April already, and there is still snow—several inches of it—on the north-facing slopes. The sun isn't high enough yet to melt it. It's another story on the south side of the mountains, and it's pretty much white-free where the sun hits. The couple of inches of rain a few nights ago really did a number on the snow. The Kickapoo River rose to the tops of its banks by the next day; it was close, but the rain let up just in time and not much spilled over.
The Tom turkeys start gobbling just before sunup each morning. It's too dark to see them, but their courtship gobbles come from both sides of this small valley. It's a wonderful addition to the sounds on a Spring morning. I can remember a time when there weren't any turkeys here. I didn't know then what I was missing, but once I heard that first Tom gobble, I now look forward to his wake-up song each Spring.
Early Friday morning I was greeted by another new bird song. From the lilac bushes near the mailbox came a single, rattling, high note. A little Chipping sparrow was busy hopping around in the leafless branches. He may be a small and subtle sign of Spring, but his song made the morning special to me.
There aren't many ponds that can be seen from the road here in the Coulee Region. I always slow down when I drive by one of them, especially this time of the year. There may be some geese resting on the pond, or some Mallards or Wood ducks. Maybe there is a Great Blue heron standing on one leg at the water's edge. This is the only time of the year that you might see some diving ducks here in the Kickapoo River Valley. They seem to prefer larger bodies of water like a wider river or lake where their change of getting a meal of fish is much greater.
I pulled over next to a pond near La Farge to watch two groups of diving ducks bobbing in the waves. One group was made up of four Goldeneyes, the males in their beautiful nuptial plumage. These colorful ducks have to be seen close up in order to get a full appreciation of how beautiful they really are. I always keep a pair of binoculars in the glove box just for occasions like this. The male's striking dark back against his white breast and flanks are complimented by his dark green head. His explanation point is a bright, white spot under his eye. There were two males, and two, more subtly-colored gray-brown females. There were six larger ducks in the other group of divers, twice as big as the Goldeneyes. Four males and two female American Mergansers, huddled together on the waves. Again, I was glad to have my old binoculars along, and I was able to get a closer look at some of Spring's most lovely art work. Both the male and female Mergansers are truly a beautiful work of art. The males with their shiny, dark green heads and coral beaks may be outdone by the female's striking orange/brown feathered head and crest.
There was a time when I spent hours watching the Spring migrating waterfowl from a blind along some lake or river. The opportunity to do that these days means a day spent along the Mississippi River, an hour's drive from here. The plans are already in the making to do some duck watching. The "Big Muddy" is a good place to see geese, swans, white pelicans, herons, egrets, lots of different ducks, and who knows what else.
Saturday was sunny and near 60 degrees, and a large Woodchuck made his first appearance. He had been spending the winter hibernating under a board pile behind the shed. It must have been a pretty good place to wait out the cold, as the board pile was completely covered with snow for most of the winter. Now he will have to work hard to find something green to eat in the dead, brown grass in the yard. Already, though, there are small, tender shoots of dandelions and clover starting to appear, and the hungry Woodchuck is grateful for what he can find.
A half an hour later, I saw the first Chipmunk, picking up seeds under a bird feeder. Chipmunks and woodchucks are two of Wisconsin's squirrels who hibernate through the winter. It's interesting that I saw them both for the first time on the same day.
One of the best ways for you to become more aware of the natural world we live in, is to go outside and enjoy the Spring and all that Nature has to offer. It's as simple as that.
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