The dark water pond at the edge of the marsh was quiet and still. Its lush green grass and reeds are now brown and lifeless. The cranes' call and the songs of the Red-winged blackbirds are no longer heard here. The frog music won't be heard again until spring, and the dragonflies are no longer hawking mosquitoes over the pond. All is quiet. Yet, there is something new and alive about this quiet marsh pond. There were several new muskrat houses built out into the water, away from land. They were 2 to 3 feet high and 4 to 5 feet across and were covered with new wet vegetation; the muskrats were still working on them. They reminded me that the marsh pond isn't really dead at all, just sleeping. The muskrats will spend the winter sleeping in their new houses, and the frogs will be there, sleeping in the mud banks. All the pond's summer life will awaken and return in the spring.
The little deer mouse has decided to build his winter home inside an old wren house. He makes many trips to the milkweed pods in the nearby meadow and carries the downy seeds, a mouthful at a time, back to the birdhouse. He may fill the birdhouse to the ceiling before he's finished, providing he doesn't draw the attention of the owl's eye.
The deer mice are welcome to use the birdhouses here in the winter but I insist they share them with the birds in the summer. The meadow stream looks alive and refreshing as it babbles over the mossy stones. It looks good enough to drink. The stream is no longer hidden by the tall cool green grass. That grass now lies on the ground, a lifeless brown. The moving water seems to be the only sign of life and then something moves across a small, still pool. A single water strider skates across the glassy surface of the water leaving tiny round ripples behind him. The blue sky's reflection in the pool makes the little water strider look like a spider suspended in the air.
In the summer, the brush piles along the woods are partially hidden in the foliage of shrubs and trees. Now that the leaves are gone, the brush piles stand out like huge beaver lodges. I have built several large brush piles over the years; now they will become shelters for all kinds of wildlife. I always have a brush pile fairly close to the bird feeders. The wild birds appreciate a place to quickly fly to when they feel threatened. A nice brush pile is shelter for the rabbit, woodchuck, and chipmunk as well as the snake, toad and salamander. There are many who use this house made of sticks, and they're all welcome.
After having a taste of winter in October, the Indian summer has finally come. These past several days of 65 degrees and sunshine have put smiles on people's faces and a cheerful spirit in their voices. It's easy to tell these folks don't take some nice weather for granted. All of a sudden they are talking to each other a little longer.
Early this morning, as the sun began to peek into the valley, a flock of 200 Red-winged blackbirds gathered in the willows on the riverbank. They were talking, too, and greeted the day with their excited chatter. It's getting late in the season to see these summer blackbirds of the grasslands. I wondered where they may have spent their summer, knowing they will still have to fly far to make it to their winter home. They may have come from the northern Canadian provinces and may end up in the Everglades. It's an awful long way, but they take their time and stay together. Each year, I see fewer and fewer Red wings pass through the Kickapoo Valley on their spring or fall migrations. Studies have shown a more than 50% decline in the numbers of grassland birds over the past 20-30 years. To me, that's a very alarming figure. Imagine a world without Red-winged blackbirds, bobolinks, meadowlarks, and a host of other beautiful songbirds. They are disappearing.
The best thing you can do to keep yourself happy and healthy is to get outside and get some of that fresh air.
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