Sometimes it’s hard to believe the changes that come about during the month of April. Only a little more than a week ago, the ground was covered with snow. There’s a light rain today and the thermometer hit sixty degrees. The best part of the warm-up is that I can almost see the countryside turning GREEN. The Virginia blue bells have jumped up out of the ground and there is a lot of local chatter about the promise of morel mushrooms by the end of the week. I think we are finally over the hump and spring is here to stay. How do I know this? A red-winged blackbird told me so.
The female sandhill crane also believes that summer is just around the corner as she sits tight on her nest atop an old muskrat house. Her mate, like many other male cranes in the area, will wait patiently in the wings for his turn to keep the two spotted eggs warm.
Again, I was in the right place at the right time when I spotted a mound of new yellow sand at the base of a rock outcropping. A den had recently been dug under the lime rock, and I noticed three little red fox faces peering out at me. I stood perfectly still for a while and then the three kits came out to have a better look at me. It was good to know that the adult foxes made it through the harsh winter and are raising such a fine-looking family. It looks like the little foxes have a nice, warm, dry place to live, but if the mother fox doesn’t feel it’s a safe place any longer, she will move them to another den. That is why it’s important not to get too close to the fox den or any other place where there are young animals and birds.
I saw the season’s first cliff swallow on Monday, but I couldn’t get a picture of him as he darted through the air above a hay-field. That means that there must be flying insects to eat and the swallows are the supreme experts at catching tiny flying insects. The little phoebe is the other fly-catcher who arrives early in the spring. The swallows are dependent on insects, the same goes for most nesting songbirds. Because of the long extended cool spring a year ago, there weren’t enough insects when the young birds needed them. The result was a terrible nesting year for most birds in the area. In a perfect world, there is an insect hatch at the same time the baby birds hatch. I have a feeling there is a better chance of seeing more fledgling birds this summer in the Kickapoo Valley area, so far so good.
Several pretty, white-throated sparrows showed up in the yard Tuesday morning. They have a song that I have remembered since I was a young boy. The bird’s whistling song reminds me of the phrase I was told describes it, “Oh, poor Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody.”
I don’t know of any osprey nesting in the Kickapoo Valley but they occasionally follow the Kickapoo River during migration season in the spring and fall. I spotted one of these magnificent fish-eaters perched on a branch over a trout stream this morning. The water below him formed a nice deep pool, a good place to go fishing for a sucker or a trout. The osprey will dive talons-first into the water to catch his prey, and he’s pretty good at it. It’s no wonder his feathers are waterproof; after all, he heats lots of oily fish.
The frog music is in full pitch with several kinds of frogs all singing out together—one of spring’s special treats for the ears. By all means pull over safely, roll down the car window and listen to the most beautiful spring chorus of all, the frogs’ music.
The great blue heron knows that the frogs are out. I watched several this week as they stalked through the shallow waters of the marsh.
No fire in the wood stove today and it feels good to have the door open to a warm breeze. The scratching sound I heard came from inside the wood stove; this usually means that a bat has found his way down the chimney. I put on a leather glove and slowly opened the stove door but instead of a little brown bat I found a timid, little flying squirrel. I quickly caught the lost squirrel inside the stove, then let him go outside. Time to put that new cap on the chimney I guess.
It’s been a good spring for watching waterfowl. Some are more colorful than others but all of them are quite striking in their own way. American coots are mostly black, but their ivory white bills are a perfect contrast and their bright red eyes give them a fancy touch. Out in the open water, but not too far from the coots, a single pie-billed grebe dives under the surface to search the bottom for food. These little divers are related to the coots, a smaller cousin you might say. They are about the size of a bantam chicken and tend to be more solitary than their larger cousins.
Up on the pastured riverbank, a yellow-shafted flicker has found her favorite breakfast. One at a time she snatches up black ants in the short new grass. I could see it was a female because she lacked the extra red slash or mustache that the male has. Watch for the flash of white at the rump when they fly away from you.
It was a nice day Thursday and everybody was busy outside, including a muskrat that was swimming over the pond. Later he came back across the pond but this time he had a mouthful of greenish brown cattail stems in his mouth. He must have been adding on to his house. Like the muskrat, the woodchuck is busy, too. It’s a good day for her to gather dry leaves by the mouth-full, taking them down her earthen burrow to line the nest for her newborn babies. It’s a sign that I can expect to see baby woodchucks in a couple of weeks.
There is so much going on right under our noses—so, so much to experience and so much to learn.