As far as the weather goes, it’s hard to tell when January ended and February started. It’s been pretty much cold every day through the entire winter and a sunny day feels extra good. The early morning rays seem to bring the frosty spring-creek to life. The moving water reminds me that in spite of the cold, life goes on.
I was all bundled up and had just gone outside Wednesday morning. I thought I was out before the birds, but then a single junco chirped from a tree limb above my head. He made a gentle little twittering sound as if to say, Hey, aren’t you the guy who puts out the birdseed every morning? I’m going to miss the juncos when they leave in the early spring. They are very lovely, gentle little birds with their cute songs and tiny, pink beaks.
A red-tailed hawk didn’t have to wait for the sun to reach down into the valley. He flew high up the east-facing slope and perched in an oak tree facing the warm sun. It was below zero last night again; a stiff wind from the north must have made the hawk a little uncomfortable at his overnight roost in the valley. It’s hard to make a living here in the winter if you are a red-tailed hawk. No matter how cold it is or how deep the snow, the hawk must catch enough to eat every day just to sustain his strength. A few days without a meal in this weather could mean a chilling end to the hawk. The red-tails have proven themselves against the cold and a fit hawk should do just fine in winter weather unless they somehow become injured. Mice and voles are the main winter diet for a hungry red-tailed hawk, but it occasionally catches a pine squirrel, rat or rabbit.
I had to chuckle as I drove by the neighbor’s place this afternoon because there was a deer bedded down on the sunny side of the garage. She seemed quite content there in the warm sunshine with nobody to bother her.
The robins are still in the valley. I counted fourteen of them as they flew down to the spring for a drink. It still seems a little strange to see robins and bluebirds all winter long, but I’ve seen them each winter for the past fifteen years. A single song sparrow visited the bird feeders on Friday. This bird generally migrates south for the winter, but a few hardy souls stick it out here in the Kickapoo Valley. The song sparrow’s sweet spring song is a sign of spring that I’m looking forward to. It’s a lovely song that is followed by a trilling little ending, “ twee, twee, twee, puree, tiddlewiddlewiddlewiddle.
The rufous-sided towhee is still a winter guest, although he is very shy and seldom seen. For the most part he stayed hidden in the thick branches of a large brush pile. I didn’t see him at all for three days when the weather got very cold. I thought maybe he had succumbed to the elements. Or maybe, the resident coopers hawk had found him wandering too far from the brush pile. I should know that speculation rarely brings the right answers. The towhee was feeding on the ground with a tree sparrow on Friday morning. He’s not the easiest bird to get a picture of and always sees me when I’m sneaking around with the camera. In a flash, he flies back to the safety of the brush pile.
After eating each morning, the mourning doves fly up to a sunny branch and enjoy the sun’s warmth while they preen their feathers.
Some of the very early signs of spring are subtle and may go unnoticed. Some of the birds are starting to show the first signs of territorial aggression as they chase each other away from the bird feeders. The white-breasted nuthatches display to each other before chasing each other through the tree branches. The female downy woodpeckers are very aggressive toward each other, but only the females. It’s the same with the red-bellied woodpeckers; only the females are after each other. The male red-bellied woodpecker is a robin-sized bird with a ladder of black and white stripes climbing its back and shoulders. A wide, red patch runs up the back of his neck and over the top of his head and down to his beak. The female looks pretty much like her mate except her red band goes from the back of her neck and stops at the top of her head. The red-bellied woodpeckers gets its name from the small streak of reddish blush on its lower belly. It is not a very obvious field mark and yet they are named for it.
To my surprise the chipmunk, who should be sleeping in a warm underground den in February, was out in the snow scarfing up the bird seed. It was seven degrees and sunny but it was the first time I’ve ever seen a Chipmunk in February in the Kickapoo Valley. This year, I can’t count seeing the Chipmunk as a sign of spring because I’ve been seeing him all winter.
Now is a good time to start your daily spring walks. If you keep your ears and eyes open you can experience the coming of spring—one day at a time. When you get back home, it only takes a few moments to write down what you saw, it’s a fun way to learn more about the natural world around you.