Here in Wisconsin, the month of May can be unpredictable. The past week's weather was a little cooler but nice. Thursday night the world below was treated to a full moon as well as a lunar eclipse. At about 10:00 pm, the earth cast its shadow across the face of the full moon. It was strange to see all the stars shining and a full moon, yet have a soft darkness.
Tuesday I stopped on a gravel road bordering a marsh to watch a green heron as he hunted in the shallow waters of a small pond. His colors show up brightly in my binoculars. This beautiful crow-sized heron has long yellow legs and toes for stalking through wet areas in search of frogs, minnows, small snakes and insects. He has no trouble catching a meal with his pointed beak.
The green heron is in many ways much like its larger cousin, the great blue heron. They both depend on patience and skills to catch their prey. Like the great blue, the green heron also builds a nest of sticks hidden in the lush foliage of a tree, not necessarily near water. The heron's 4-5 whitish green eggs will hatch after about 17 days. The young become expert climbers at an early age, climbing among the branches of the nesting tree long before they are able to fly.
I have been lucky to watch green herons many times and even took care of a few that were injured. I remember one very tame green heron that I took care of. He stayed on my screened porch, where I gave him some tree branches to climb and roost on. I fed him live inch-long minnows, placed in a dishpan of water on the porch floor. He would stand on the edge of the dishpan and catch the tiny fish with amazing quickness and accuracy.
As a younger man, I enjoyed playing softball through the summer. I was a player who always kept one eye on the game and the other on the lookout for birds flying over. I remember one game I particular, in the late summer of 1973. We were playing ball in Avoca, a small town along the Wisconsin River. There was a small pond near the ballpark that I could see from my centerfield position. The game went on into the late afternoon and the sun was setting behind the tree when I saw a single green heron fly over. I watched it circle the pond and drop in next to the water. A moment later I saw another heron do the same, followed by two more. They started showing up in twos and threes and just kept coming. In 20 minutes I counted 63 green herons drop into that half-acre pond. I had never seen so many of these birds in one place, and never did again.
Today, myrtle warblers are busy searching the new green leaves in the trees for tiny insects. They sing happily as they dart around in the lush branches. Joining them is a striking red and black scarlet tanager. He is about the size of a bluebird, and his bright colors make it easy to see him against the green leaves.
It's a wonderful time to see al the small songbirds as they return to the area. They may be hard to see, but their songs are candy for the ears. To get a better look at their plumage, I always keep a pair of binoculars handy.
Here's hoping that everyone is enjoying the spring as much as I am. You can't bring nature close enough to your life. So keep one eye on the game, and one eye to nature.
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