The final week of October has been as close to normal as itís been in several years. We had a couple of cloudy days followed by a rainy day followed by a few sunny days to balance it all out. There really hasnít been one extreme or the other the way late autumn used to be. Iím comfortable with it, I guess. Seems like a good way to slowly break into winter.
The majority of the migrating songbirds have passed through the area, although there are a few small flocks of red-winged blackbirds here and there, and I heard a robin this morning. One of the birds that spends the winter here is the kingfisher. I often see him perched on a tree branch or power line near the river. The kingfisher is about the size of a blue jay. Its blue-gray back and shoulders slope up to its seemingly extra-large head, which tapers into a long, pointed beak and is crowned by an impressive crest of feathers. A band of blue-gray feathers crosses the maleís white breast, while the female has a second rusty band under the gray one. They may spend the winter here and will catch small fish from the Kickapoo River. As long as the river stays ice-free, the kingfisher is able to dive in and catch his dinner.
A dozen crows are doing what crows always do, which is pretty much whatever they want to do. They have found a barred owl that has stirred from its hiding place in the thick pine boughs. The sun has set, so the crows think itís good fun to give the owl a hard time before they leave for their night roost. A dozen crows can make quite a ruckus when it comes to playing owl games.
I admire the late autumn colors as my Sunday night walk takes me up the valley. Most of the bright leaves are gone with the exception of a few honeysuckle and wild apple trees that still hold on to their yellow leaves. I love the soft, subtle colors of the valley in late autumn. They lure me to explore further up the trail to where the spruce trees stand tall. I am able to easily spot abandoned nests of summer birds since they are no longer concealed by a blanket of leaves. I see a doveís flimsy nest of sticks in the bare branches of a hazel bush, a cardinalís nest in the branches of a service berry, as well as a robinís nest in the high branches of a wild apple tree. I remember how the catbirds were very excited as I walked by a patch of prickly ash one day early in the summer. Now that the leaves of the prickly ash are gone, the catbird's nest is plain to see. No wonder the pair of catbirds were upset with me.
In the dried needles under a spruce tree lies a single tail feather from a crow. This is always a good place to find feather treasures and owl pellets and occasionally some mushrooms. I see where a Cooperís hawk had plucked the flight feathers from a tufted titmouse it had caught. The tell-tale feathers told the story. A few yards away I find a small, fallen log that was covered by the tiny yellow feathers of a goldfinch. This is called a Ďplucking postí and is used by a sharp-shinned hawk to pluck its meal. I had seen both of these hawks several times over the summer. Looks like they were doing just fine.
My walk takes me out of the spruce trees and along the edge of the prairie grasses where there are still a few lavender asters in bloom because they are sheltered from the bitter cold that has claimed most all of the wild flowers in the valley by now. It will be another nine months before I see them again, so I pause to smell the pretty flowers one last time. I was surprised when a grasshopper jumped to the ground as I bent over. It could very well be the last of its kind I will see for many months. The cold will see to that.
Walking the patch through the tall prairie grass along the edge of the woods I suddenly hear what sounds like a deer coming through the brush. Standing perfectly still, I watch as a nice buck trots out of the woods and prances down the path in front of me. I got his picture when he stopped on the side of the hill to look back at me, showing little fear. The bucks are in rut now and have only one thing on their minds: Does. I encourage everyone to slow down while driving now, especially at night when the deer seem to be constantly on the move as the bucks pursue the does.
Itís a little hard to figure out the single pigeon that has been living in the shed for the past several months. Occasionally a pigeon or two will show up, but they will stay for only a couple of days before leaving. For some reason, this guy likes it here without the company of his own kind. Each morning he flies down to the bird feeders and eats with the other birds. I also see him sunning himself on top of the metal roof of the old shed. I enjoy having him around, but Iíll be surprised if he spends the winter here. At some point heíll probably fly off in search of a mate, and maybe heíll bring her back with him.
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