The week started with a sunny day and the first fleeting whistles of a male cardinal. At times there may be 25 male cardinals in the yard, but that day the first spring song came from only one of them.
The male's spring song is a distinctive loud clear whistle: wheat-wheat-wheat-wheat, what-cheer, what-cheer, what-cheer, what-cheer! It may be one of the first bird songs a child learns to identify. That call may be the one that compels a youngster to follow the path down Nature's trial. I didn't hear the cardinal's song the rest of the week, probably because the weather turned very unspring-like. It got very cold for a few days, below zero cold, and when it warmed up into the twenties, we got five inches of snow. I guess it wasn't much to sing about if you're a cardinal in love.
I really didn't notice many signs of spring this week in the Kickapoo Valley, but some of my readers did. From Tennessee, Jan told me to keep an eye out for sandhill cranes because she saw them passing through the area where she lives. Jan said there were several flocks moving north, totaling some 500 cranes. There were also many reports of folks in southern Wisconsin who had seen a robin. That always gets people to start keeping their eyes open for that first red-breasted harbinger of spring.
A brisk wind blew snow across the road as I drove along the ridge road. It was a wet snow, so I had to keep the wipers going, making it a little harder to watch for any signs of life on the landscape. I wasn't really expecting to see much in that weather, but I can't help keeping an eye out for, say, a hawk or some horned larks. I was thinking I should just stay focused on getting home ahead of the snow storm when I saw them scattered along the side of the road: eight plump bobwhite quail. I knew what they were the instant I spotted them, even though I hadn't seen any in the area for some five years. It was a safe place to pull over and I was able to snap a few quick pictures. Sometimes when you least expect it, you see something profound.
Twenty years ago, I could still hear the sweet whistle of a male bobwhite quail in the evenings. They've been on the decline since then, and I rarely ever see or hear one these days. The male quail has a white throat and cheek with a white streak above his eye. The female quail has the same markings, except hers are beige. The eight quail looked very busy as they searched for bits of grain or weed seeds at the edge of the road. It's gotta be tough for them when the snow gets deep, since they are ground feeders. I remember seeing coveys of 30 or more bobwhite quail huddled together in a small, compact circle. They would ride out a snow storm or spend the night this way. It's been a long time since I've seen this once common sight. Hope you like the photos, they are the first I've taken of bobwhite quail in 15 years and who knows when I'll get another chance.
I photographed a large opossum as he wandered across the deep snow Saturday afternoon. His strange, pink feet kicked up snow behind him as he waddled along. The tip of his tail had been frozen off, and I didn't get a good enough look at his ears to see any frost damage. He looked pretty fat, happy and healthy otherwise. His kind spend most of their time sleeping through the winter months and only come out to search for food when the temperature is 30 degrees or warmer. If you happen to see some little star-shaped foot prints in the fresh now, they're probably made by an opossum.
Along the edge of the river banks, where the water meets the ice, I could see where a beaver had left a path in the snow. The beaver had chewed off a few branches of a small boxelder tree. I was quick enough with the camera to get a picture of him as he slid off the ice and into the river. I waited for him to reappear but never saw him again. Beavers are very shy for the most part and I'm rarely lucky to see them let alone get a picture of them, but I keep trying. The Kickapoo River looked cold and lifeless, but there's always something interesting to see if you look closely, even in winter.
Little black-capped chickadees are some of my closest neighbors. They greet me as I come out the door and often follow me around the yard. They know I keep sunflower seeds in my coat pocket and, if they're patient, I'll share some with them. Whenever I have a little mood attitude, I step outside and let my friends the chickadees cheer me up. They're always in a good mood.
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Thank you for the news from Madtown (thatís what we called it when I went to school there). I remember checking out those ponds for water fowl in the early spring, but not regularly. Iíve heard that a few folks have been seeing sandhill cranes in southern Wisconson for the past couple of weeks. Itís always a thrill to see those first cranes, isnít it? Iím still looking forward to seeing the first ones here in the Kickapoo Valley. Any day now.
Many of the birds that migrate through Wisconson always seem to stop for a week or two in the far southern part of the state before going further. Thank you for the heads up. Iíll keep my ears peeled.Spring peepers? Really? Wow! I think the earliest Iíve ever heard them here is the 24th of March, but usually around the first or second week of April. Thatís a big spring event. I canít wait to hear them. I havenít heard a killdeer yet, either, but when I look around at all the snow, it doesnít surprise me. There will be some big changes here in the next week or two.
Thank you for your wonderful springtime observations, Joanne. Much appreciated.
I love to hear about folks who see our summer birds where they live in the winter. We used to call them myrtle warblers, but yellow rumped makes sense when you see them. I have to admit, though, the name myrtle just seems to go well with the word warbler. Sounds like they are starting to stage together in flocks, getting ready to go north.
Thanks for the good info, Ben. Think spring!
I was wondering if there were wintering robins down Kansas/Missouri way. Now I know. I saw robins here all through the winter, too, but not as many as in the past five years. Still hard to get used to. They are very hardy and resourceful, but rarely come to the bird feeders. In fact, Iíve never seen one at my feeders in over 50 years, but Iíve heard it happens. They prefer to eat weed seeds, dried grapes and berries and their favorite winter food is sumac berries.
Guess Iím not surprised to hear about the new baby bunnies. I expect theyíll be born about mid-March here and out hopping around by the first week of April. Itís not winter to them, itís spring! Dontí worry. Mom will take care of those baby bunnies.
Glad you liked the quail. Pretty, arenít they?
Really good to hear from, Jean.
Thatís the largest flock Iíve heard of this spring. What fun. Keep your eyes out for more, Rhonda. Theyíre on their way. Isnít it nice to see spring coming?
Thanks for letting me know that you save the best for last. Sounds like Down Natureís Trail is like dessert for you. Do it last so you can savor it. The first robin of spring, and I can almost see the beautiful flowers on that magnolia tree. It will be awhile yet.
I enjoyed your nice letter, Gaylynnee. Thank you.
The Bob-white quail touched a lot of hearts and brought up a lot of fond memories. I guess the enthusiasm comes with a love for the things I write about. Just comes naturally. Thatís how love is.
Good to hear from you, Deb.
Thanks for the nice country memories, Ardelle. Sometimes our fondest memories are of these things that are the simplest. This is a good time for a winter campout. Not too cold, but frosty. Itís a good way to get Naturally grounded.
Thanks again for writing, Ardelle.