Spring brings a sense of newness that we long to experience after the long, dark winter. Each spring day offers new sights and sounds of nature.
Yesterday a beautiful male rose-breasted grosbeak appeared at the bird feeder. His striking black, red, and white coat is unforgettable. Also showing up at the feeders yesterday were several lovely white-crowned sparrows. Their black and white striped hats make them very handsome. I look forward to hearing their song each May - lovely soft whistles from the underbrush that go, aaa-ee-aay, see-say-so.
Late in the afternoon, I was surprised to see an American bittern fly up from marsh along the country road. It's not often that I see one of these heron-like wetland birds. They are shy, and their greenish-brown plumage makes them very inconspicuous. Years ago I looked forward to hearing the haunting, low, pumping calls of a bittern from the lush green marshes: "plum pudd'n, plum pudd'n, plum pudd'n." For a young man along a meandering trout stream, there was more to natural entertainment than catching trout.
Today, three tiny chipping sparrows shared seed at the feeder with eight bright yellow goldfinches. The birds are pretty much the same size, and they all get along together.
Seeing the rose-breasted grosbeak yesterday told me that the orioles would be close behind. I cut two oranges in half and placed them cut-side up on nails near the bird feeder. Sure enough, this morning a brilliant orange and black Baltimore oriole was eagerly eating the oranges.
The feeder outside the kitchen window hosts a colorful mixture of birds. This is the time of year when all those blues, reds, yellows, blacks and browns come together at the feeder. If you are lucky, you may see 10 or 12 different kinds of birds eating together.
Have you ever seen a bird wearing slippers? It sounds strange, but that's what I saw this morning. A sassy, shiny black, red-winged blackbird picked at the sunflower seeds at the platform feeder, as he has done for several weeks. His bright red and yellow shoulder patch caught my eye, but it was his feet that really got my attention. They were both covered with a soft, fluffy, beige down. I think it was the down from the top of a cattail, left over from last summer. Maybe he had plucked some of it to line his nest, and a bit stuck. It looked just like he was wearing bedroom slippers. You never know what you might see if you keep your eyes open.
I'll close this week with some more highlights of my recent trip to Florida, part of which I spent at beautiful Lake Bryant near Silver Springs. While fishing from a 16-foot boat on this 800-acre fresh water lake, I watched ospreys and bald eagles hunt for fish. Great blue and little blue herons stalked the shoreline alongside American and snowy egrets. Snakebirds, also known as anhingas, swam and dove for fish in the shallows. Gulls, terns, martins and swallows continuously circled over the lake.
A purple gallinule walked across the lily pads on long yellow legs and toes. I have only seen these chicken-sized wading birds a few times in Wisconsin, but they seem to be everywhere in Florida. You have to see this bird close-up to get a real feel for how beautiful it is.
If you are ever lucky enough to visit Florida, be sure to bring binoculars and a field guide to the birds. You'll be glad you did.
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