Most of the leaves have fallen off the high bush cranberry, exposing bunches of juicy red berries. When the cranberry bush is covered with lush leaves, it's hard to spot a bird in the thick foliage. However, now that the leaves are gone, I had no trouble counting the 11 Cedar waxwings who were eagerly plucking red berries. As luck would have it, I had a small pair of binoculars in my jacket pocket. I've learned that to get a full appreciation of how beautiful a wild bird is, you need to see them up close. The binoculars allowed me to see the birds' feather patterns and colors that may otherwise go unnoticed. The waxwings are a good example of a bird whose full beauty needs to be seen close up. Often that realization brings inspiration.
I've been enjoying the little flying squirrels that come to the window feeder for bird seed every night. They are animals of the night, and their large, round black eyes enable them to see quite well even on the darkest nights. It takes them about a half hour to eat the seed they want, and I can quietly watch them, only inches away from the window.
I saw the Great blue heron standing at the edge of a trout stream. A skillful hunter, the heron patiently stalks, and then like lighting, strikes into the water to catch the slippery fish. Now that the frogs, snakes and large insects are gone, the heron resorts to catching mostly fish. If opportunity comes in the form of a crawfish or field vole, the big heron finds them tasty as well. Rarely do I see a Great blue heron here after the holidays, but the heron may stay as long as there is open water with catchable fish. Most of the Blue herons move south before the ice comes, but a few will linger behind, if the fishing is good. The other master fisherman is the much smaller Kingfisher. The cold weather doesn't bother these hardy little fish-eating birds. As long as there's a place in the river or stream that doesn't freeze over, the kingfisher may be seen perched above. There are usually a few Kingfishers that spend the whole winter here in the Kickapoo Valley.
I watched a large adult Bald eagle soaring in circles about the Kickapoo River just outside of town (La Farge) this morning. She was being closely watched by a large Red-tailed hawk, flying only a few yards above. The resident hawk, no doubt, didn't care much for the eagle invading her territory. Finally the Bald eagle rose higher and drifted off to the south, and the Red-tailed hawk went back to her sunny perch in an oak tree.
The trees are only skeletons of what they were just a few weeks ago. The landscape is leafless now, with odd patches of dark green from White pines and cedars. The most obvious birds to be seen are the crows, who never seem content to stay in one place. The owls sing in the autumn moonlight, while a Deer mouse rustles the dry leaves. The moles continue their endless digging and a possum patrols the side of the road for anything edible. In echoes of Halloween, the coyotes howl to the moon, while flying squirrels come trick-or-treating at the bird feeders.
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