It was a pleasant and seasonal week here in the Kickapoo Valley of southwest Wisconsin. The weather has been a little on the cool side but the sunshine felt good and kept me busy with outside jobs. There were bulbs to plant, potatoes to dig and lots of seeds to harvest besides all the other fall chores in the yard and garden. There was frost on the ground every morning until Friday when it warmed up about 10 degrees with rain in the forecast. Friday night it felt too cold to rain, but by 10:30pm the temperature had gone up and a light rain began to fall.
I knew the rain would bring down the pretty maple leaves that have been so extra beautiful this fall. By Sunday night, the valley had taken on the barren, brown look of a winter landscape. The maple, hickory, poplar and ash trees were so very showy this year, but the oak leaves never showed us much for autumn color. Most of the oak trees are still holding on to their reddish brown leaves. I donít mind that they are not so colorful this year. Itís just nice to still have some leaves on the trees. Soon all the leaves will be on the ground and it will be a treat to see any kind of color on the winter landscape.
Although the lovely leaves are gone, there are always many beautiful things to see. The way the fog rises up from trees at the end of the valley reminds me of a moving cloud of smoke. The old-timers call these smoky clouds of fog Indian smoke, because they resemble the smoke from a distant campfire.
The blackbirds are still coming through and are taking advantage of recently picked cornfields, a good place to find bits of scattered corn. Tuesday morning I watched a flock of about a thousand red-winged blackbirds as they circled low over a picked cornfield. They stayed close together and seemed to move as a single mass. I could almost feel what it must be like there with no individuals, just a single flock of birds that took on a life of its own.
Birds of a feather flock together, and itís very plain to see with most of the birds that are migrating south for the winter. Many of the birds that stay for the winter also tend to group up in small flocks with a few species tending to be more solitary. The woodpeckers and nuthatches donít seem to mind spending the day alone as they search for food. Even a pair of owls or red-tailed hawks get together for companionship once in a while in the winter. The kingfisher that will spend the winter here may be alone until spring. Iíve seen flocks of hawks and flocks of owls but Iíve never seen a flock of kingfishers. This is the time of year when all kinds of birds can be seen in flocks of their own kind: ducks and geese, sparrows and goldfinches, blue jays and bluebirds, robins, warblers, cardinals and so on. They may flock together in the fall, spend the winter together and return in flocks in the spring. Iím already looking forward to it.
There has been a nice flock of white-throated sparrows visiting the bird feeders each day. They are very busy and prefer to search for seed on the ground under the feeders. When they come through in the spring they are bright and full of songs but in the fall, they are less bold and much quieter.
There are still a few sandhill cranes in the area and they have turned to the ponds and potholes to find something to eat. Until now they have been eating crickets and grasshoppers, but the drop in temperatures have eliminated that food source. The pond is a good place to find minnows and frogs that the cranes can catch until the water freezes over.
A small flock of mallard ducks has landed on the pond and dip their heads under the water for the green pond plants and maybe a few snails. I never see a large flock of ducks anymore; a dozen in a flock was the largest Iíve seen this fall. I remember a time when the flocks of mallards and teal could number in the hundreds. Itís one of those many things I no longer see in the fall that Iíll always miss. The large flocks of migrating waterfowl are just a fond memory of the way it used to be here in the valley.
On a sunny day you may see a wooly bear caterpillar crossing the road. His many tiny legs keep him moving at a slow but steady pace as he aims for his goal at the other side. Heís fuzzy and is about two inches long with a reddish orange middle and black at both ends. This one has only a touch of black at the back.
I was in the right place at the right time early this morning. As I stood watering some houseplants near the window early this morning, something caught my eye in the backyard. A single beautiful coyote stood in the open with his ears perked high and his nostrils twitching as he stared at the house. How handsome he looked dressed in his new coat. How lucky I felt to get such a good look at one of these usually seldom seen animals. I hear them talking to each other nearly every night so I know they are around but itís really not very often that I actually see one.
I hope that everyone is being a little more diligent than me when it comes to getting ready for winter. For some reason I seem to be dragging my feet trying to get some of those winter preparations done. Guess Iím still hanging on to summer a bit.
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