Warm weather was welcome after the short cold snap at the end of last week. The week started with a day of light rain and fog. The fog was thick and hard to drive in but only on the ridge tops. There was no fog at all in the river bottoms that run through the Kickapoo Valley. It’s usually the other way around—foggy in the valley and clear up on top—but not in December.
A flock of 48 turkeys gathered in the pasture that borders the woods this morning. It looked like three small flocks that had came together. They were spread out, searching for something in the short grass. A flock of 48 turkeys has a lot of “lookouts,” a big plus when making a case that there is safety in numbers. Turkeys always keep an eye out for danger. The turkeys have had an easy time of it so far this winter, and so has most all the wildlife in the area. Plenty to eat and no snow. The river is still open and free of ice, and the beavers are busy along the banks.
The kingfisher has his choice of most any perch he would like to fish from, just like in the summer. When the real cold comes his choices will narrow to only those few places with open water.
A Northern shrike sits at the very tip of a 15-foot elm tree in the pasture near the river. His specialty is catching meadow voles in the grass below. I’ve spotted 14 different shrikes in the past month. It tells me that they wouldn’t be here if the hunting wasn’t good.
There was still ice on the big muskrat pond just off the river. I was very surprised to see no less than seven Bald eagles standing out on the open ice. Not that it’s uncommon to see an eagle or two standing on the ice, but never so many all at once. That was a first for me here in the valley. On the Mississippi, fifty miles to the west, it’s not unusual to see twenty or more eagles standing on the river ice. They, too, must be doing pretty good when it comes to finding something to eat. In the ice-free conditions, they’ll have no trouble catching fresh fish, and they are among the world’s best scavengers. Nothing escapes the always watchful eye of the eagle.
It’s been just warm enough to bring out some other scavengers. Some of the opossums, skunks and raccoons are searching the ditches and roadsides for food. Most of them are sound asleep in some warm den when the weather freezes everything solid. Often they wake during warm spells and immediately want to satisfy their hunger. When the temperature drops below 30 degrees again, they will return to their dens to sleep. The raccoon I saw today was patrolling the roadside for food rather than settling for corn from a nearby field. It’s a bad habit that may get the coon in trouble with the local traffic.
About three and a half inches of new fluffy snow came Friday night and changed the landscape, but only for a couple of days. It was nearly 40 degrees on Sunday and the snow was on its way out, but it sure was pretty while it lasted.
I’ve been seeing deer in the valley but not in the yard and garden. I figure they are finding plenty to eat elsewhere. As the sun disappeared behind the ridge, I wondered if the new snow might bring the deer around. Still, I was surprised to look out the window and see two does eating leftovers under the bird feeder. As I watched, five more stepped out of the woods. I never deliberately feed the deer, but they are always welcome to what ever they want in the yard and garden. If you don’t want deer to eat your shrubs, don’t plant them. I always share what I plant around here. There will always be a place in my world for the beautiful deer.
I joined Jean and Sharon Sunday, two of my favorite “wing nuts,” to have a go at the annual Christmas bird count. We knew we couldn’t cover the 15-mile radius very well by ourselves but we did the best we could do. We spotted 30 different kinds of birds in about six hours. We counted every bird we saw keeping a sharp eye out for that special bird to add to the list. Some of this year’s most notable were the Prairie horned larks, a shrike, a Rough-legged hawk and a beautiful Piliated woodpecker that didn’t mind getting his picture taken.
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