Februaryís cool days reminded me of March, but when March came along, there wasnít a day under 30 degrees for the first week and a half. Wednesday was the second day of 60-plus degrees. It rained late in the day and through the night, making me think that old weather adage might have to change: March showers bring April flowers. Things are definitely happening early this year and Iím wondering if trees and shrubs will leaf out earlier, too, something that usually happens around the first week of May. It will be interesting to see what the weather will be in April. Will it seem like May? Stay tuned!
It may have been overcast and rainy Wednesday, but there was a warm breeze from the south that brought in the first red-winged blackbirds and more robins. When I spotted the red-wings, I was driving along the gravel river road. I pulled over, rolled down the window and enjoyed the first blackbird song of the spring. The call almost sounds like the word spring spoken in a gravelly, red-winged blackbird sort of way. Itís not particularly early for the blackbirds to return, or the robins either. They seemed to be everywhere today.
Three large, black turkey vultures soared low over a picked cornfield. An Amish farmer had just spread barn manure and the vultures looked for anything that they might scavenge. These are the first vultures Iíve seen this spring and they probably just came in on that warm, southern breeze. Theyíve arrived about three weeks earlier than anticipated. If the weather turns and it gets below freezing again, the vultures will no doubt go south for a while.
I saw yet another early arrival last Monday when a large woodchuck (groundhog) scurried across the road in front of me. He was much too fast for me to get a picture of him. He had already disappeared over a steep bank by the time I reached for the camera. He looked pretty good for having spent the winter in a hole in the ground. Frankly, I was quite surprised to see a woodchuck as early as the first week of March, but there he was. They are really just large members of the squirrel family and are mostly vegetarians. The only green thing to eat for now is the tender bark from small trees and shrubs and little else. Raccoons, skunks, and possums are all out and about searching for food. When it warms up, there are a lot more wild ones stirring, which is a good thing to remember while driving along the unnatural highway. Simply driving slower could make all the difference in the world for one who doesnít understand what a highway is.
As the late afternoon angles through the noticeably dirty window pane, I can see a couple of paw prints on the glass. Last night some creature had stood in the window feeder and stretched its paws on the glass about 20 inches above the sill. The snow is gone, but the mink has found a way to leave his tracks. There was still a handful of sunflower seeds on the feeder that I had put out the night before for the flying squirrels. A raccoon would have eaten them, but the flying squirrels wouldnít come to the feeder if they saw a mink in the moonlight.
Where the valleys come together and open to fertile farm land, an old barn sits just a stoneís throw from the river. The barn was built after the land was settled and the many acres of grass land turned to the plow. The barn was there when the new road came through and was there when they removed the old railroad tracks many years ago. The barn is topped by a weathered, tattered cupola, a small, roofed room that provided a fresh air vent for the barn loft. Itís possible that it may have been used by the last remaining barn owls in the Kickapoo Valley. These low flying owls of the grasslands would lay their eggs in the high loft of a barn or in the cupola. They also used church steeples or any other tall structure they could get into. As the grasslands disappeared, so did the hunting habitat of the barn owl, which hasnít been seen here for over 50 years. Every time I see a cupola, I picture a nest of barn owls in my mind. The last known nesting pair of barn owls in Wisconsin was in 1969. It is just one of many grassland birds that has disappeared in my lifetime.
The Saturday morning sunrise was beautiful, so I paused for a while to watch the golden horizon. Even if nothing special happens the rest of the day, Iíll remember that sunrise because the beauty of it was actually two-fold. The moon was setting simultaneously on the opposite horizon against a dark blue sky. Sunrise and moonset, together as one. A double treat to start the day.
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