The four to five inches of snow that came Tuesday night was about as wet as snow can be without being rain. Wet, heavy snow isn’t much fun to shovel, but it had to be done and my sore aching muscles are a reminder of how hard I worked at it. Early March has been pretty much normal so far, but without the strong winds that are usually present for this month.
The mornings have been cold, but pleasant, and the spring songs of the cardinals and chickadees greet me at sunup each morning. The birds are turning up to spring—the Tufted-titmouse whistles his pretty song of the season and a Downy woodpecker has found a drum-like hollow limb to hammer. It’s so nice to hear the music of spring as I strain to spot a pair of calling Sandhill cranes as they circle high overhead in the blue morning sky.
It’s a beautiful March morning and the sap will flow from the taps in the maple trees for sure. It seems like only fitting that I heard the whiney call of the old sap collector, a Yellow-bellied sapsucker. He always shows up in early March when the sap in the trees begins to run. He is easy to mistake for a Downy woodpecker, being about the same size (about 5 inches), with the sapsucker having a little yellow blush on his breast and a red throat. These seldom seen but not uncommon woodpeckers peck a ring of shallow holes around a tree trunk and drink the sap that drips out. They also are quick to eat any small insects that are attracted to the sap. In the summer, the little hummingbirds also take advantage of the sap from the sapsucker’s holes.
While some of the summer birds are just starting to return, there are other winter birds who haven’t left yet. Those are the birds that spend the winters here but go somewhere north for the summer. The Rough-legged hawk is one of these and I’ve been seeing a few every week as they hunt over the open grasslands on the ridge. There doesn’t seem to be two of these large hawks that look alike—some very dark and some very light colored, but all of them beautifully marked.
They know their summer tundra homes to the north are still covered with snow and it’s not quite time to go there yet. Soon they will slowly start to migrate north and I won’t see them again until late next fall.
I saw the first group of robins last Sunday as they searched along a sunny roadside for something to eat. At first I thought they were all males, which would be normal for the first early robins, but I was surprised to see several females with them. I never worry about the robins or bluebirds finding something to eat in the early spring—they always seem to be just fine and find enough to eat. Like many of the birds who pass through the area, these members of the thrush family enjoy the berries of the sumac. In the same patch of sumac, I watched four turkeys, two crows, two bluebirds, and a robin all eating sumac berries together. It was quite a sight but too far away to get a good picture.
Wednesday morning I heard the first excited calls of a killdeer as he passed over. He’s right on time and sings his name over and over as he lands in the patchy snow-covered pasture. Next to the calls of the Canada geese and the Sandhill cranes, the spring call of the killdeer is the loudest wake-up call to spring.
Each evening at dusk, I like to step outside on the back porch and just listen for a while. You never know what you might hear at the end of the day in March. Thursday evening I listened as a pair of Barred owls sang their courtship songs to each other. It was a beautiful song to end the day and begin the night. “Who, who, who, whoo-ahh!” A robin sang his territorial song until it was nearly dark and probably will do so from now until next fall.
The song I once looked forward to on a spring evening has become rare in the Kickapoo Valley. The woodcock’s “peent, peent,” could be heard in nearly every valley at one time and a sound that was for me a sure sign that spring was here. The woodcock’s courtship is rarely witnessed these days because they have been forced to leave for the lack of suitable habitat. I didn’t hear a woodcock tonight but I know they have returned because I found on that had been hit along the side of the road this morning, not far from the house. I’m hoping another one comes along to take his place. All of the wild birds and animals are beautiful, even dead at the side of the road and it gives me a chance to see them close up.
The cotton-tailed rabbit comes out at night to search for leftover seed under the birdfeeders. I suspect it’s about time for the baby rabbits to be born—the first of several litters of young rabbits that will come as spring turns to summer. The first of the new bunnies will appear in the yard about the time the grass starts to turn green in a few weeks. The family of Gray squirrels born a couple weeks ago and are hidden away in a warm nest in a hole in a nearby tree limb. They will make their first appearance around the end of April.
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