Blue Crocus

moon phase Week of 04/22/2013 Best days to plant flowers.

First Crocus First Crocus And so it persists, this weather that seems as much like winter as it does spring. There was only one day of sunshine this week, but it felt oh-so-good and I was able to get a lot of outside work done. As if to defy the rain and snow flurries, the first pretty blue crocus of the season appeared. There was still no sign of the 100 new daffodils I planted last fall. They haven't even broken through the ground yet.

Thin Doe Thin Doe Monday, I watched a doe at the edge of the meadow as she moved through the brown grass searching for something green to eat. Her thin, gaunt body told the story of how tough it had been to make a living the past two months.

The pasture north of the house is still a long way from being green enough to turn the cattle out on it. The trout stream that flows down the middle of the pasture has had little use by fly fisherman this spring. It's been too cold and windy except for the most hardy anglers. Osprey Osprey There was only one fisherman along the stream on Monday, and he searched for the elusive trout from above the moving water. This special fisherman was an osprey that hovered high above the water as he flew into the wind. Sometimes called "fish eagles," the osprey is an expert at being able to enter the water feet first and fly up with a slippery fish in its talons, although I didn't see it catch anything on this day. The only time I see these fine fishermen is when they pass through the Kickapoo Valley on their spring and fall migration.

Coots Coots A flock of about thirty black American coots have landed on a flooded marsh pond just off the river. Their white beaks clash with their black feathers and they are all clones of each other. I'm not sure what it is they are eating, but they are busy diving under the water for something. My eye catches a small, robin-sized bird in the shallows near the edge of the pond. It's been many years since I last saw one of these small shore birds known as Wilson's phalaropes.  Wilson's Phalarope Wilson's Phalarope The busy little bird I was watching was a female. Unusually among birds, female phalaropes are much more colorful than the males in the spring. The one I saw was only nine inches long with a black face and neck stripe bleeding into cinnamon. It's always a treat to see a bird that doesn't come around very often. I think about all she had seen as she made her way north after spending the winter in Argentina. The last time I saw a Wilson's phalarope I didn't have a camera, but I was able to get a few photos of the one on Tuesday.

Bald Eagle Bald Eagle I watched a kettle of ten turkey vultures as they soared in large circles over the ridge. Then I noticed that there was a larger bird soaring around with them. Of course I wondered what kind of large soaring bird was bigger than vultures and would be flying with them. It was a large, immature bald eagle enjoying its time in the sky with the vultures, at least until a single crow came out of the woods and started to dive bomb the eagle. The crow paid no attention to the vultures. It saw the eagle as a threat to its nesting territory and had to give the eagle a rough time. It was amazing to me how small the crow was compared to the huge eagle.

Pretty Male Wood Duck Pretty Male Wood Duck Pretty wood ducks hang out in small groups of three or four, and I usually see them alongside the river road where the river flooded over into a grove of tall soft maple trees. I counted a total of twenty-four wood ducks hanging out there on Thursday, most of them brightly colored males. I suspect that many of the female wood ducks are already incubating a clutch of eggs in a hidden nest somewhere in a hole in a tree. I'm not sure why, but there seem to be more wood ducks in the area this spring.

Brown Thrasher Brown Thrasher There were snow flurries on Thursday, but the snow melted almost as soon as it touched the ground. It wasn't the kind of day to do any garden work, so I thought I'd do some spring house cleaning. Glancing out the window from time to time to see who was at the bird feeders, I noticed a few juncos still hanging around. They were kicking in the dead leaves, searching for seeds and insects like they always do. Then I saw a larger brown bird doing the same things as the juncos. The beautiful brown thrasher seemed to be out of place among the winter birds, but I guess it fits right in with what April is all about: a little of what's left of winter and a little of the summer to come, both taking the day as it comes to them.

A little sunshine on Saturday meant a lot of raking followed by some sore joints, but it was a satisfying kind of pain. I felt fine on Sunday and ready to go back outside and finish what I had started but it started to snow. By noon the ground was covered with an inch of wet snow. So much for raking!

Naturally yours,

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Rhonda mills from from Martinsville, VA,+Blue+Ridge+foothills on April 24, 2013 at 04:22:45 PM
I heard my first whippoorwill in 40 years here in southern Va last night. What a thrill
Dan Hazlett at Organic Valley

Dear Rhonda,

I can only imagine how the song of a whippoorwill must have lifted your heart after all those years. If I hadn't heard one for 40 years, I'm sure it would bring tears to my eyes and a big toothy grin. They are beginning to get very scarce here in SW Wisconsin, and I fear for their existence. There are many more deer than there used to be, and the introduction of wild turkeys has put a lot of pressure on the ground nesting birds including the whippoorwill. 

I hope the whippoorwill sings for you all Summer. I'm sure you wouldn't mind that.

Thank you for sharing your discovery with me. I'm looking forward to hearing the first one here. Good to hear from you, Rhonda.

Naturally yours,

Ardelle from from La Crosse, WI on April 24, 2013 at 01:57:10 PM
Observant bird watchers walking through the marsh in the middle of La Crosse recently have been delighted to see baby Great Horned owls sitting watching all the curious folks. Momma was watching carefully nearby. What a treat - a BIG pair of eyes surrounded by light gray down. There are also eagle aeries, Canadian geese scolding walkers getting too close to their nests. Beavers, otters and muskrats are also busy. I'm sure they are all happy to have their water level replenished since it was very dry into the winter.
Dan Hazlett at Organic Valley

Dear Ardelle,

You are seeing the same Spring happenings that I've been seeing. It just proves, that in spite of the cold, damp Spring, there is still a lot to enjoy when you're outside. By the time the young owls are at the branching stage, they are pretty much full-grown, with the exception of their feathers.Your description of them was perfect. I could just envision them looking back at you. Once they start flying, they will follow the adults around all summer as they beg for food - "Reeep, Reeep."

Thank you for the great update on what's going on in La Crosse. Happy Spring to you Ardelle.

Naturally yours,

Sarah from from Central Maine on April 24, 2013 at 11:39:30 AM
A lot of your wild animal and bird photos, could just as easily have been taken near our home. We have 114 acres with 2 natural spring streams and lots of forest. We keep animal and wildlife feeders out year round in our yard, adjacent to our small orchard of fruit trees. We have had a family of deer (Mom and 2 of her offspring from last year) coming to them. Some of them are supplementing a little, with whole dried corn. I watched them in the moonlight, over 2 nights this week. Ahhhhhh! <3 We also have 2 old Early Mac trees, which are several hundred feet from the house. Wild Turkeys gather there in Spring (<3) and many animals (including Whitetail Deer) enjoy those sweet apples in season.
Dan Hazlett at Organic Valley

Dear Sarah,

Sounds like you have the perfect place for being close to nature - your own personal wildlife refuge. I'll bet there's a new discovery every day this time of year, and maybe even several a day.  I hope you keep a journal.  It's fun to go back through your notes to see how your land is evolving.

I don't blame the deer for visiting the old McIntosh trees. They are my all-time favorite apple, and I'll bet the deer think so, too.

Thank you so much for the delightful update from central Maine, Sarah. Hope all your spring days are filled with beauty and wonder.

Naturally yours,

Rx: Nature
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