Every time I take a walk down Nature's trail, there's something interesting to see. If you keep your eyes open, you may see something spectacular, even in a quiet stand of old woods. It's also important to trust your ears, for any unusual sounds.
On a recent walk I paused to look around while leaning against a 150-year old Sugar maple tree. I could see where the deer had gathered under the big tree, and had nibbled off the tender ends of all the short shrubs. Suddenly a small piece of bark bounced off my shoulder, while at the same time came the faint call of a bird—"seep!" I hadn't seen any other birds since I walked into the deep woods, so I wanted to know who was in the branches above me. I expected to see a nuthatch, but found none, even after I walked all around the tree. Then came the call from up in the tree again, "Seep! Seep!" Again, I started out slowly around the big tree, scanning the trunk and every branch. Finally, I saw something move on the trunk, about 25 feet up from the ground. I raised my binoculars and focused in on the first Brown Creeper I had seen this winter. The little bird is only five inches long from the tip of his long, curved bill to the end of his stiff, pointed tail feathers.
When it comes to being inconspicuous, the Brown Creeper wins first prize. It's rare to see him anywhere but on the bark of a large tree, and there he's pretty hard to spot unless he moves. The Creeper's marbled brown colors help him blend with the bark of a tree while he searches crevices in the bark for insects and spiders. He tends to move with his feet tucked under his breast feathers, pressing his long, woodpecker-like tail against the tree for balance. There doesn't seem to be many of these birds, and who would want the job of finding and counting them?
I came to a tractor lane in the woods, and followed it out through the middle of a cornfield. A big red Fox squirrel had been scavenging for corn in the brown, leafy stubble of the picked rows. When he spotted me, he made a beeline for the safety of the woods with an ear of corn held tightly in his teeth.
As I approached the end of the cornfield, I was suddenly startled by a covey of Bob-white quail. Actually, "startled" was an understatement—wow! They all burst into the sky at once, almost right under my feet. I hardly ever see quail around here anymore—once or twice a year, if I'm lucky.
The five little Bob-whites took off with a whirring of wings, sailed to the far end of the cornfield, and disappeared into a stand of sumac. My mind drifted back to a summer morning, and the merry call of a male Bob-white that perched atop a fence post behind the barn. It's a song not soon forgotten, and rarely heard around here these days—though decades ago quail were quite common here in Southwest Wisconsin.
I considered this morning's walk very eventful, having spotted not one, but two species of birds that I rarely see. One thing is sure, I wouldn't have had the chance to see either if I'd not paid attention on my walk down Nature's Trail.
Naturally yours, Dan Hazlett
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