Some of the early wildflowers have appeared and are standing out among the dried brown leaves. They often show up where there isn’t any green around them and they have no place to hide. The little bees who pollinate them won’t have any trouble seeing them. Before the early morning sun hits the hillside, the flowers have their petals closed. The pretty hepatica flowers will show their flower faces when the sun finally hits them. The lovely white petals of the Bloodroot are also closed until the sun’s warm rays touch them.
I’ve noticed more Kingfishers in the area lately. I’m sure many of them are just passing through on migration. They are one of the most strange and unusual birds I know. Their blue-gray plumage and huge crest gives them a wild look, and don’t forget the long sharp bill that looks too big for them to handle. He looks bigger than he really is and his feet seem too small for his body. The Kingfisher spends his time perched on a tree branch, power line or bridge rail, as he watches the water below for small fish, crawfish and the like. He dives head first into the water and catches his meal in his bill, then flies back to his perch to swallow it, head first. When he flies he always gives out a loud rattling call, almost as though he is laughing with joy.
Rarely do I ever get the chance to get close enough to get a decent photo of them. They are shy by nature and they always know to keep a safe distance from people, until today. This morning, while driving slowly along a gravel valley road, I spotted a male Kingfisher sitting on the rail of an old one-lane bridge. I was quite surprised when he let me drive to within twenty feet of him then just sat there while I took his picture. It was a rare moment for me, not having ever gotten that close to one of these interesting birds before.
The Turkey vultures have returned and it’s not unusual to see eight or ten of them soaring circles in the sky together. Vultures are Nature’s clean up crew, so they glide over the land searching for carrion—they make their living on the dead. They are often mistaken for eagles because of their huge dark wings, but they look more like a turkey when standing on the ground.
Not far from where I saw the Kingfisher, I saw another rare bird. The little Vesper Sparrow was perched on a barbed wire fence that surrounds a hundred acres of grassland—the perfect setting for this sparrow who, because of habitat loss, has become a rare sight in the Kickapoo Valley.Like many other grassland birds who once lived here in the summer, the Vesper Sparrow is having a harder time finding compatible habitat.
The pasture along the river road was partially flooded by the recent rains. This is where I spotted a pair of Greater Yellowlegs—tall sandpipers—wading in the new short grass. They are slim gray sandpipers, their backs checkered with gray, black and white, with bright yellow legs. They spend their summers in Canada and Alaska but often stop here on their journey north in the spring and south in the early fall.Actually, many of the different sandpipers that spend the summer in the far north have raised their families and migrate south again by the end of July.
Each morning and evening I’m greeted by the lovely song of a Song Sparrow. A famous rendition of the song is, Maids, maids, maids, put on your tea kettle-ettle-ettle. The Song Sparrow is a busy little bird, nervously inquisitive as he searches the ground for food in the brush at the edge of the woods. He’s a brown sparrow with darker streaks down his back, and a white breast streaked with brown and a large dark brown spot in the center of his breast.
Also showing up in the yard this week were two beautiful male towhees. The Rufous-sided Towhee is named for a wide strip of chestnut brown on their flanks between their black wings and white breast. They were once known as Red-eyed Towhees because of their dark red eyes, a nice touch to already striking bird. His song is on the of easiest to recognize—a rhyme that sticks in your head—chit-tow-heeeee or drink-your-tea! Towhees are mysterious birds who usually stay hidden in the underbrush, but they might be seen well after dark when all you see of them is a bright flash of their white wing patches and white tail feathers. In the dark, he looks like a white whirly-gig flying through the night.
I saw a new bird this morning—a diving bird known as the Pie-billed Grebe. He is more related to a loon than a duck, and swims under water better than he does on top. When I was a boy they were known as Water Witches because of their ability to disappear under water and magically appear a great distance away. When danger is near, they can swim with only their head out of the water.
It was snowing at first light this morning and continued until mid-day. I’ve been telling folks not to put their snow shovels away yet because we’re gonna get some white stuff. It was quite pretty actually, about three inches of very wet sticky snow that rekindled my memories of January. The wood stove kept me comfortable while I looked out the window at a little Tree Sparrow in the snow. I know that next week could be more like summer than winter—we will see.
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