Last week, I witnessed several beautiful November sunsets. I never saw a sunset I didnít like, but they often seem extra special in November. The truth is the other end of the day can also be colorful as the morning sun rises to meet the horizon. Like the sunsets, a beautiful sunrise is hard to forget, and, of course, Iíve never seen one I didnít like.
A little kestrel perches high on the power line along the gravel river road, one of many of these small falcons Iíve been seeing in the area the past few weeks. Many of them are migrating south, and they spend time here hunting and resting. Also known as Sparrow hawks, these robin-sized birds of prey are the smallest of the birds known as falcons. The kestrels are very capable of catching small birds, out flying them and grabbing them in midair, though they find it easier to catch insects in the summer and Meadow voles in the winter. Some of them are good enough at their hunting techniques to winter here, when deep snow makes it hard to survive. I have a lot of respect for these little falcons who spend the winter in Wisconsin. They always remind me of what it means to be a survivor.
Even though the Kickapoo landscape appears to be colorless and lifeless, Iím often struck by its subtle beauty. By January, the monotone colors of the land will become a little boring and Iíll be ready for some snow to brighten things up.
The weather has been unseasonably warm with highs in the 40s and 50s, so warm that some skunks and opossums are still out and about. Itís too warm for them to be sleeping, so they continue to scour the countryside for something to eat. Itís hard for them to satisfy their hunger now that the insects are gone, so they often settle for bits of corn and grain along the edge of the road. Unfortunately this means that the sight of road-killed opossum and skunk was way up this week. When it gets colder, they will go back to their warm dens and sleep until it warms up again.
I still see a few bluebirds and robins every day, but that doesnít surprise me. They are both members of the hardy thrush family, and some have been spending the winter here the past several years. Itís fun to see a bluebird any time of the year. I love their soft, gentle calls: Chr-weeee or Tru-leee, Tru-leeee. The robinsí cheery summer songs have been replaced by single, subtle chirps, and they spend a lot of their time near the sumac bushes. Neither of these birds comes to the feeders in winter. Like the kestrels, the bluebirds and robins know how to survive a Wisconsin winter.
The bird feeder fastened to the windowsill is a platform feeder. Itís just a 12 inch wide board held up by a couple of small shelf brackets, but it serves the purpose. The birds love it because I spread sunflower seeds on it for them every day. I can watch all the wild birds close up, and the gray squirrels canít get to it. There is one squirrel, actually, that comes to this feeder, but he comes at night. Itís a little Flying squirrel that sails in from the darkness to land on the feeder. Flying squirrels are nocturnal and search for food under the safe blanket of darkness. Itís been four years since a flying squirrel came to the window feeder until one showed up the past three nights. Heís small, about the size of a chipmunk, and very fast, moving about quick as a deer mouse. Now you see him. Now you donít. Flying squirrels, like bats, have a folded layer of lose skin along each side of their body, from the front leg to the hind leg. When outstretched, this skin supports their bodies as they glide from tree to tree. Their large, reddish eyes give them a kind of Bambi look. I call them pixie squirrels, because they are so darn cute. Iím glad to see them again after being gone so long. I hope they spend the winter with me. I put sunflower seeds on the feeder each night to entice them.
A nice walk at dusk led me up the meadow creek to a grove of tall green spruce trees. It was already dark under the close canopy of needles, too dark to venture through, so I made a detour around the trees. It was very still and quiet as darkness slowly covered the valley. Then a familiar sound broke the silence. Toooo, toooo, toooo, toooo came the soft calls of a Saw-whet owl that was hiding in the thick, dark boughs of the spruce trees. Itís been two years since I heard one of these tiny owls in the Valley in November. They are Wisconsinís smallest owl, only an inch taller than a bluebird, but, inch for inch, all owl. It was too dark to get a look at it, but I know it was there. These tiny woodland owls are rarely seen during the day but can be very vocal around sunset, especially in the spring. Itís hard to say if the little Saw-whet owl will stay around, but Iíll be listening for his gentle calls.
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