The drawings and stories for "Down Nature's Trail" grow out of inspiring encounters I have with all that is natural. The inspiration continues each time I pick up my pen or sit at the drawing table, and revisit the topics in my mind. While I'm writing or drawing, I get to enjoy memories of whatever I'm working on. I am grateful to have this opportunity to share what I've learned.
Late in the summer, beautiful hollyhock blossoms are a favorite place for butterflies and bees. The colorful pink and red flowers are a food source for many wild species, including hummingbirds.
In the winter, the leaves on the tall flower stalks are dry and shriveled. The flowers have been replaced by clusters of large button-like seed heads. A group of purple finches have taken a liking to the tiny black hollyhock seeds. I like to leave most of the flower stalks from summer flowers. Instead of cleaning them up in the fall, I wait until spring to put them in the compost pile. This gives the winter birds and mice another source of food.
There are about a dozen gray squirrels that visit the bird feeders in my yard. They have been extra busy the past few days, playing their game of tag in the tree branches. Around and around and up and down they go, as they chase each other in the trees. I watched five of them scamper after each other as fast as they could go. With dizzying speed they dash about in a courtship frenzy. I was a bit surprised to see their courtship antics so early. In years past they usually begin mating around the end of December. It will be fun to see when the young squirrels begin to appear in the spring.
Coping with gray squirrels is always a problem for people who feed the winter birds. The challenge is to prevent the squirrels from taking the birdseed. For me, several years ago I decided not to fight them but to live with them. It might mean providing a little more seed but I've gotten used to that. Cracked corn, sprinkled here and there will help keep them busy and off the feeders. Ear corn, too, is another way to keep a squirrel in a place away from the bird feeders.
The power lines that follow the country roads are perches for many different kinds of birds through the warm months. One need not drive far to get a good look at red-winged blackbirds, meadowlarks, swallows, doves, sparrow hawks, kingfishers and many other birds, clinging to the wires. When winter comes, the summer birds leave and only the hardy winter birds who don't depend on insects for food may be seen perched on the wires. One of the birds who can change his food source is the sparrow hawk (American kestrel). In the summer the kestrels perch on the high lines and watch for large insects below. During the winter, they may have to catch voles and mice to make a living. With the general bird density drastically reduced since the summer birds left, the kestrel becomes one of the few birds seen roosting on the high lines. In fact it may be the only bird you see on the lines for many miles. On a recent trip to town, 18 miles away, I spotted six different kestrels and didn't see another bird of any kind perched on the high lines.
There seem to be a lot of these little falcons in southwestern Wisconsin. This may be because there is no snow cover and the meadow vole's population is at a cyclic high. Kestrels are very skilled at catching voles by hovering in place over the tall grass. When he spots a vole below, the kestrel folds in its wings and quickly drops to its prey. Clutching his meal in his talons, he flies back to the wire to eat.
If a kestrel you see perched on a high line appears to be sitting on his feet, it may be because he has a mouse or vole. Often if you look closely, you can see a bit of the furry meal dangling under him.
The season's changes are subtler as we settle into winter. They are there to be discovered and encourage one to sharpen one's senses. Mother Nature provides us with a lifetime of discoveries. Go outside! Enjoy!
All art ©2013 Organic Valley