Most of the lovely summer flowers have gone, but there are still lots of beautiful autumn flowers to enjoy. The prairie flowers that grow in the meadow are also starting to peak but are still very showy. The centers of the pretty soft blue asters are turning from yellow to red as they go to seed, but the petals stay true blue.
It always kinda surprises me when I get a good look at a sandhill crane this time of year. The pair I watched Monday morning was standing in the yellowing soybean field, probably searching for crickets and grasshoppers. I was surprised by how light gray their feathers had turned with only a few traces of their summer cinnamon brown feathers remaining. It has been a long, bittersweet summer for this pair of cranes. Something happened during their nesting time that left them without young to raise. They have now molted into their winter plumage and are ready to head south.
Bluebirds are gathering, and the swifts and swallows are gone. Bluebirds are very adaptable, and they can make a living here even after the insects are gone. The vast majority of them fly south for the winter, but there seem to be more and more of them wintering over each year. Four pairs of bluebirds raised young in the meadow this summer, and I'm hoping they return again next year. I remember a time when I didn't think I'd ever see a bluebird again, so I'm forever grateful for their return each spring.
With their nesting season done, the bald eagles are dispersing up and down the Kickapoo River Valley again. They search the rippling waters of the Kickapoo River for fish. My favorite eagle is always the one soaring high, making huge circles in the blue sky. Her long wings are steady against the wind, and her beautiful white tail guides her. All eyes are on the eagle when she takes wing. There is no doubt that she is the master of all feathered creatures.
It was a good summer for red-tailed hawks in the area. I've been seeing quite a few of the brown-tailed first-year birds. Some of them are becoming good hunters and no longer depend on their parents to bring them food. On the other hand, there are those who don't do so well at finding food and begin to lose weight. If they lose the muscle that gives them the strength to fly, they're pretty much done for. The young male red-tailed hawk in the picture was found by a good Samaritan named Jack. The young, starving hawk could no longer fly and was eventually turned over to a couple of capable raptor rehabilitators who can hopefully save his life. We named him Jack. It isn't unusual for a young hawk to meet its end before finishing its first year. In truth, only about 20 to 30 per cent of first year hawks live to see the following spring. Note the lovely, lemon yellow eyes of this first-year hawk. His eyes will turn browner each year until they are nearly black by the fourth year. If he lives the first year, his chances of living 10 or 15 years are much greater.
The house wrens have moved on. I won't see them again until the end of next April. There have been several rufous-sided towhees enjoying the sunflower seeds around the flower gardens. I counted six different male towhees at the bird feeder this morning. These interesting and hardy birds arrive early in the spring and may stay until late October. There has been a male towhee here three of the past four winters, so I wouldn't be surprised if one stays here this winter.
The goldfinches are showing up for their fair share of the flower seeds but they aren't quite as gold as they were even a week ago. The bright yellow male goldfinches are also turning colors, and their yellow feathers are now a patch-work of brownish olive. Some of the little finches will stay here through the winter and some will move on. These gentle little birds are even smaller than the chickadees and I look forward to hearing their soft, melodic songs as I step out the back door each morning.
Pettie the robin is still here, but he's free to leave any time he chooses. I feed him a few grasshoppers and crickets early in the morning, and again just before dark along with a couple of night crawlers. I may not see him all day, but then he shows up each night for a free handout. I'm sure he would do just fine without me. I hope he will build a bond with some of his own kind and move on to a new life with them.
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