I didnít hear anyone complaining about the weather through the whole month of January. It went out like a lamb. The first week of February was even nice, with daytime temps around 40 degrees that melted much of the snow and ice.
The maple sap has been running again. Iíve seen sap buckets here and there, something you usually donít see til March. It makes me wonder what the sap run will be like in March, or even if there will be one. Itís impossible to predict what the weather will bring, which is tough for the folks who make maple syrup.
The moon at mid-day is like a beacon in the blue sky. It looks so big you could reach out and touch it. The beautiful white moon had been making an appearance each day on the horizon since before time began, and I hope there will always be a moonrise for someone to enjoy.
There are more signs of early spring this week to add to the growing list. New buds on the soft maple trees are already beginning to swell and grow at the ends of branches. A large maple tree that once appeared to be lifeless proves to us that there is life in that old trunk and branches. I notice an ice fisherman standing over a small hole in the ice on a backwater slough just off the river. These hardy fishermen always take advantage of spring-like weather and never seem to mind if they donít catch any fish.
A doe and her two yearlings search the ground for anything edible. They look very healthy and fat and should have no trouble surviving the rest of the winter. There is a third yearling that stays within sight of the other three deer, yet never comes too close to them. The yearling was orphaned during hunting season. Still, he is not part of the doeís family, so she wonít let him come any closer.
The prairie larks are some of the first birds to start their spring nesting duties. I have seen them on eggs as early as the second week of February. For now they are pairing off to begin their courtship rituals. The male struts his stuff for the female on a snowless patch of ground in the pasture. Itís an early spring nuptial show that has played out for thousands of years on the Midwest prairies.
Crows have been a little more active lately. They chase each other through the tree tops as they play their spring games. The area red-tailed hawks would rather the crows keep a low profile, but part of the crowsí fun is giving hawks a hard time. Several times this week I watched crows chase a lazy red-tailed hawk from his sunny perch.
Iíve always been an early riser. Most mornings Iím outside when the sun comes up. The sunrise may be short but itís the sweetest time of the day. Itís hard not to look to the east at the beautiful colors before they fade away. Iím sure there are many farmers that would tell you the same as the sun rises each day over their fields.
Wild birds that come to the bird feeders havenít needed a free handout so desperately this week. The weather has been so nice that they have been able to venture off and away from the feeders. The chickadees seem to think that spring is just around the corner, too. Iíve heard a few of them singing their favorite spring songs. A few of the male cardinals have also had a touch of spring fever and whistle so all the world can hear: ďwhat-cheer-cheer-cheer,Ē or ďbirdy-birdy-birdy-birdy.Ē They will be more and more vocal as winter turns to spring and the days grow longer. The sound of the cardinalsí first spring song gives me hope that warmer days are coming. The little white-breasted nuthatches are feeling the seasonís changes, and they sing to each other from the tree branches: ďwhi- whi-whi.Ē Their courtship songs are high-pitched and very subtle to the ear, but itís no less an important sign of spring.
The large paper wasp nest I found while on my morning walk was a little tattered but still very interesting to look at. Woodpeckers had torn away one side of the large oval nest in search of dead wasps to eat. The exposed interior revealed layers of comb-like chambers where the young wasps were born last summer. Itís rare to find a wasp nest that is in such good condition this late in the winter. Soon, spring rains will dissolve the thin, paper nest, but the wasps will build a new one when summer returns to the Kickapoo Valley.
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