Like a school of small fish, the Cedar waxwings stay close to each other as they fly overhead. They glide through the air like fish through water and the flock of thirty becomes one. Their high-pitched but gentle whistles are what made me look up at the sky. Waxwings are very communal birds, almost always staying together in close-knit flocks. They may or may not spend the winter here searching for their favorite food—cedar berries.
The fall colors have peaked here in the Kickapoo Valley. The dry leaves have steadily been tumbling down since the hard frost nearly two weeks ago. I’ve always thought that an early frost will add more color to the trees—they turn colors quickly but it may not last as long. Each year I try to take in as much of autumn’s colorful show as I can because I know that before long the landscape will be leafless and brown.
I’m up early each morning before light. If I want to see the sunrise, it means taking a walk to the end of the valley to see the horizon as the sun first appears. These walks at dawn are never in vain; I’ve never seen a bad sunrise. I love the way that night slowly evolves into day and the sun slowly turns up the volume of another morning.
Autumn sunsets are another good reason to take a walk to the end of the road. Sunsets are best if enjoyed outdoors and taken in by all your senses. Feel the last of the day’s warmth on your face and the cool night air creeping up your back. Hear the day’s last song of the Robin or Bluebird and the night’s first call of an owl. Smell the fresh cool scent of twilight…breathe deeply.
Today a handsome Fox sparrow paid me a visit. He, too, likes the free handout of sunflower seeds, but like some of the other migrating sparrows, he prefers to find his food on the ground. I always sprinkle a little seed on the ground where I can watch the ground-feeding sparrows. The Fox sparrow is a little larger than most other sparrows, and his cinnamon brown plumage with a heavily spotted, dark chocolate breast makes him a real eye catcher.
A solitary Kingfisher perches on a high line above the trout stream. He patiently waits for a minnow to swim by, when he will dive headfirst into the stream and catch his prey. It’s an amazing feat rivaled by few other hunters. The Kingfisher uses his long bill to grab the minnow under the water, then flies back to his perch where he swallows the minnow. With a very large head and bill for his small body, and feet too small for he rest of him, the Kingfisher has somehow reached a strange sense of balance. His rattling laugh, as he flies over the stream, can be mistaken for no other. They are loners—most often seen all alone on a lofty perch above the water. They are very hardy birds and will spend the winter here as long as there is a place to go fishing that isn’t covered by ice.
Yes, there is a lot going on in the skies above and all around us as the seasons change. What I saw this morning was at my feet. While carrying an armload of firewood to the house, I noticed something dark and furry at my feet—a ground mole. He was half in and half out of his earthy tunnel and didn’t notice me. He was still busy at his digging when I returned from the house with the camera. I had trouble lifting him up for a photo. It’s no wonder he can make such extensive long burrows in the lawn! With those two very large, shovel hands, digging is what he does to make a living. Worms and other insects who fall into the mole’s tunnel are quickly found by his sensitive nose and promptly eaten. Ground moles can be nine inches long and they can dig half-mile tunnels they patrol constantly. When the freeze comes and the ground gets too hard for digging, the mole burrows down under the frost line following his favorite meal—earthworms.
The local Canada geese are enjoying the sunny days and life is good for them. They may stay until late November as long as they have enough to eat. They are very good at gleaning the picked corn and soy bean fields. They also like to have some open water—harder to find after the freeze comes around the tenth of December.
On Saturday morning an old familiar sound made me grab my camera and dash out the door. Sure enough, flying high above me was a flock of Snow and Blue geese. Their high-pitched calls were something I hadn’t heard in many years here in the Kickapoo Valley. These beautiful white geese are smaller than their cousins, the Canadian geese, and are a rare sight these days. Fifty years ago they commonly migrated through southern Wisconsin in the spring and fall. For reasons unknown to me, they seem to have changed their migration routes and rarely pass this way. I couldn’t get the camera focused on them before they disappeared over the ridge, but I’ll be listening for others.
Fresh new muskrat houses are popping up in the area ponds and sloughs. The muskrats know that it’s going to get freezing cold soon and a nice warm house will get them trough the winter.
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