I have to admit, I don't follow weather much on the national scene, so I probably don't know what winter is like this year where you live. If it's anything like it is here, it's been a winter to remember. The Weather Service has officially declared January 2006 the warmest in Southwest Wisconsin since records have been kept. With normal temperatures during the month hitting zero and lower, it's hard to believe that the thermometer has been above 32 degrees every day for the last six weeks. It's nothing like I've ever seen, and I've somewhat kept track in my journals for most of my life. It's been "early spring" here for a month and a half.
Just after sunset tonight, an eerie fog rose in the valley. A hard rain soon changed to snow, and in no time the ground was covered with white. Snowfall while it's foggy is a strange sight, one that I've seldom seen. Standing at the window, I watched the shadowy figures of two deer come into the yard and slowly move through the fog. The fresh white snow gave the fog a glow that made the deer look almost ghostlike.
A number of people have told me that they've found an antler shed from a white-tailed buck. The first report was a month ago, and there have been three others since, plus I've found two myself in the past couple of weeks. Like so many other things this winter, it seems kind of early. Do the deer feel the affects of the prolonged spring-like weather? If so, I can't blame them for being fooled. The little chipmunk that didn't hibernate is acting like it's spring, coming to the bird feeder every day. I don't know what it's thinking, but I do know a chipmunk in late January or early February is a strange sight indeed.
Monday morning, the ground was covered with about an inch of snow. I was up early as usual, and at first light I headed out to the bird feeders with a broom and a pail of black sunflower seeds. While I was cleaning snow off the feeders, cardinals landed in the trees overhead. Eager to get to the sunflower seeds, they chirped excitedly while they waited for me to leave. The cardinals are always the first to show up in the morning, and the last to leave at nightfall.
After making a cup of hot tea, I took a look out the window to see who showed up for breakfast. To my surprise, there was a pair of pheasants—a hen and a rooster—picking up seed on the ground under the feeder. I grabbed my binoculars for a closer look. What a beautiful sight! The rooster (male) pheasant is as colorful from the back as he is from the front. How can one bird have so many brilliant feathers?
It's been a long time since I've seen pheasants at the bird feeders, and I hope these two stop by to visit from time to time. Now that they know they can get a free handout, they may remember this place if and when the weather gets cold and snowy again. It's so inspiring when the day starts off with a sighting like this, I sometimes forget about breakfast and sit right down at the drawing table. The truth is, there's something on Nature's trail that inspires me every day!
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