The other day I took a slow ride along Highway 35, which follows the Mississippi River. I feel blessed to live so close to the "Mighty Miss," one of the most beautiful natural areas on the planet. The expanse of the river can be over a mile wide, bordered on both sides by tall, wooded limestone bluffs. It's a place where ducks and geese gather, and where eagles soar high above, watching for fish in the slow-moving river below. Great Blue herons and White egrets patrol the back waters, while turtles lie on half-submerged logs and bask in the sun.
Whenever I'm along the Mississippi, I keep an eye out for Purple martins. I've never seen a martin where I live in the Kickapoo Valley, though it's only 40 miles east of the big river. The large swallows were abundant along the Mississippi valley at one time, but that's not the case today. I was happy to see some small colonies of Purple martins using the martin houses provided for them by the folks who live along the river. Sadly, there's aren't as many Martin houses as there used to be, and many of those houses that are not even being used. I try harder than before to notice the Martin houses as I drive along.
Like most swallows, Purple martins are very comfortable living close together and sharing their nesting territories. Their songs are a cheery series of gurgling melodic notes, which are pleasantly intense when they greet each other.
Anyone who has martin houses will tell you that there is a bit of maintenance involved with hosting martins, but the rewards far outweigh the extra work. They are simply a joy to have around your property, and their songs will brighten any day! For many folks who live along the Mississippi, summer wouldn't be the same without the martins. What's more, studies have shown that a Purple Martin may consume its weight in insects each day, 2,000 or more of which are mosquitoes. The town of Griggsville, Illinois put up 28 martin houses, and within two years had a population of 250 Purple martins which could consume a half million mosquitoes every day. The town, which became known as "The Purple Martin Town," was a perfect example of organic insect control.
Where there are lots of pesky mosquitoes, dragonflies can also offer relief. They eat a lot of mosquitoes and provide excellent pest control.
Closer to home, the young Canada geese have grown their new flight feathers, and are now able to take wing. Families of geese gather in the stubbly hayfields—fifty or more in a flock. There's safety in numbers,and several of the adults will stand guard while the young goslings eat. The short grass is a good place to find a tasty meal of crickets and clover leaves.
Sandhill cranes, too, can be seen in the short grass fields now, taking advantage of the abundance of crickets. They'll even wander up into people's yards, if there aren't any dogs around.
I noticed Red-tailed hawks standing on the ground where the roadside mower has cut the tall grass. They too are snapping up a meal of crickets. Along with grasshoppers, these big insects are easy to catch and very nutritious.
It's good news that there are lots of crickets here this summer. It means there is plenty of good food for many birds, reptiles and small mammals. Whenever there is plenty of nutritious food to eat, I know that all is well and prosperous.
I hope you all find some "laid back time" this summer and get out to enjoy all that lives in the real world around you.
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