Until this week, the month of March felt more like January. The temperature yesterday was around 40 degrees, and breezy - about what I would expect by the middle of March. Last week was very un-springlike, with temps at night dipping well below zero. I had deemed it safe not to add to the woodpile, when suddenly I had to feed the stove like crazy again. The cold is starting to get to me - I guess I have spring fever.
As I walked up the snowy path leading to the barn, a breeze passed over my face and ears. For the first time in quite awhile, that breeze has a tiny hint of warmth in it. It made me take a deep breath, imagining the warmer days that will be here soon.
That simple little warm breeze gave me a new sense of awareness and alertness. I thought I heard the distant calls of a sandhill crane, but when I listened closer, I realized the sound was dried pods and vines from last year's runner beans brushing against the house in the breeze. Next, what sounded to me like a robin turned out to be one of those rascal mimic blue jays. I wanted so badly to see and hear what that warm breeze had blown in, another sign of spring.
Then, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted the large, female red-tailed hawk sail over me. Close behind here was her smaller mate, who followed her directly across the valley to the big oak tree, where their nest had survived the winter. Together they stood on a large limb near the big stick nest and let the morning sun warm their breast feathers. Now, if that wasn't a sign of spring, I don't know what is.
Later, my spring fever got another boost when, peering outside, I caught a rare, yellow sight at one of the small platform bird feeders. The handful of sunflower seeds I usually throw on that feeder had attracted six of the most beautiful evening grosbeaks I have ever seen. It's been years since I've had grosbeaks pay a visit to my feeders here in the Kickapoo Valley. Their yellow feathers were luscious, set off by their regal black heads, wings, and tails. I can't think of any yellow bird who is more striking than a male evening grosbeak.
There were two lovely female grosbeaks with the four males. The females are also very beautiful, of course, but just not quite so conspicuous as the males.
I had forgotten how fast these birds can go through sunflower seeds. There seemed to be hulls flying everywhere as they eagerly feasted. A grosbeak can bend down, pick up a black sunflower seed, and have the meat out of it as fast as a squirrel can.
It didn't take the six of them long to finish all the seeds on the small feeder. They then flew to another, larger feeder, where they continued to dine. I hoped they would stick around for a few days, but I knew that chances were slim. They left sometime mid-afternoon, and did not return this morning. I wondered sadly how long it would be before I would again see those shy, little yellow guests. They had probably spent the winter somewhere further south - maybe in some nice suburb of Madison or Milwaukee. Now it's time for them to migrate to their breeding territories in the far north.
Some folks are lucky enough to have grosbeaks at their bird feeders all winter. Often these are people who offer these birds a habitat with pine trees - a common tree in northern Wisconsin and Minnesota. The seeds from pine cones are the favorite food of evening grosbeaks.
As I write, big white snowflakes, looking soft as the breast feathers of a swan, are quietly blanketing the land. Two to three inches are predicted, so I will enjoy it while it lasts, knowing that sunshine and warmer temperatures will melt it all away tomorrow.
Writing down a few brief observations of nature in a notebook each day can help bring you closer to the natural world. It's fun to do, and an excellent learning tool, which can be kept and shared. Notice the feeling as a soothing warm breeze caresses your face on a new spring morning. In the woods, you can almost hear sugar maple sap dripping into the pails. It's ok to think of spring now; the signs of it's approach are finally here. All you need to do is go outside to see for yourself. So please let spring into your heart - get out and enjoy!
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