Another couple inches of snow came to the Kickapoo Valley on Thursday afternoon. It was just enough to freshen up the four or five inches from the other day and just enough to bring the snowplows out. The roads were clear for my trip to town on Friday and of course I took the camera. I wanted to take in the wintery view from up on the ridge so I took the high ground to town. I live in the valley and itís nice to be able to see the horizon once in a while, any time of the year.
Itís only the first week of December and the landscape is in its full winter bloom and it wouldnít surprise me if it stays this way until spring. The wild birds are few and far between and most of them gather in flocks for the winter. Large flocks of fifty or more juncos occasionally fly up from the roadside as I pass by. I canít remember when Iíve seen more juncos in a winter. They are the birds I donít see all summer, then they seem to be everywhere. They know that even though itís cold and the ground is covered with snow, itís still better than spending the winter further north.
I notice another flock of birds all sitting close together on the top of a siloópigeons. Every farm once had a flock of pigeons living around the barn and outbuildings but there arenít so many these days. For one thing there are fewer farmers than there used to be, which means less pigeon habitat. Besides having shelter in a barn or shed, there is lots of loose grain to find in the feedlots. Like Bert, thereís always been a special place in my heart for pigeons because of their gentle, peaceful ways. I respect their sense of close community.
I slowed down as I came over a knoll and several small birds ran along the edge of the road in front of me. There were no trees or shrubs here, but there were birds. At first I though they were Prairie horned larks. They are not an uncommon sight along a winter road where there is no cover. By the time I stopped, I could see at least twenty birds at the side of the roadótoo many for larks. When they flew I could see the white wing patches that told me they were Snow buntings in their winter plumage. In the summer, when they are breeding up in the artic, their plumage is snow-white. In the winter they take on a browner look and from a distance they can be mistaken for Prairie horned larks. A flock of Snow buntings on the wing are a beautiful sight to see, especially if it is a large flock. Iíve seen a thousand in a single long, close-knit flock and it looked like a great white wave against the gray winter sky.
A single little Tree sparrow perched in the lilac bush next to the driveway and was kind enough to let me take his picture. He showed up this morning after last nightís winter storm left eight to ten inches of wind-blown snow. Iím usually out before sun-up with the snow shovel to clear the feeders and fill them with seed for the birds. I always clear a couple of patches of ground for the birds who prefer being grounded. The juncos, Mourning doves, and the little Tree sparrows all like to pick their seed off the ground.
The storm came from the north on the cold winds that blew thirty to forty miles per hour and covered the Kickapoo Valley in a blanket of white. The wind-driven snow appeared to have been thrown against the hills as though by a huge hand tossing white flour. In some places, the white seemed to permeate everythingóevery twig on every tree and shrub and every needle on every pine and cedar tree.
In early May I am always taken back by how beautiful the pasture meadow is with its tall new grass and meandering stream. In the summer, the pasture is home for the cattle, who give the land a sense of peace and comfort. Now in December, the grazing cattle have gone and the meadow takes on a new and totally different beauty. A perfect blanket of deep white snow covers the land and creeps up to the very edge of the dark water stream. Once again, Iím in awe of how naturally lovely this simple piece of land truly is.
It always gets cold after a winter storm and todayís temperature barely rises above zero, even though the wind has ceased and the sun shines bright in the cloudless blue skies. Itís a good morning to bundle up and go for a walk in the new snow. Iím anxious to see what new tracks were made in the fresh snow after the storm ended. There hasnít been much stirring, and the only track I saw were those of three deer who crossed the valley before daybreak. Then I spotted some good-sized tracks that came out of the creek and into the snow for a little way, then back into the water again. Just as I was wondering who made these tracks I noticed a large ice-covered ball of fur in the water at the edge of the creek. A raccoon was so busy searching behind a large rock that he didnít notice me. His back and tail were covered with frozen snow but he didnít seem to mind. Iím sure the cold-water creek felt warmer than the frigid air and the coon was only intent on finding something to eat. When I cleared my throat, he suddenly stopped what hew as doing and looked up at me but didnít run. When I walked off through the snow, Mr. Raccoon went back to looking for his breakfast.
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