The second week of November started with the first snowfall of the season. Itís always a little startling the first time I see everything around me covered with white. The snow came down heavily at times in large fluffy flakes, one of those snowfalls that sticks to every tree trunk, branch and pine needle. It was a beautiful prelude to winter, but it melted quickly in the autumn sun. As luck would have it, there was a full moon the night after the snow came, a perfect time for a ďmoon walkĒ.
The local Red-tailed hawk population seems to be holding its own and they can be seen perched most anywhere in this coulee landscape. An adult male Red-tail found a nice perch on a power pole down the road from the house. He was mixing some sun-bathing with some hunting as he watched the tall, brown grass below him for a Meadow vole. The breeze rustled his rusty white breast feathers. His dark eyes told me he was three to four years-old; they will turn almost black as he gets older. His feet and cere (beak) were rich yellow, and he looked healthy and happy. He was a beautiful example of his kind.
Red-tailed hawks may live 10 years or more if they can make it through the crucial first year. Most of the young first-year hawks here have moved south for the winter. Unfortunately, only about 30 percent of them see their first birthday. There are so many potentially fatal barriers that young hawks and eagles must encounter. Millions of birds die each year from some sort of conflict with human society: agricultural poisons, cars, guns, glass windows and power lines. Weíve turned the natural landscape into an artificial deathtrap for wildlife to suit our own ways.
The great, white-headed eagle has already caught his breakfast, a nice sucker fish from a dark pool in the Kickapoo River. I donít remember ever seeing so many Bald eagles in the area. They have become a common sight for anyone who drives down these country roads. Today, I had to take a 20 mile drive through the coulees to a town downriver. I counted thirteen different eagles on the trip down and five others on a different route home.
These days I see them all up and down the river valley and many have been nesting in the area. Itís a testament to the clean water and healthy land that the eagles depend on for their survival. The majority of the Bald eagles Iíve seen in the area are adults, as are most of the Red-tailed hawks.
The marsh pond is dead calm and reflects the brown reeds, cattails and the tops of the tall White pine trees at the edge of the marsh. Itís a simple, serene image in the moment.
Sunlight catches the subtle colors of a tall grass meadow along the west fork of the Kickapoo River. Autumn colors come together here in a palette of brown, yellow, gold, beige and blue. The meadowís fall colors will fade soon and be covered slowly in white. It will be eight long months before itís lush and green again. The land changes with the turning of the seasons in a circle with no beginning and no end.
In the dry grass at my feet, two spotted feathers from a Downy woodpecker have fallen next to each other. They are secondary wing feathers, and itís a mystery why there are two. I wonder if maybe a Cooperís hawk snatched the unsuspecting woodpecker out of the air and left only two feathers. Itís only speculation, but I can see it happening in my mindís eye. Itís fun to be a hindsight detective when taking a walk down Natureís Trail.
A large patch of sumac has grown up in the old fence line. Itís a favorite place for a Cottontail rabbit to sit tight in the morning sun. Sheís been hiding there all summer, covered by the thick green grass and leaves. Now there isnít as much cover, and she can easily be spotted in the brown grass. Her large, round, dark eyes always give her away, and, often, I see them before I see the rabbit.
A little Downy woodpecker came to the suet feeder this afternoon. There are white-spotted feathers at his flanks, just like the feathers I found this morning.
I hope your adjustment to the seasonís changes is smooth and painless.
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