Red skies in morning, sailor...

Red skies in morning, sailor…

The weather was pretty nice this past week. It gave me a chance to be outside. It was just cold enough so that I had to wear some warm gloves, a jacket and a hat. It’s a little strange to be outside when there’s not much to listen to. The occasional call from a crow or Jay may be the only birds I hear. Occasionally I may hear the loud “wik, wik, wik, “of a pileated woodpecker calling from the wooded valley. I tried, (as I always do), to spot him as he flew through the woods but I only caught a few glimpses. It was only a couple of months ago that the valley would be alive with the songs of the birds, but for now I’ll just have to listen a little closer to the world around me. Nature’s voice is there, just not so sonorous.

I was outside, splitting some firewood Monday morning, enjoying the sun on my face and getting some things done. The loud clambering of geese always gets my attention and I looked up as a flock of about a hundred Canada geese flew over my head. I could feel the excitement in their calls and I watched as they drifted off to the north. That’s when my eyes spotted something in the hanging branches of a weeping Willow Tree. At about a hundred yards away, the object looked like a gray shoe but it turned out to be the nest of a Baltimore oriole. Until recently, the nest had been hidden by a dense cover of willow leaves. The oriole has gone for the winter, but left behind a nice reminder that he was here last summer.

The female cardinal always builds the nest without help from the male.

The female cardinal always builds the nest without help from the male.

I took a little stroll around the yard and spotted several other summer bird nests that stuck out in the bare branches and bushes. There were a robin’s nest in an oak tree and two different stick nests in separate apple trees that were built by the cardinals. Or should I say cardinal, singular? It’s the female cardinal that builds the nest without any assistance from her mate. The nests remind me that now there are only four cardinals coming to the bird feeders. Last winter there were as many as 45 at one time. It’s going to be a quiet winter, but I’m already looking forward to that spring whistle.

A tiny nest in the branches of a lilac bush was built by a pair of chipping sparrows who’d kept me company while doing garden work all summer. The lilac bush is right next to the garden but I didn’t see the little cup-sized nest until now.

The bald-faced paper wasp nest has come apart.

The bald-faced paper wasp nest has come apart.

There were a few nests that were in different stages of falling apart. Only a few sticks remained on a cedar bough, all that is left of a nest that was built by a pair of cuddly mourning doves. I was able to watch them raise their young in that nest last summer and I hope they are among the eight doves who are still here in December. Not far away, the remains of a bald-faced paper wasp nest hangs from a high limb. The woodpeckers have had their way with the volleyball-sized paper nest, leaving the wasps’ inner handy-work exposed. I saw these large black and white wasps all summer but I never was able to spot their nest until now.

Sometimes the sunrise in the Kickapoo Valley is so beautiful that I must capture the moment with the camera. It’s nice to have a visual record of a beautiful sunrise, but the spiritual moment will always be recorded in my heart. It was a good day and it ended with a sunset that would rival today’s sunrise in beauty and motivation. The snowless December landscape at mid-day is a peaceful picture of natural beauty and reminds me of the reason I’m living here.

There are about a dozen English sparrows who visit the birdfeeders each day. With so few birds visiting now, any bird is a welcome sight. They don’t seem to spend the night here even though they are welcome to spend the night in the old open shed.

The rufous-sided towhee takes advantage of sunflower seeds fallen from the bird feeder

The rufous-sided towhee takes advantage of sunflower seeds fallen from the bird feeder

I knew there was a rufus-sided towhee around because I heard his familiar two-note song, “chi-wink”. Then there he was, on the ground under the bird feeder Friday morning. He was eating sunflower seeds off the ground but didn’t venture too far from the safety of a nearby brush pile. There has been a single towhee visiting the feeders for four out of the past five years, before that I don’t recall ever seeing one here in the winter.

The deer-hunting season is over. Monday morning a pretty doe appeared in the yard. She had been drawn to the sweet scent of apples under the apple tree. I always wonder how soon I’ll see a Deer after the shooting ends. Some years it takes weeks. A fancy fat fox squirrel returned to the bird feeders today. I hadn’t seen one here since August and was still wondering where they went off to. It was a cold morning but he didn’t seem to mind. If his red-orange coat is as warm as it looks, I’m sure he’s just fine. When the little chipmunk saw the fox squirrel coming, he made a dash for the brush pile. I still find it strange to see chipmunks the first week of December.

Naturally Yours,

Dan