Under a lowering sun, Canada Geese head south for the winter

Under a lowering sun, Canada Geese head south for the winter

It’s the first day of October and a beautiful summer-like day it is, with blue skies and bright Sunshine. The autumn colors have yet to reach the halfway point of their full splendor. It takes the help of old Jack Frost and his chilling crisp touch which turns green to gold.

Could this be our Indian summer? Maybe so, but it doesn’t seem like we’ve really had autumn yet. There is a strange vibe in the air, an odd feeling and a deep sense that something isn’t right, something I just can’t quite put a finger on. I’ve had that feeling for many years but it grew more intense around the second or third week of August. A very peculiar thing happened then; ninety percent of all the birds in the valley left. I’d never seen this before in August and had nothing to compare it with. Not only did all the summer birds leave, (the grosbeaks, catbirds, orioles, thrushes, flycatchers and so on), but most all of the resident (year round) birds left as well, cardinals, chickadees, downy, hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers. What few birds that were left rarely were seen at the bird feeders. Even most of the Blue Jays left, some thirty of them. It’s been two months since I’ve had to buy birdseed where normally the birds go through fifty pounds of black sunflower seeds every two weeks, all year round. It takes a fair amount of wild song birds to go through that much seed. Today, I divided out a gallon of seed at four different platform feeders and didn’t see a single bird at any of them all day. Why did all the birds leave? I may never understand, but to me it feels very significant and a strange change indeed. The squirrels don’t come around anymore either. There are always squirrels here, some 15-20 gray squirrels and six fox squirrels live in my valley year round but for the first time in 15 years I haven’t seen one of these squirrels for over a month. It’s very strange – where did they go and why? There are only a couple of chipmunks around and occasionally a flying squirrel shows up at a window feeder at night.

There is more than plenty for the birds to eat, lots of seeds, fruit and insects for migrating birds to choose from. I’m still waiting for the large flocks of finches to arrive like they always do when the wild sunflowers go to seed.

 

Beavers are still busy in the valley

Beavers are still busy in the valley

My walk today took me down along the west fork of the Kickapoo River. A killdeer called his name as he flew up in front of me. He kept calling as he flew a circle around me then lit on some rocks along the river bank behind me. There are many signs that the beavers are busy preparing for winter. I noticed a few large popple trees that have been felled by the beavers, and many of the small limbs were chewed off and carried away in the river. I wasn’t lucky enough to see a beaver but I felt they were nearby.

Lots of bluebirds passing through now, their subtle whistles always turns my head. From high above come the excited calls of the Canada Geese as they pass over. Ever since I was a boy, I’ve always felt a little urge from deep inside that tells me to fly off with them.

 

Like a painting, sunrise in the valley is often spectacular

Like a painting, sunrise in the valley is often spectacular

Wednesday’s sunrise was a beautiful sight, but of course it lasted for only a few minutes. There’s nothing like a sunrise to start a new day and a sunset will give you peace in the evening. After my morning walk, I stopped to take a picture of the old school-house that I call home. It may be the last picture while things are still green; there is frost in the forecast.

There are quite a few red-winged blackbirds moving through today, most of them in flocks of 50 to 100. I think they are moving ahead of a front that is supposed to bring some rain and cooler temps. I rarely see flocks of migrating blackbirds of more than two or three hundred in a flock. They just don’t come through the Kickapoo Valley in the big number like they did 20-30 years ago when flocks of thousands were a common sight in the fall.

 

A young male red-tailed hawk lands nearby

A young male red-tailed hawk lands nearby

I’ve been seeing a few young red-tailed hawks in the area lately. They are known as “passage hawks,” young hawks making their first passage south for the winter. These immature red-tailed hawks are only slightly different from the adults in their appearance. The most conspicuous difference is they have brown tail feathers rather than the red tail feathers of the adults. A young red-tailed hawk has dark chocolate spots over the breast and flanks, and his eyes are lemon yellow.

A great blue heron lands in a shallow backwater; it’s a good place to find frogs and tadpoles. With luck the large heron while stick around until the pond freezes over in a month or so.

 

Beautiful stiff gentians light up my fall walk

Beautiful stiff gentians light up my fall walk

Thought I’d better get a picture of the pretty little stiff gentians while they are still blooming. They are only about a foot tall but add so much to the autumn color in the prairie. I wanted to walk on further toward the far end of the meadow but the rumble of thunder and a dark ominous cloud encouraged me to turn back to the house before I got soaking wet.

Naturally Yours,

Dan