It's another sunny day here in southern Wisconsin. The sky seems bluer than blue. Some trees are barely showing a change of color - you have to look closely to see it. On the other hand, some of the sumac has already turned a blazing orange-red. Sumac always brings the first color of fall.
The first light frost could arrive within a couple of weeks. Then the trees will grace us with their fall beauty. Autumn is considered by many to be the most beautiful time of year, and I'm not one to disagree. The glorious colors seems to wean us away from summer and ease us into winter.
The frost will bring a chain reaction of events, making all life aware of the approach of winter. Not only do plants get zapped by the frost; many insects also disappear. This changes the lives of countless birds and other animals, because they must find another source of food.
Birds like the swallows, martins, swifts and flycatchers will begin gathering to migrate south, where there will be flying insects to eat. The hummingbird will also leave, because it will have a hard time finding blossoms to feed from.
For young red-tailed hawks, having insects disappear is a reality check. Once the grasshoppers and crickets are gone, the snakes and frogs will soon follow. With these favorite foods gone, the hawks must sharpen their hunting skills to catch mice and voles.
When the flying insects disappear, so will the brown bats. I must wait until next April to see them again fly through the night sky above the yard and gardens. For me, not seeing these birds and animals for six months is a big adjustment.
I had a very pleasant surprise this morning when I glanced out my window. Slowing creeping up the garden path was an otter. He slinked along like a cat, stopping every few feet to sniff the air. I watched him make his way through the brown-eyed susans and disappear under the tomatoes. A minute later he slid, nose-first, into the creek and was gone. I felt lucky to have spent five minutes watching him. Otters are not rare in this area, but they are hard to spot. I'm happy if I see otters 3 or 4 times in a year.
The otter depends on a water environment to make his living. Webbed feet and a long tail make him one of the best swimmers among aquatic mammals. Swimming skills allow the otter to catch fish, one of his favorite foods. Otters also catch and eat frogs, crawfish, and insects that live in and around a stream, pond or river.
In the winter, otters may appear very playful as the romp and slide through the snow, making grunting and whistling sounds to each other. They like to slide into the water down a snowy bank, and will do it over and over, not unlike a child with a new sled. In the summer, they may play the same game on the muddy banks of the river.
The otter's home is a hollow dug in the bank of a river or pond. The entrance is usually under water. They line their hidden nest with grasses and bark, and usually bear their young there.
These weasel-like animals can be very resourceful. Though they are usually seen by the water, otters make long overland journeys when their fishing spots freeze over. When they can't fish, they may add mice, muskrats, ducks, and even geese to their diet.
Otters mate for life and take close care of their young, playing with them for hours. Early native tribes saw the otter as having female energy, which applies to the feminine in both men and women. Otter people of the tribe would express joy for others and understand how individual accomplishments serve the good of the tribe. The otter moves gently into the river of life, and flows with the waters of the universe.
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