A red-tailed hawk, spooked off a roadkill raccoon, sits on the highway  guardrail

A red-tailed hawk, spooked off a roadkill raccoon, sits on the highway guard rail

Sure feels good to know that March is behind us and April is starting out on the right foot. The temperature rose to 63° on the last day of the month and for the first time since last September I let the fire go out in the wood stove. It hasn’t been that warm since, and I’m still carrying firewood to the house, just not so much; the worst is behind us.

The woodchucks enjoy a warm(er) spring day

The woodchucks enjoy a warm(er) spring day

The ground is still too wet to do any yard or garden work, but I found lots of other things to do outside on such a beautiful day. It felt so good to be free from the weight of all those winter coats, gloves, boots and so on. I mended a couple of old birdhouses and put them out where the bluebirds would be sure to find them. Then I picked up sticks in the yard for a couple of hours before taking a break in the sun to listen to the spring birds. The woodchucks were out from under the brush pile taking advantage of the nice weather. There doesn’t seem to be anything for them to eat—no green plants at all—and yet they don’t really seem to be looking for anything edible. I had an apple in my pocket so I cut it up in thick slices and scattered them on the ground near the brush pile. Five minutes later the woodchucks were back out and sniffing around. I thought sure they would devour the apples but all they did was sniff the juicy slices, and never took a single bite! A lone chipmunk also checked out the apple slices, but he wasn’t interested in eating them either.

Waterfowl take advantage of the first open water of spring

Waterfowl take advantage of the first open water of spring

The ponds, potholes and backwaters in the river valley are thawing, and some migrant waterfowl are taking advantage of the open water. You never know what you might see bobbing up and down on the waves this time of year. Birds that you see in the Kickapoo Valley only in the spring are showing up. Some ring-billed gulls stand on the ice near the open water and next to them (in the water), a beautiful male common merganser dives for food and appears on the surface ten yards from where he started. A muskrat swims by then he, too, dives under the water to resurface thirty yards away. It must feel good to have their swimming pool back again.

A common sight in Wisconsin in spring, a red-tailed hawk feeds on a roadkill raccoon on the highway

A common sight in Wisconsin in spring, a red-tailed hawk feeds on a roadkill raccoon on the highway

This is the time of year that the number of road kills start to climb as skunks, opossums and raccoons are out searching for a quick meal along the roadsides. This morning I came around a curve in the road and there was a dead raccoon in the middle of the road. He was one of several I’d seen in that position in the past couple of days, but there was something special about this coon because there was a red-tailed hawk standing on top of him. Apparently the hawk saw the opportunity for a free meal, but his choice of a place to dine was not so good. The red-tailed hawk stayed on top of the raccoon as I stopped at the side of the road. I knew it wasn’t a safe place for him to be so I honked the horn and he jumped to the guard rail just off the road. I had to get out of the car to get him to leave; I guess he was pretty hungry. Before I left the scene, I deposited the coon several yards away from the road where the hawk could eat safely. I am grateful that it was me who came upon the hawk in the road; it could have ended badly if someone else came along who was driving too fast.

Ah, watercress! Spring can't be far behind

Ah, watercress! Spring can’t be far behind

It’s always kind of a rush when I spot that first patch of something green. Today it came to me from a nice patch of bright green watercress just below the spring at the far end of the meadow. It’s a little late coming on this year but that fresh snappy taste was well worth the extra wait. It’s a real springtime wake-up call to these old taste buds.

The pair of red-tailed hawks who have been adding sticks to their nest must be finished building because the female is now on the nest keeping her eggs warm. She really blends in with the nest but you can see her if you look closely.

So far the spring of 2014 is off to a good start and I’m very optimistic about the outcome.

I thought I would spend just a few minutes watching the old eagles nest from about 200 yards away, and my timing couldn’t have been better. The female’s head was all I could see and I thought all was well in the nest, but just as I was about to leave, I heard the high-pitched tweeter of the male eagle as he approached the nest tree. He spread his huge wings and landed on a branch above the nest and she called back to him, “kleek-kik-ik-ik.” He then flew to the upper branches of a nearby tree and called back to her, prompting her to fly from the nest to join him on his lofty perch. He left his branch just as she arrived, and flew straight to the nest where he quickly settled down on the eggs. It’s his turn to take over the incubation duties for a while. Now she is free to relax in the sun and preen her feathers. It’s always fun to see this exchange of responsibility between these two magnificent birds of prey. Their bond is strong and their mutual goal is to raise a beautiful family of young eagles. I’m constantly reminded each spring of what the power of love can accomplish. Here are some pictures of the “eagle changing of the guard.”

The female eagle awaits on the nest

The female eagle awaits on the nest

Male eagle lands on a branch above and calls to female

Male eagle lands on a branch above and calls to female

Female eagle flies to him from nest

Female eagle flies to him from nest

 

Male eagle gives up his branch to the female...

Male eagle gives up his branch to the female…

...and he takes over the egg-sitting duties for the next several hours

…and he takes over the egg-sitting duties for the next several hours

Naturally yours,

Dan