The first color of green appears around the spring pond in the form of fresh, new watercress. One entire corner of the clear-water pond is completely covered by a thick bed of beautiful green cress. The first taste of watercress is the first taste of spring. The sharpness of that first bite wakes up my senses, but the flavor comes through only after chewing a few pieces.
The pond was a nice place to pause and absorb an early spring scene: water striders sliding across the still water like they were on glass. Often I see these strange water insects in groups of 20 or more. They search the surface of the still water for tiny insects to eat, and they communicate with each other by the ripples they make on water. Their middle legs are for rowing, and their hind legs are for steering. It’s fun to watch them skip across the water. Water striders can be found anywhere there is a fresh water pond or stream in the United States.
The peaceful mourning doves have been courting in the valley, and their sweet, mournful calls remind me of peaceful, melancholy evenings in mid-summer. “Coo-ah, coo, coo, coo.” At last count there are 11 mourning doves that visit the feeders. I hope most of them stay around and spend the summer with me. There’s nothing that sets a peaceful mood like the calls of the doves.
The days have been warmer than you’d expect for the third week of February, with temperatures around 35 to 40 degrees. An inch or so of snow came Wednesday night, and the trees looked like they’d been dusted white. I heard a thud while sweeping snow off the back porch. A pretty male cardinal had flown into a window and was sitting in the snow under the window he had just struck, dazed to the world. I gently placed him under my shirt to keep him warm so he wouldn’t go into shock. After about 10 minutes, he began to move around, so I caught him and pulled him out, then slowly opened my hand flat. Often the bird will just lie there, but when he realized he was free to go, he promptly flew up to a nearby limb, roused his feathers back into place and flew away.
There has been a little sharp-shinned hawk hanging around the yard from time to time the past few days. When it comes to catching little birds, they’re the best there is. Two or three times a day this one tries to ambush the birds at the bird feeder, but he’s not fast enough to catch a bird before they all dive into a nearby brush pile. I haven’t seen him catch a bird yet, but I’ve been able to get a pretty good look at him. He’s very handsome with steel blue back and wings contrasted to blush breast feathers. Dark red eyes indicate he’s an adult, a trait similar to all three members of this family of short-winged hawks known as accipiters. The other two family members are the larger Cooper’s hawk and the larger still goshawk.
The little sharpie is about the same size as a kestrel or blue jay and is able to catch birds as small as chickadees and warblers. It’s always a treat to see one of these little Mighty-mites of the hawk world, and they are as welcome here as any of the other wild birds.
A raccoon and an opossum were out and about in the night. They left their tracks in the snow around the house and shed. The coon’s tracks led up the back steps where he paused to sniff under the screen door. He also made a couple of trips around the car in the driveway before ambling off towards the creek.
The half dozen gray squirrels I see each day are probably males. The female squirrels are tucked away in their nests inside a hollow tree limb somewhere, taking care of their newly born baby squirrels. Gray squirrels can live up to 15 years and have two litters of young a year. She will give birth to 3-5 naked, blind babies that will be weaned in about two months. That’s about the time I start seeing young squirrels in the tree branches.
Sunday morning I heard the return of the first sandhill crane just before sun up. I knew there wasn’t time to run to the house for the camera, so I just stood there, watching the single crane as he flew over the house. Hopefully, more cranes will return to the Kickapoo Valley in the next couple of days. Their return is an event I look forward to every spring, and it seems to be happening a little earlier each year.
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