Ghostly Figures

moon phase Week of 03/25/2013 Best days to sow grain.

It's freezing cold with blowing snow, but spring marches on. Wednesday was the first day of spring, but you wouldn't have known it by looking at the winter landscape. Snow, wind and rain are what you usually expect from March, but this year it's been extra cold. There were three nighttime lows of zero or below this week, and without much sunshine, there was very little snowmelt. The folks around here are impatient for a change in the weather. It's been a long winter.

First Sandhill Cranes First Sandhill Cranes Monday it snowed big, fluffy flakes that quickly added up to about four inches. I saw the first sandhill cranes of spring, ghostly dark figures in a field of white as snow fell around them. It was definitely a winter scene, so different from last year when the cranes returned a month early. Everything is frozen, including much of the Kickapoo River and its backwaters. Last year, I heard the first spring peepers on the thirteenth of March. It could be quite a while before we hear them this year.

Barred Owl Barred Owl The first thing I heard at 5:30 a.m. on the first day of spring was a pair of barred owls singing their wild courtship songs outside my bedroom window. “Oh, who are you? Oh, who are you all?” or, “Who cooks for you-all?” Tuesday, I got lucky with a better look at a barred owl that’s been hanging around near the house. He didn’t seem surprised to see me as I shoveled a little snow near the driveway. He just sat there while I reached in the car and grabbed my camera. Again, I thought it a little strange to see a barred owl hunting at midday and how little fear he shows when he sees me.

Rough-legged Hawk Rough-legged Hawk At the edge of a tall grass marsh, a rough-legged hawk perched high in the tiny branches of a tall, soft maple tree. The hawk spends every waking hour watching for voles below. Often, he hunts by hovering above the grass while his long wings keep him stationary. I only see these hawks in winter. Soon, they will return to their summer homes in Canada’s northern tundra.

A large, dark object standing in the snow some 200 yards out in an open pasture caught my eye.

Bald Eagle eating Coyote Bald Eagle eating Coyote To get a better look, I had to find a safe place to pull over. I discovered that the large dark object was a bald eagle standing next to the carcass of a coyote. Did the eagle kill the coyote? I doubt it. But how did the coyote end up dead in the middle of an open pasture? There are always some things that we may never know, but I did know that the eagle was doing his job as one of nature’s recyclers.

Woodchuck's Tracks in Snow Woodchuck's Tracks in Snow I thought it strange to see the tracks of the woodchuck in the snow near the brush pile. For one thing, it was kinda cold for ole Woody to be out (26 degrees), and secondly, I don’t remember seeing woodchuck tracks in the snow too many times in my life.

It was good to feel the sun on my face Friday afternoon, even though it was only 30 degrees. Woody spent about an hour basking in the sun on top of the brush pile. I can only imagine how good the sunshine must feel to him.

Raccoon Raccoon While driving slowly down the gravel river road, I pulled up next to a yearling raccoon. He had been patrolling the side of the road for something to eat. When he saw me, he tried to hide by lying down. I snapped a quick picture, then drove off and let him go on about his business. I haven't seen many raccoons or skunks yet this spring. Guess it's been too cold for them.

First Turkey Vulture First Turkey Vulture I have to admit I was rather surprised to see a couple of black turkey vultures soaring the blue skies on Thursday. They were the first ones I've seen here this spring, and I really didn't expect to see them until it warmed up a bit. Their large, long flight feathers, in their wings take on an almost silver color on the undersides, and they are true masters of gliding on them. They have plenty of warm feathers except for on their bare, red heads. Nighttime temperatures have been below zero in the Kickapoo Valley, so you can understand that having no warm feathers on your head could be a problem. Then again, wild turkeys are also bare-headed, yet, they don't fly south for the winter.

Canadian Geese Canadian Geese I heard a flock of Canada geese last Monday, but I was too far down in the valley to see them pass over. The first geese I saw this spring were a pair standing on the river bank on Thursday. When I stopped for a closer look, a flock of 25 red-winged blackbirds landed in the top branches of a large willow tree directly over the geese. They were too far away for a decent photo, but I did get to hear the first blackbirds of spring.

Spring may seem to be on hold, but if you just look around a little closer and listen, you will see and hear it as it's sneaking up on you. The subtle signs of spring mean that it's getting ready to spill over with the first rush of warm air from the south. Prevailing winds seem always to be in control of seasonal changes, and wind is the hardest of the natural elements to make peace with.

Naturally yours,

All art ©2013 Organic Valley

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Karen from on April 1, 2013 at 07:35:42 AM
Thank you! Your words in print give me hope for the future of animals in the wild. I am inspired.
Dan Hazlett at Organic Valley

Dear Karen,

Thank you for the nice support. Good to know I'm not alone in caring for the wild ones. Hope you continue to join me each week for this column.  Take good care Karen.

Naturally yours,

Tena from from colorado on March 30, 2013 at 04:19:33 PM
Thank you Dan,Love reading your articles. I am away from the ranch for a bit makes me feel at home!
Dan Hazlett at Organic Valley

Dear Tena,

So glad to hear you enjoy my articles and that they make you feel at home. Hope spring is melting your winter away in Colorado. Thanks for the nice note, Tena!

Naturally yours,

Deb from from Deale, Maryland on March 29, 2013 at 03:03:52 PM
Yes, the wind, hard to make peace with...true words. We, too, received those big fluffy snow flakes on Monday and it is all melted into the bay waters. It was pretty. Being a Feb gal, I love the snow and had been disappointed, but not surprised that we had not received until later part of March. A pleasant surprise. I've only one sighting of the Osprey, grack, chickadee prior to the snow and nothing since other than a few single passing birds singing his song that I did not get a visual on. We've had the turkey vultures hanging out here in Herring Bay and on my road...a large but "cozy group.". I recently read an article about the intelligence of wildlife...could explain some of the behaviors witnessed. I hope that coyote was not poisoned. Possibly starvation and the hard winter? Spring Is Here!
Dan Hazlett at Organic Valley

Dear Deb,

I could almost see that cloudy, snowy day on the bay. I picture in my mind the flocks of migrating ducks and geese as they fly over the water. It must be a great place to watch water fowl. I have yet to see an Osprey, but there was a Phoebe in the yard this morning in spite of the 20 degree temperature.

I doubt that the coyote was poisoned, but I guess I'll never know for sure.  Spring has indeed arrived and it's time to think about a season of new life.

So good to hear from you, Deb. Thank you for your wonderful comments.

Naturally yours,

Ardelle Tuxen from from La Crosse, WI on March 27, 2013 at 05:49:38 PM
Was delighted to see a pair of sandhill cranes in the 'mid-city' marsh this morning on my daily walk - had to hop-skip my way through ice and mud along the La Crosse river to actually see them - how cool to see them doing their spring dance along the river. Many Canadian geese, red-wing black birds, chickadees, nuthatches some birds I could not identify and racoon tracks along the river - among other interesting spring things to observe. Now, for the afternoon nap in the sun at one of my favorite haunts.
Dan Hazlett at Organic Valley

Dear Ardelle,

You hit the nail on the head. There is nothing that stirs that spring fever like watching those first sandhill cranes doing their spring thing. Sounds like you are someone who really pays attention to the changes in the seasons.

Good to hear from you, Ardelle. Enjoy the sunshine.

Naturally yours,

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