The annual groundhog watch on February 2nd was uneventful at my house - no groundhogs seen. The temperature rose to 30 degrees, but it still was not nearly warm enough to lure them out of hibernation. I was surprised, though, to find fresh tracks from an opossum near the barn. The star-shaped tracks led over to the compost pile, where he had dug through the snow in search of some bits of vegetable that were edible. When temperatures rise above freezing, the possum's hunger pains wake him and he goes out in search of food. If he stays out too long when it's below 32 degrees, he risks freezing his hairless ears and tail. Most of the adult opossums in this neck of the woods have frozen their ears and tails at one time or another.
Although there is fresh snow on the ground and the landscape is a true winter wonderland, I feel a touch of spring in the air. Maybe it's because there are a couple of chickadees singing their spring song. A tufted titmouse also sings its own cheery song, joining the chickadees to acknowledge their spring feeling. This morning, they have discovered the red tops of the sumac and are picking out the seeds inside.
Up the road there is a larger patch of sumac, where some 30 black crows are busy eating the seeds that they find inside the dark red tops. Even when everything is completely covered with snow, there are always the seeds of the sumac. Most of the winter birds here will eat sumac seeds, including turkeys, starlings, and woodpeckers.
While in town, later in the day, I spotted three fat robins that were eating the dried fruit hanging from a crabapple tree. They no doubt have decided to spend the winter here, and appear to being doing just fine. They too will eat the seeds of sumac when the snows come.
Monday night brought more snow - now a total of six inches - and by Tuesday morning the temperature was back down near zero. It was far too cold to find any possum tracks in the snow that day.
A pair of red-tailed hawks sailed together across the valley. They cried out their territorial calls when they spotted me shoveling snow. Soon the will start their courtship and begin adding sticks to their large stick nest high up in an oak tree. They too know that spring is just around the corner.
Cattle congregate around a large round bale of hay. They spread the hay over the ground as they feed, attracting house sparrows that scurry around the ground picking up tiny hayseeds. Two small prairie horned larks also take advantage of this new food source. These beautiful little birds of the prairies are some of the earliest birds to nest in southern Wisconsin; the female may begin laying her eggs as soon as mid-February.
This afternoon I glanced out the window and saw eight big turkeys picking up seed under the bird feeders. They remembered where they could find some easy food when the snow gets deep. They are a welcome sight and I enjoy watching them, but I kind of hope they don't tell all their friends about the feeders. Eight turkeys can eat a lot of birdseed, but 20 or 30 of them becomes a bit of a burden.
I have been asked to remind everyone of the seventh annual "Great Backyard Bird Count," held February 13 through 16. It is jointly sponsored by the Audubon Society and the Cornell Ornithology Lab. Each year people of all ages across North America are invited to count their backyard birds. You can enter the data at www.birdsource.org/gbbc or by mail. Much can be learned from this information to help create legislation to protect bird species and their habitat. It's a good chance to teach young people how they can help wildlife right in their own backyards.
All art ©2013 Organic Valley