There were some areas in southern Wisconsin that got seven or more inches of snow on Tuesday. Here in the Kickapoo Valley, only an inch and a half covered the ground, but it was pretty. The clouds gave way to brilliant, starry skies Wednesday night, and the bottom fell out of the thermometer. By 6 am Thursday morning, it was creaky-cold and one degree below zero. That's cold enough to freeze the ground and form ice at the sides of the creek. Often as not, the sunrise on a very cold morning can be very beautiful, and this morning was no exception. The lavender and peach sky over the western valleys would make anyone sigh, and it was a mirror image to the sky over the valleys to the East.
The sky, in fact, was a peaceful mixture of soft yellows and grays all day. There were even a few bright beams of sunshine through the clouds from time to time. It was the perfect winter day for the calls of the swans. Today is the day they begin their move to the Carolinas for the winter. Each year at this time, the all seem to know it's time to leave their staging areas on the upper Mississippi River, and head southeast. It's a big event for me, but a short-lived one. Just seeing those huge white flocks as they pass over, and hearing their "whoo"-ing calls, awakens something deep in my spirit. I saw many flocks of Swans pass over today, and I heard every flock before I saw it. Most of the flocks were made up of 200 to 300 or more White Tundra swans. They were up high, just below the clouds, and moving fast on a favorable wind. Living down here in the valley, I don't get a very long look at a passing flock of birds, but I'm grateful for the time I do get.
It wasn't much of a surprise to see three inches of snow on the ground Saturday morning. The snow ended sometime during the night, and there were fresh tracks in the snow—a few spots where a Deer mouse ran across the snow-covered porch steps; a few vole tunnels in the flowerbed, and a single set of rabbit tracks. Also, a single white-tailed deer had walked through the middle of the yard. Then, I noticed some tracks made by an animal that only shows up every couple of winters--the weasel. He is only 7 inches long, but can leap 2 or 3 feet through the snow. He leaves a clue as his tail often leaves a little trail in the powdery snow. His trail told me he was definitely hunting, as his tracks lead from the brush pile to the board pile, then to another brush pile, then to the stacked firewood. I never caught up to him, and his tracks disappeared under the porch.
I snipped off a couple of small branches from a crab apple tree that were covered with dangling red fruit. The temperature has been down around zero the past couple of nights, and the juicy berries were frozen like little red marbles. I needed them for the drawing I did here with some Goldfinches. I also nipped off a Highbush cranberry branch, which had several clumps of berries that were frozen solid but very colorful.
It's always been kind of a mystery to me why the birds don't eat many of these edible fruits until late winter and early spring. Even the robins who overwinter would rather eat Sumac seeds than crabapples or cranberries. It could be that they would be more apt to eat the nutritious fruits if they weren't frozen. Staying warm is top priority for these birds, and eating little balls of ice may be counterproductive. When the weather warms in late winter and early spring, the berries will thaw and dry quickly, and they will look pretty good to the birds who have waited all winter to eat them. They will also provide a meal for the early spring migrants as they pass through.
The deer, on the other hand, will nibble the fruit that they can reach, and pick up those that fall in the wind. The wildlife is where you see them in the winter, and that's usually where the food is.
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