Just before sunrise, the Kickapoo River Valley is truly a place of peaceful beauty. Heavy fog rises from the lush green landscape and dew-covered river bottoms. Itís one of my favorite places to be each morning, because thereís no better way to watch the day unfold. The morning fog seems to say ďrelax before you warm up for another busy day.Ē
The loud call of a yellow-shafted flicker drifts up from the river valley willows, ďwick-wick-wick-wick.Ē Itís a call Iíve heard a little more of this summer. The call of the male flicker was one of the first birds whose calls I learned to identify when I was a boy. I thought I was getting a picture of him, but when I looked closer at the photo, he turned out to be a she. He called again from the willows and she flew off to join him by the river. Often I see these beautiful woodpeckers on the ground as they search for their favorite food: ants.
Thereís been lots of activity at the bird feeders, and itís only going to pick up as the new fledglings begin to appear. Tuesday morning the young house finches started showing up, following their parents wherever they go. It takes them only a few days before they can crack open the sunflowers seeds by themselves, but for now, they flutter their wings and beg their parents to feed them. Three or four begging young birds can cause quite a racket, even if they are small. They always get my attention.
Blackbirds may not be the most colorful bird in the yard, but theyíre beautiful just the same. The male red-winged blackbird comes to the feeders a few times a day, and he doesnít seem to mind all the other birds around him. He picks through the sunflower seed, collecting bits and pieces of seed in his beak, then flies back to his nest to feed the young ones.
Believe it or not there are two different pairs of rufous-sided towhees but I havenít seen a female yet this year. They are very secretive. Itís rare to see them until the young are hatched. They have a well-hidden nest out there somewhere, but only they know where it is. If you look closely, you can see the male towheeís beautiful, dark blood-red eye. His famous songódrink-your-tea!óis seldom heard now that the courtship season has ended. I hear him singing from the edge of the woods in the early morning and late afternoon. Itís one of my favorite songs of summer.
A catbird occasionally comes along and perches off to the side of the bird feeders. He doesnít care much for sunflower seeds. He just likes to sit there and meow like a cat. Always on the lookout for something interesting to do, he finally flies away toward the creek. For the first time since Iíve lived in this valley, I havenít seen the catbirdís cousins, the brown thrasher. Theyíve always been here in the summer, but thereís no sign of them this year.
Cliff swallows took up residence under the eaves of the metal shed where the township stores its trucks and tractors. I think they are in the process of laying eggs in their fancy, cone-shaped mud nests. The female swallows peek out from inside the nestís entrance. The male catches insects, then flies up to the nest and gives them to his waiting mate. It will take about 16 days for the eggs to hatch and another couple of weeks before the little swallows fledge. Till then, the swallows will be on the wing all day catching flying insects to feed their four or five hungry babies.
Wednesday morning I glanced out the window while doing dishes. There, in plain view, was a doe nursing her fawn at the edge of the yard. It couldnít have been a prettier picture. The fawn was less than a week old but had no trouble finding the breakfast table. I watched them for about five minutes before the doe raised her head abruptly and dashed to the edge of the woods, her fawn at her side. She ran swiftly, but the fawn had no trouble keeping up as they disappeared into the woods.
Thereís always a lot of talk about deer ticks this time of year, and Iíve been seeing quite a few where I live. The bad part is that you usually donít see them until theyíve found you. I generally can feel an adult tick when sheís crawling up my leg or arm and I can get it off before she bites me. Come the first of June, the deer tick nymphs begin to appear and they are very, VERY small. They are so small that you canít feel them crawling on you, which makes them very dangerous. This is the time of year to use the prescribed precautions. Thereís lots of information on the web about how to avoid the bites of deer ticks. If you think you may have been bitten, donít mess around. Go see your doctor.
Itís been a pretty good year for butterflies. Several varieties visit the yard and gardens. Itís good to see a fair amount of monarch butterflies this year, and I wasnít surprised to see a couple of their beautiful striped caterpillars eating milkweed leaves in the flower garden. It makes me feel good to know they are using the plants Iíve provided for them.
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