiny deer tick packs quite a punch, so be sure to take precautions

The tiny deer tick packs quite a punch, so be sure to take precautions

Hope everyone is finding time to go outside and enjoy the spring with all its glorious wonders. But don’t forget to guard against ticks! A little tick spray around your ankles, waist, wrists and collar can prevent a lot of grief caused by these tiny, nasty hitchhikers.

Naturally yours,

Dan