The weather has been pretty nice here in the Kickapoo Valley and ever so slowly the temperature has climbed back into the low 70s. There was heavy morning dew every day except for Wednesday morning. The thermometer had dropped into the 30s the night before, leaving a light frost come morning. I had to close the windows and start a little fire in the wood stove to stay comfortable. With luck, that will be the last frost until fall.
I put several sections of old metal roofing on the ground in out of the way places at the edge of the yard. Iíve been doing this for years to provide a hiding place for bugs, mice, snakes or whatever else needs shelter. This morning I took a peek under the metal sheets to see what was there. One sheet of tin was hiding no less than five beautiful snakes. Two of them were nearly three feet long. Itís fun to check under the tin about once a month. Itís kinda like treasure hunting.
What a joy to have the pretty rose-breasted grosbeaks in the yard again with their striking white flash of wings, lovely rose-colored breasts and beautiful oriole-like songs. They canít resist the black oil sunflower seeds I put out for them.
The chickadees have become scarce. This is their nesting season. I probably wonít see them much until late August. They kept me company through winter, and now theyíve left that job to the many summer birds.
From across the valley comes the unique calls of a black-billed cuckoo. ďCucucu, cucucu, cucucu.Ē Itís the first one Iíve heard this spring. I hope it sticks around for a while. Cuckoos are one of only a few birds that eat fuzzy tent caterpillars, making them valuable assets to anyone who grows fruit trees.
There are a couple of catbirds sneaking around the yard. I always hear them before I see them. Their mindless array of songs goes on and on. You never know what theyíll say next. Sometimes theyíll hide in the thick brush and meow like an angry cat. Catirds are busy, vocal birds, and I respect their inquisitive energy.
The female cardinal has a nest full of mouths to feed, so papa cardinal is constantly on the watch for food. His feathers are so bright red he seems to glow in the morning sun. Just as in winter, the cardinals are the first at the feeders at dawn and the last to leave at dusk.
The house wrens were a little slow getting started this spring, but theyíre making up for it now. All day long I hear the rattle of a twig as it is being forced into a gourd house. They are on the move constantly, always working while singing their musical warble. They will stuff sticks into every unused bird house in sight but the females will only lay eggs in one of them. Iím planning on planting more bird house gourds when the weather warms up. Theyíre just the right size for the wrens and I can hang them up anywhere.
Some of the birds I see in the spring are just passing through before moving further north. That was the case with six white-crowned sparrows in my yard Wednesday. Their lovely songs sound like: ďHere, wee Willie, what díya see?Ē As luck would have it, there were two other conspicuous sparrows traveling with the white-crowned sparrows, a couple of pretty male Harris sparrows. I only see these bold looking sparrows in spring and fall when they are moving through. Itís been five years since I last saw one here. They are large sparrows with buff-gray cheeks and black crown, face, and throat. They spend summers in Canada, from the eastern shore of Canadaís Great Bear Lake to the western shore of Hudson Bay and up to the edge of the Arctic Barren Grounds. Itís always a treat to see these long distance travelers, even if itís for only one day every five years.
It was warmer and sunny Thursday so I saw more butterflies on the wing, including a few monarchs and fritillaries. Three beautiful giant swallowtails gathered together in the driveway. Itís nice of them to get together for a picture. Iím encouraged by all the butterflies this spring. The more the merrier when it comes to these flowers on wings.
I caught a Canada goose taking a bath on the marsh pond Friday morning. It dipped and splashed, then rubbed its long neck over its shoulders before preening its tail. This was topped off by beating its large wings in the air.
At the other end of the pond a female wood duck swam half-hidden in the water grass. She had eight little fuzzy brown ducklings in tow. My guess is that they had just found their way to the pond after having walked who knows how far. The little wood ducks were hatched in a nest that was probably in a hole in a tree. They were the first baby ducks Iíve seen this spring. Things are moving right along.
What interesting things have you been seeing this spring? Thereís a lot going on right under our noses.
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