Many of the area birds are moving south in spite of the nice weather we’ve been having. The majority of the Turkey vultures are gone. I haven’t seen one for a week. If I see a large, dark soaring bird, it’s probably an eagle. There are still a few Sandhill cranes hanging around, and I’m hoping they will stay around well into November. They seem to like the shallow ponds and backwaters of the river this time of the year. It was cold enough to put a layer of thin ice on the still water Saturday morning. It was melted away by mid-morning and the cranes were getting their feet wet again.
Whether or not I put a couple of apples in my jacket pocket when I set out for walks depends on where I decide to go. There are a couple of wild apple trees that I could walk past. No two trees are the same, and I love to sample their tangy sweet fruit. Sometimes the fruit is tart or even downright bitter. In those cases, I’d rather eat wild grapes.
I finally got a few pictures of that Black squirrel that was in the yard last week, although I couldn’t get very close to him. He is shy and doesn’t come as close to the house as the other squirrels. He’s black, all right, except for some white spots on his back, which make him look like a little skunk. It will be fun if he sticks around through the winter. Black and white can be a beautiful contrast.
The woodchuck is also shy, but he ventures out to the bird feeder from time to time. He, too, is a member of the squirrel family and loves the taste of sunflower seeds and cracked corn. He’s the largest of the squirrels that I see here. The others are Gray squirrels, Red Fox squirrel, Pine squirrel, Flying squirrel, chipmunks and 13-lined ground squirrel. I’ve seen them all within a quarter of a mile of the house.
Some Canada Geese looked so pretty perched on top of a muskrat house in the morning sunshine. It was as if the muskrat had built the house just for them to pose on. A muskrat house is like a little island in the marsh. The piles of reeds and grasses are used by lots of different birds and other animals, from snakes and turtles to raccoons and mink. The Canada geese may stay around as long as there is open water and plenty to eat.
When I was a kid, corn “shocks” in the fields in fall were a common sight. They look sort of like a muskrat house, like little islands in the fields, only they’re taller and peaked. The grass bundles provide food and shelter for deer, squirrels, mice, voles, rabbits and birds.
The Valley landscape is mostly dark brown since all the leaves have gone. The tree-covered mountains are a perfect backdrop for the large black Bald eagle soaring up the Valley. Her white head and tail feathers clash beautifully with the dark trees. She circles twice over the tree tops then drifts out of sight over the ridge. The eagles have been more noticeable since the leaves have gone. I see them most every day in the Kickapoo Valley. Some of them may spend the winter here, while others may move further south. Bald eagles are fishermen by trade and can make a living in the winter where there is open water and fish. If the river freezes over, they are also very good at scavenging. Nothing is missed by the eye of a soaring eagle.
With no leaves to hide them, I can see where all the robins nested during the summer. The mud and grass nests stick out in the bare branches of several trees and shrubs around the yard. The robins are gone now, but there are still lots of robins from further north that are still migrating through. It’s not unusual to see fifty or more moving through the trees together.
I found a Baltimore oriole’s nest on the ground under the large cottonwood tree in the meadow. It had only recently been blown out of the tree and was in excellent condition. An oriole’s nest is one of nature’s most amazing structures, a true work of art. It is a finely woven sack made of pliable strips of dry plant fibers, grapevine bark, milkweed silk and other such materials, and is lined with White pine needles. Without the benefit of hands, the orioles manage to weave these strands so tightly that their nests resemble coarse cloth. It’s not unusual for them to add some string or horse hair to their nest if it is available. The Baltimore orioles have a special place in my heart for many reasons, one being that they were the topic of my very first article of “Down Nature’s Trail” in 1972, 39 years ago.
It sounds like the folks who live near the east coast were treated to the “S” word over the weekend. I guess there is nothing for them to do but grin and go with the flow, or should I say “snow”?
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