It was the first week of November and still the weather was nice to us—a little cooler, with one night dropping into the high teens, but it warmed up into the forties during the day. More rain would be nice. I know the water table is low when the ponds and backwaters in the river valley begin to dry up. It will be four or five more weeks before it’s cold enough to freeze the ground, so for now the soil is loose, earthy and cool to the touch. In fact, there are still a few signs of new life pushing up through the ground. Several small stinkhorn mushrooms had popped up just off the path to the house and were attracting a few flies; one of them let me take his picture.
It’s late autumn, but just because it’s a little colder and quieter, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot going on out there. Now that the leaves are gone, odds are better to spot a hawk, owl or eagle in the trees—or even the dark silhouettes of turkeys perched in treetops. Tuesday morning I noticed several wild turkeys gliding down through the woods with their large, strong wings spread as they touched down on the sunny side of the valley. They looked fine and fit as fiddles. They were probably glad to be in the warm sun.
Each night at twilight comes the sounds of tiny feet, scratching as they scamper across the window feeder. Even the cardinals have gone to bed, so I know it’s not bird’s feet I hear. As it turns out, the little flying squirrels have been coming to the feeders a little earlier each night since it started getting colder. These little pixies of the squirrel family are always fun to watch. The first thing you notice is how quick they are; really they’re like little flashes of lightening. They are small packages of pure energy and are just blurs as they scurry up and down the tree trunks. They are mostly nocturnal, and their large, dark eyes give them excellent nighttime vision. I’ve counted five different flying squirrels that come to the bird feeders. I think they are a family.
Wednesday morning I pulled off the river road to watch mysterious activity on a marsh pond. I was about eighty yards away but I could plainly see three dark animals swimming half-submerged in large circles on the pond. They appeared to be larger than muskrats and were under water as much as they were above, moving fast through the water. Ah, must be beavers, I thought, as I tried to get a decent picture. It took several tries with the camera before I got a picture that identified them from the tail to the nose: otters! They sure seemed to be having a good time playing games the way only otters can, but then again, maybe these were games of love.
The great blue heron stood motionless in the bright green duckweed at the edge of the pond. It’s November so hunting can’t be very good, now that the frogs and snakes are gone, but the heron must be catching something to eat or he wouldn’t be there. Some of the more hardy herons may stick around until well after the water freezes. Some years I’ve seen them in Wisconsin into late December.
A pair of bald eagles enjoyed the morning sunshine on their lofty perch overlooking the valley. The female (on the left) noticeably larger than her mate, as is the case with most birds of prey. They looked so peaceful and content! I would love to be an eagle for just one day.
There’s not been much talk regarding the kind of winter we will have this winter. I think it’s because nobody really knows what to expect anymore. Regardless of what the weather brings, life goes on and it’s always going on all around us. All we need to do is watch and listen. The blue jays sounded the alarm this morning and I looked up just in time to get a glimpse of a fast hawk zipping past the window. In an instant she snapped up a tufted titmouse in her talons and lit on a log. She stood quietly on her prey with her head raised high, looking all around with her intense yellow-eyed glare. She’s a first year bird, born last spring and will wear her brown plumage through the winter. As a juvenile she will probably migrate further south where the weather is warmer and food is easier to come by. The mobbing blue jays didn’t seem to bother her—she knew they didn’t dare get too close. After about thirty seconds she flew off through the woods with her breakfast snugly tucked up under her. The titmouse gave up his life so the Cooper’s hawk might return in the spring.
The landscape was so beautiful this fall that I’m finding it a little hard to let it go. I hope you enjoy a few final snap-shots of autumn.