The first week of November has been pretty niceóeven the nightly lows werenít too cold. I had been scraping frost off the windshield every morning, but when the stars were hidden by the clouds it got warmer and the temperature stayed above freezing. Thereíre still some insects to be seenóBox elder bugs, Asian lady beetles, and Wooly bear caterpillars but thatís about it. With the absence of insects, itís time to put up a couple of suet feeders for the birds and start providing a little cracked corn. There has been a pair of Piliated woodpeckers hanging around the valley and they call to each other as they fly from one side of the valley to the other. Itís a real treat to have these crow-sized woodpeckers around but they are a real challenge to photograph. Iíll keep trying. They stay hidden in the tree limbs and you can hear them, but they wonít let you get close enough to take their picture. I never seem to have my camera when they fly over. Itís the olí being in the right place at the right time story. Iíll keep trying.
I was surprised to see a pair of Sandhill cranes standing together in a picked cornfield, just off the highway yesterday. It was a bad place to try and get a picture of themóthe traffic was too busy. They were the first cranes Iíd seen in three weeks. Most of the resident summer birds are gone now, along with the last of the Red-winged blackbirds, who left four or five days ago. I still hear a few Robins passing through and there are a few Bluebirds moving south. Any birds I see sitting on the highlines get a good second look as I drive by. Today I got lucky and had a good look at an Ospreyóa large raptor we used to call a Fish eagle because fish is pretty much all they eat. He was the fifth Osprey Iíve seen migrating through the Kickapoo Valley this fall. They follow all Wisconsinís river systems from north to south and hunt for fish along their migration. Their fishing technique is very effective and a beautiful thing to watch. They perch high in a tree or pole overlooking the river and watch the passing water below. When a fish is spotted, the Osprey flies out and hovers over the river to get a good fix on his pretty. Then he dives head-first, with wings folded in, and at the last instant he brings his wings above his head, then, feet-first, he strikes the water and grasps the fish. His wings keep him from going under and he rises in the air with the fish clutched in his long, sharp talons. I only get to see these special birds in the spring and fall as they migrate through. I wish a few would stick around in the summer. I suppose the fishing is better somewhere else.
Now that all the colorful leaves are gone itís rare to see any bright color in the tree branches, and the bright orange berries of the Bittersweet stand out. This vine is growing up twenty feet in the branches of a cedar tree, giving the cedar a festive look. Iím still kind of in color-shock since the landscape turned brown. My mind is still full of lingering thoughts of the colorful autumn season. Now, all is brown, and will be, until next April or May. I wonít mind a colorless landscape for a while. In fact, it has a unique beauty all its own. But, by the first of the year Iím ready for a change. Some snow would bring a bright change to the land and my mood.
From a distance, the twenty dark birds I saw perched on the highline looked like Blackbirds, but as the car got closer to them I could see they were Starlings. They were lined up close to each other and no doubt chatting to each other. Starlings are very vocal and never miss a chance to talk things overóeven alone they enjoy talking to themselves. When a Blue jay sounds his alarm call it may be a warning that a predator is near, or maybe heís just making noise. Youíre never really sure about the calls of a Blue jay. A Starling, on the other hand, will only sound their alarm call when a predator, such as a hawk, is around. If Iím working outside and a Starling gives the alarm, I know if I look around I may see a hawk passing through. Iíve seen lots of hawks thanks to the Starlingsí alarm call.
A little further down the road I spotted another bird sitting on a highline. By his shape and posture I could see it was a little male Kestrel. He had just flown up to the highline carrying a fat vole. It was good to know that he had already found his breakfast at 6:30 in the morning. Much like the Ospreyís hunting technique, the Kestrel hovers high above the grass then drops on their prey at the exact, right moment. The Kestrel may be small, but is a true falcon in every sense. Like the hardy Starlings, they may spend the winter here if they have a food source. If not, they go south.
An eagle was enjoying the sunís first rays from his lofty perch in the lone tree in the pasture. All he wanted from the world was his time with the sunrise, but a couple of crows had other ideas. They had already found their breakfast and now they wanted to have some fun. Giving the eagle a hard time is their idea of a good time, and all the eagle can do is take it or go somewhere else. The eagle may be a big, powerful bird, but heís not fast enough to catch the clever crows. Finally, heís had all he can take of their loud caws and relentless dive-bombing, and he out-flies them, downwind.
Iíve driven down this gravel river road a hundred times and never noticed the volleyball sized waspsí nest high over the road. Now that the leaves are gone, it is no longer hidden, and sticks out like a sore thumb.The nest of the Bald-faced wasp is one of natureís true natural works of art and an example of superb architecture. They make very nice decorative conversation pieces and some people collect them. This time of year the nest may or may not be active (wasps inside). I donít recommend handling one until after the first hard freezeó10 degrees or so. The wasps will be safe to handle around the second week of December here.
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