Until the past couple of weeks, the fall weather here in southwest Wisconsin has been fairly normal. Since then, however, it has been unusually mild. It's a good thing, I guess. Sunny days of temperatures in the 40s and 50s have enabled me to do some garden clean-up that I wouldn't normally have done until spring.
Although most of the summer birds have left for their wintering grounds in the south, there are still some migrants passing through. A nice flock of mallard ducks spent a few days resting on a nearby marsh pond. We used to call these late migrating ducks northern mallards. They always seem to be fatter and decked out in full adult plumage, whereas the local mallards aren't nearly as pretty. These late season flocks were once a common sight here in the Kickapoo Valley, but they are rare these days. Seeing any ducks this late in November is a treat.
As a younger man, I enjoyed canoeing down the river this time of year long after all the autumn leaves had fallen. There was something very special about how the landscape reflected in the dark water. Occasionally, a large flock of colorful mallards would rise up from the river right in front of me with a loud rush of wings and splashing water. These flocks numbered anywhere from 100 to 500 ducks, all taking wing at once. Like the mallards themselves, those days are long gone and are just a memory.
There are still a few bluebirds passing through, but not many. It doesn't surprise me to see bluebirds in the late fall or even in the dead of winter these days. There are still some robins here and there, but I usually hear them first. Like the bluebirds, they are very hardy and have little trouble finding food, even when there is lots of snow and the temperature is below zero. Robins and bluebirds are very resourceful and can survive on weed seeds and sumac berries when the insects are all gone.
There was another late emigrant in the yard this morning, a bird I usually only see in the early spring or fall. The pretty fox sparrow was all alone as he kicked through the leaves, searching for small bits of seed under the feeder. The fox sparrow is large, with a rufous-colored tail and a rust-streaked breast. They remind me of a towhee in the way they go about their business of finding food on the ground. There hasn't been much action around the bird feeders this week. Because of the warm weather, the birds are spending more time just wandering in the woods and meadow. If the weather turns nasty, I have no doubt that they will remember where to find an easy meal, and they will return to the bird feeders.
Most folks hate to see English sparrows at their feeders for various reasons. These non-native birds are usually found around the farmyard and feed lots or anywhere they can find food. They have a bad reputation for building their messy grass nests in the holes of trees or bluebird houses or any hole large enough for them to get into. I rarely ever see them at my place so I don't mind when 8 or 10 of them show up at the feeders. They never stay, and probably fly off to the nearest farm after they've had enough to eat. I'd like to share a picture of an English sparrow taken by a good friend who saw one of these sparrows lying on his back at his “moon” feeder. The feeder was made to look like a friendly man in the moon and had a place for birdseed at his chin. The sparrow had got stuck trying to reach the leftover seed inside and appeared to be resting on the moon. He was released unharmed, but proved that not all ideas for birdfeeders are good or safe.
The local skunks are usually sleeping in a warm den in the ground this time of year, but the warm weather has them out and about, searching for food. The sharp scent of skunk drifts on the early morning air and lets me know that Pepe le Pew has been around during the night. This time of year, I am often asked about how to get rid of nasty skunk smell, especially if it's stuck to someone's favorite hunting dog. Over the years, I've tried many remedies. Most of them don't work very well, including tomato juice. Here's one mixture that actually works pretty well. To a pail of water, add 1 quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide, a quarter pound of baking soda and a bit of liquid laundry detergent. You can also put some of this mixture in a spray bottle to be sprayed around wherever the skunk has left his calling card. Good luck with that!
All art ©2013 Organic Valley