Itís the second week of December and all seems quite normal. There isnít any snow on the ground yet, but that isnít unusual for December. Itís been cold enough at night to freeze the ground a little, which always happens about now. Everything is right on time.
Winter in general has been pretty normal so far, except for one thing: bluebirds! Iíve been seeing bluebirds in the area nearly every day, and it still seems kinda strange to me. This is the fifth straight year Iíve seen bluebirds in December. In the past few years, I kept seeing them all winter. Iíve seen a few robins that may also decide to wait out the winter here in the Kickapoo Valley. Both bluebirds and robins are members of the family of birds known as thrushes that, historically, all migrate south for the winter. Fifty years ago, when I first started recording my bird sightings, it was rare to see either of these birds in southern Wisconsin in the winter.
In the summer, bluebirds are happy little songsters whose diets consist mostly of insects. In the winter, they turn to eating wild seed, dried grapes, berries and their favorite food, sumac berries. The robins eat pretty much the same stuff and are also seen hanging around the sumac bushes. Iíve seen so many changes in wild bird populations in my lifetime, many of which I could never have predicted. For instance, I never dreamed that bluebirds would be a common sight here in winter.
It got pretty cold for a few days at mid-week, but was back up in the low forties by the weekend. Thursday night the old thermometer dropped to four above, and it felt like it. It was plenty cold enough to put a couple of inches of frost into the ground and on area ponds. I planted a few tulip bulbs a week ago before the ground froze hard, and had dug the few remaining gladiola bulbs just in time. There were plans to put in a couple of new wooden clothesline poles this fall, but I never got around to it. Iíll have to wait until late April to do any digging but thatís okay. Iíll have all winter to think about it. Besides, there always seems to be quite enough digging in the snow to keep me busy.
The ice covered most of the ponds and potholes in the area, except for a few larger ones that had a little open water in the middle. Several flocks of Canada geese gathered at the open water to form one big flock. Some stood in the water and some stood on the edge of the ice in the morning sun. Some preened their feathers and some bathed in the open water. They were safe in the middle of the pond. These geese may stay in the area as long as there isnít a lot of snow to cover their food source in the picked cornfields. They may also leave if it gets cold enough to freeze all the water sources, including the river. If thereís enough food for them and it doesnít get too cold, they could spend the whole winter here.
I was very surprised to spot some other animals out on the ice: people! Three ice fishermen had chopped shallow holes in the ice of a backwater off the river. I was surprised the two-day ice would hold them, yet there they were, wetting a line for bluegills. The ice will have to get a lot thicker before I would dare to walk on it. Iíve always known that there are certain people who would do most anything to go fishing, but they should draw the line at risking their lives. Anyway, Iím sure it made for a good fishing story.
The apples that are kept in cool storage are holding up pretty well. With luck, they should last through February. Theyíre getting soft and a little wrinkled, but they are very sweet and as tasty as they were when I picked them. I eat three or four a day and there always seems to be a small apple in my coat pocket. Those apples that have passed their prime are sorted and tossed outside for the rabbits.
I took a walk in the light of the full moon Saturday night. It was a beautiful, bright evening, and I kinda wished there was a little snow on the ground to intensify the shadows. In spite of the snowless landscape, itís always fun to take a walk when the moon is full.
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