I remember a few summers from the past when it was so dry that the lawn mower is hardly used. In 1988 I mowed the lawn twice, once in mid-May and again in late September. The lawn mower hasnít been out of the shed for nearly a month and you know thatís all right with me. So far, 2012 has been the strangest year ever weather-wiseÖfor me, anyway.
We were blessed with very enjoyable weather this week in the Kickapoo Valley. There was lots of sunshine and temperatures in the mid-eighties. It allowed me to get outside and do a few things during the day. It also cooled down nicely at night which made for peaceful sleeping. There was even a gentle rain before sun-up Friday morning. Just hearing it patter on the roof sounded good to me, not to mention how fresh and sweet it smelled as the cool moist air drifted through the windows. Sadly, the rain didnít turn into a big event. By 10 a.m. you couldnít tell it had rained at all. The grass crunched under my bare feet.
Although grass is a lost cause, garden flowers are holding their own, but only because I carry water to them every day. I also give young trees and shrubs a drink to help get them through this extra dry summer. Prairie plants donít look as stressed as the garden flowers, because many of them have developed deep tap roots. As usual, the weeds look like theyíre doing okay with the drought. It seems like nothing can stop the growth of the thistles, Canada goldenrod, Queen Anneís lace, daisy fleabane, curly dock, burdock and many others. Lucky for them itís too hot to pull weeds.
Dry weather is making it a little harder for some wild animals to find food. Folks in the Valley are talking about how many raccoons there seem to be. I think itís because they have to travel further just to find a meal of insects, which are a food source that small mammals depend on in the summer. When their natural food is scarce, Ďcoons, possums and skunks are more likely to show up at your back door looking for eats. A momma raccoon and her two youngsters showed up in the yard late Tuesday afternoon. She had an unusual dark looking cape over her shoulders, markings I donít recall seeing on a raccoon. It was fun to watch the little coons digging in the mole runs, but it didnít look like they were finding much to eat.
Iíve been finding quite a few feathers on the ground lately, which means that songbirds are molting their feathers. Often the feathers I find are wing and tail feathers that the bird drops when itís time to grow a new one. While taking a short walk around the yard and garden Wednesday morning, I found bluejay, cardinal, goldfinch, rose-breasted grosbeak and mourning dove feathers. You never know what kind of feather you might find. The bigger the bird, the bigger the feather, and the easier it is to spot them.
Male cardinals are oh so beautiful, in spite of missing a few feathers. Many female cardinals are nesting again since their first broods have learned to fend for themselves. The youngsters have dark beaks and black eyes. Today I watched a young cardinal standing next to a male rose-breasted grosbeak as he fed one of his new fledglings. The young cardinal has learned how to crack open the sunflower seeds while the young grosbeak isnít quite that far along yet, but given a couple of days, sheíll figure out how to fend for herself.
Barn swallows snug together in their little mud nest under a beam in the open shed. Iíve enjoyed watching the fork-tailed adults as they fly in and out of the building, constantly taking insects to their hungry babies. I see that the swallows and a family of phoebes are getting along very well. The phoebes have built their nest on the same beam only five feet from the swallows. These little flycatchers line their nests with green moss and you have to look closely to see the dark, downy nestlings.
A newly fledged red-winged blackbird patiently sits on a branch near the birdfeeder. His father will crack open several sunflower seeds, then fly up to feed the rest of his hungry youngsters. The red-winged blackbirds have only been nesting in the meadow for a couple of years. This year there are three pairs.
Flying squirrels come to the window feeders at night. They are the hardest of all the squirrels to get a decent picture of. They move as fast as a mouse, and they only show up at night. Itís cool to see them leap off the feeder and sail off into the darkness. Here one second, gone the next.
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