I was traveling along the southwest Wisconsin part of the Mississippi River road a couple weeks ago when I spotted something I thought was unusual.
A large flock of big white birds was standing in the shallow waters of the river. They were about half a mile from me and at first I thought they were swans, but a closer look (with binoculars) told me they were white pelicans. I thought it was odd to see pelicans on the river in the second week of July. They are not uncommon on the river in the early spring or fall, as they stop to rest during their migratory flights. However, it seemed too early for them to be on migration from their breeding grounds in Northwest Minnesota and points north.
When I think of gentle creatures, many birds come to mind, but to me, pelicans are the gentlest of all large birds. It is peaceful to watch their slow, deliberate movements, or their graceful flight. They tuck their long necks over their breasts to give their large yellow bills more support as they glide, single file, over the water. The pelican's body many look disproportionate at times, but they are truly graceful.
I'm not sure why the pelicans were gathered there on the river when they should have been further north, but I was glad to have the chance to watch them stand there preening and enjoying the warmth of the sun. Some laid their large yellow bills over their backs and slept, while others ambled through the water searching for small fish to scoop up and swallow.
At first light every morning, I wake to the sounds of angry crows. Their vocal hostility is directed at a Great Horned owl that is trying to hide in a stand of cedar trees across the valley. The crows seem to find the owl easily each morning, and the ruckus begins. After 10 or 15 minutes of the calls, the owl usually leaves his daytime roost and flies off to find a more peaceful place to spend the day. Of course, the crow's follow him, calling excitedly, until they finally lost interest and go off to find some breakfast.
The Great Horned owl himself has no trouble finding something to eat this time of year. There are lots of small animals moving around on the ground below, and he isn't picky. His menu may include voles, mice, rats, squirrels, young rabbits, young birds, snakes, frogs, salamanders, and large insects. The bottoms along the river valley are a good place to find all these things, and thus a favorite place for the owl to do his nocturnal hunting.
I know that this particular owl is an adult because I've heard his hooting in the night. The young owls that fledged in late April still have their juvenile voices: "Reeep! Reeep!"
The peaceful hooting of the adult owls often sings me to sleep at night. I wish the crows would be a little quieter early in the morning, and let me sleep longer, but I guess they just don't "give a hoot."
I've noticed some large, lovely dragonflies zooming about in the yard and along the grassy creek near the barn. I was watching one particularly beautiful, large green dragonfly today, when from nowhere a cedar waxwing swooped down and grabbed it in midair. The waxwing then flew to a branch at the edge of a willow tree and began to swallow his prey whole. The last things to go down were the dragonfly's large, opaque wings. What a reminder that all things in nature serve a purpose, regardless of their beauty, and there's no guarantee that life will be long. In nature, one life continues through the lives of others, in a great cycle of giving.
A full moon and bright yellow flowers welcomed the dog days of August. Mid-to-late summer brings the many showy blossoms of sunflowers. The roadsides are painted with the bright yellow blooms of coneflowers and daisies. I always pick a bouquet for the kitchen table, so the flowers of summer can add a splash of sunlight to the house.
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