The deep freeze came to the valley Tuesday night and continued through Friday. The three old thermometers on the back porch all had different readings just before sunrise. I took an average of the three and came up with 26 below zero early Wednesday morning.
The few chores I had to do outside felt pretty good, at first. The sun beaming down, and the air so brisk and fresh, its was exhilarating—until my gloved fingers started feeling the bite, and it wasn't long before my toes and nose began to sting. I decided then and there that I would spend most of the day inside.
The very first thing I do in the morning when it is this cold, is make sure the wild birds are fed. The cardinals are waiting at first light, and after a night of 26 below zero, they must be very hungry.
Thursday night was even colder, as the temperature dropped to 30 below, and I swear I could tell the difference. A cottontailed rabbit ventured out from under a brush pile just after sunset. Before he headed over to under the bird feeders, he stopped to nibble on the bark of some Red Osier dogwood that was sticking up in the deep snow.
I've lived where I'm at now for ten years, and didn't see a bunny at all for the first five years. Then a few started showing up around some brush piles I had stacked. I think they also like the grassland edges I created over the years. Brush piles are an important part of wildlife habitat, and easy to make. Besides being a good hideout for rabbits, they are good shelter for songbirds and reptiles and frogs. The best thing you can do for your bird feeding area is to build a brush pile nearby. It's a ready-made place for the birds to hide when they feel they are in danger.
There are only two bunnies living here this winter, but that's all it takes to make a lot of relatives by the end of summer. Ahh, another thing to look forward to.
All the talk at Organic Valley headquarters in La Farge, Wisconsin is about the little kestrel who comes to the bird feeder each day. When I first heard about his visits, I assumed he was stalking the small songbirds. The bird feeder is just outside the lunchroom, so I watched the feeder during lunch one day. I wasn't there for five minutes when the little falcon lit on a branch above the feeder. He didn't seem to pay any attention to the birds, and they didn't seem terrified of him. I noticed he was intently staring down at the snow bank under the feeder. That's when I realized he was there for a meadow vole for his lunch. Sure enough, from a small hole burrowed in the snow, a vole darted out, grabbed a sunflower seed and quickly dashed back to his snow tunnel. The kestrel stayed put, waiting for the perfect chance to pounce, and it happened as I watched. Down he went like a dart, and caught a vole. Then he flew to a high branch in an oak tree with his lunch. Apparently the bird feeder is attracting more than just birds. I notice there were several other voles dashing in and out of the snow bank gathering bird seed. It was fun watching them too.
There are plans in the making for a kestrel box next spring. With any luck at all, a family of kestrels may spend the summer at Organic Valley. This is the perfect time to plan for spring. You can set the stage for all sorts of new wildlife encounters for the coming spring and summer, by planning ahead. Some new bird house, some beneficial flowers, a bird bath, a brush pile, and the list goes on and on.
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