It's been a pretty mild winter again here in Southwest Wisconsin and I wouldn't be surprised if spring comes early. <p> Already the maple sap has started running and the trees in the sugar bush have pails hanging from their trunks. <p> The round white eggs of the great horned owl are ready to hatch any day. The spring call of the adults can be heard around sunset. As the owlets grow, their parents can spend more time hunting for food and incubation becomes less necessary. They can be heard calling to each other from across the valley. <p> For the first time in many years I was able to spend a little time where it's warm during the winter. I was able to walk the sandy beaches of Florida and take in some of nature's beauty, southern style. It was a wonderful treat to watch the sandpipers and shore birds running along the wet sand, searching for food as the tide comes in and retreats. <p> The Herring and Franklin's gulls stand preening in large groups. The Franklin's gulls look smart with their black heads and red legs. The slightly larger Herring gulls with their speckled brown winter coats are quick to take free handouts from people on the beach. <p> A half dozen low flying brown pelicans glide single file a couple of feet above the blue waves. Porpoises play only a 100 yards from shore. They seemed to be greeting me and luring me to come swim with them but the water was too cold for my liking. <p> I've forgotten how much I missed the ocean. As I stood barefoot and shirtless facing the salty sea breeze, I again felt grounded to mother earth. The sea spoke to me as the waves splashed against a shell-covered beach. <p> Of course I got pretty sunburned but it was worth it. I was in a place that I've only dreamed about for many years. To be able to see the wildlife that is not found in the far north is always a special treat for me. <p> I was able to see crocodiles and turtles basking in the sunshine along the banks of rivers and lakes. I saw osprey building their large nests atop utility poles and watched them hunting for fish as they soared above the water. <p> It was great to be someplace warm for awhile but there's no place like this beautiful Kickapoo Valley. Wherever I may go I always know in my heart that nature's trail will lead me back home.
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