Sandhill cranes in the grass preen and hunt

Sandhill cranes in the grass preen and hunt

The pair of adult sandhill cranes stalked on long black legs, searching the short-grass hayfield for grasshoppers and crickets. They frequently speared into the grass with their ten-inch beaks to secure and swallow their early morning breakfast. Occasionally they may happen upon an unsuspecting frog or snake that in an instant would go down the crane’s long throat as easily as the bugs. This is the time of summer when the hunting is good and there are lots for the cranes to eat. It should have been a good summer for the new cranes of the season but unfortunately there are none. There just isn’t a young sandhill crane to see in this part of the Kickapoo Valley. I’ve seen nine pairs of adult cranes in the area, all without young and it’s the first time in memory that I haven’t gotten a single photo of a young flightless crane. The reason for their absence is still a mystery to me but I think it is linked to the mystery of the unpredictable weather and change of seasons. The pair seemed quite content without any young to rear as they stood peacefully preening their feathers in the morning sun. Their life goes on as they live in and for the moment.

The sunlight draws a bright line across the eastern ridge top and the shadows grow long on the west side of the valley in late afternoon. It’s a good time to take a few pictures of the prairie meadow while still in full bloom. There is a big beautiful show of yellow cone flowers and daisies this year and a nice spattering of bergamot in between.

 

Doe and fawn watch me take their picture

Doe and fawn watch me take their picture

As I walk slowly through the grass and flowers I come to a small depression in the grass where a fawn had bedded down. I instinctively look around me in hopes that I might get a glimpse of the small deer. Like a ghost from out of no-where, the doe appears 60 feet away, at the edge of the woods. She doesn’t seem to be alarmed that I’m there; after all, she sees me every day and knows who I am. I talk to her in a calm voice and she perks her ears and twitches them to shoo the pesky flies away. As I turn from her I look up to see a fawn come bounding across in front of me through the wild flowers. He didn’t appear to have any fear as he skipped along and occasionally kicked up his heels like a lamb. I got an even better look at him when he spotted me and made a couple of quick leaps in my direction. Then he quickly changed directions and instead of running up to his mother, he ran a couple of wide circles around me before stopping to look straight at me. I was surprised to see how small he was—maybe 5 or 6 weeks old and his spots were very easy to see against his cinnamon coat. His big ears and huge black eyes seemed almost too large for his head but he was so cute I had to laugh. I talked to the little fawn while he stood watching me then I turned and walked away from him. A few seconds later he was up to his Mother. I’m so glad that the deer show no fear of me, they make such wonderful neighbors.

I’m watching for butterflies as I stroll slowly along but they are few and far between, which seems strange considering how many flowers are in bloom. As luck would have it, a large dark butterfly flutters by and lights on a small patch of bare ground next to me. Oh, a lovely red-spotted purple. It was almost as though he came to pose for me before fluttering off on his merry way. He’s the first of his kind I’ve seen this year and I look around for others but there are no more. Then, I spot a large yellow butterfly sailing over some purple coneflowers about 25 yards away. I cautiously try to sneak up on the beautiful yellow tiger swallowtail before he flies off. Last year, these large butterflies seemed to be everywhere, but I’ve seen very few of them this summer. Like the red-spotted purple, he was the only one of his kind that I saw in the meadow on this day.

 

Fritilary

The most numerous of the large butterflies that I’ve seen this summer are the striking orange fritillary. There are a few of them around each day but I really expected to see a lot more of them now that the meadow is in bloom. Most all of the butterflies in the area are non-migratory butterflies, which means that they are born here. The lovely orange and black monarchs are the exception. They may be born here but migrate south for the winter. The prolonged cold this spring no doubt kept theses regal butterflies from coming this far north. I will keep my hopes alive that they will return next spring if the seasonal timing is back to normal.

The nights have been strangely cool the past couple of weeks with the temperatures dropping into the forties. The usual warm nights can bring the calls of the crickets—one of my favorite musical choruses of the summer. There has been very little in the way of cricket songs in the valley this year but I’m hoping that if August is more like August, the chorus will yet come.

Naturally Yours

Dan