It was a little colder than usual this morning, and I was a little late to see the sunrise, but I walked off down the valley anyway. I knew the sun had peaked the horizon already because the treetops on the ridge to the west were bright with sunlight. I could see my breath plainly and the ground was covered with thick, white frost. A couple of crows called out and the dark figure of a red-tailed hawk glided across the valley in front of me. A nice flock of Red-winged blackbirds gathered in a picked cornfield searching through the frost for bits of grain and weed seeds. They all flushed in a flash of black wings and chatter. The bright red shoulder patches of the males are a beautiful sight when seen all together. Thanks to modern photography, Iím able to count how many adult males there were compared to females and juveniles. As the Red-winged blackbirds slowly but surely disappear from the Kickapoo Valley, I find myself spending much more time watching them. Without a drastic change to restore their favorite habitat, itís not likely Iíll see their huge flocks again in my lifetime.
The sunís rays hadnít found the large spread oak at the end of the pasture but it stood out regardless. This tree has spent its whole life growing out in the open and her long limbs reach out in every direction. The same kind of tree growing in the woods may be tall and straight with two thirds of the tree being trunk because they must compete with other trees for the precious sunlight. It was the oak treeís huge, dark limbs and yellow-green leaves that caught my eyeóthe clash of colors was beautiful.
The sun had already been up for about ten minutes as I reached where the valley opens. Already the sky was blue to the east and laced with white clouds. Thatís when I saw something I usually donít see at sunup. Directly above the eastern horizon was a very large sun dog. A bright, beautiful splash of yellow-orange color just after sunupómaybe the nicest one Iíve ever seen. I may have missed the sunrise, but I didnít miss the following act.
The full moon was spectacular on Friday night and beamed bright white over the valley. The long needed rain came Saturday and Sundayómostly a light drizzle, but it helped settle the dust on the gravel roads. The heavy overcast skies hid the moon from view but it warmed up and that saves on firewood.
The wild birds have eaten a majority of the small red apples on the flowering crab apple tree. The robins probably eat most of the red fruit, but the tree is visited by jays, woodpeckers, cardinals, and finches. They pluck the nutritious apples and leave the stems on the branch. The bright red clumps of berries on the High-bush cranberry bush have hardly been touched and once frozen they give off a very bad aroma. They wonít be eaten until they dry in early spring. A male cardinal searched the branches of the cranberry bush for insects who are attracted to the fermented berries.
There are four eagles hanging out around the trout stream down the road. Could be a family with an adult male and female and two juvenile eagles in tow. Itís nice to be able to see them each day as they soar gracefully over the house or perch high in a tree near the stream. The osprey I saw on Thursday was just passing through as he drifted by high over the meadow. He drew the attention of a pair of Red-tailed hawks who promptly chased him out of the valley. Iím hoping the osprey will stick around near the river during these few days of rain. As a rule, birds of prey kind of settle in when the weather gets rainy. Itís a time for them to hunt for food and rest up for the remainder of the long journey south.
I put some cracked corn out for the birds for the first time on Sunday. I like to wait for the cold to come when most of the insects are gone before putting out corn. The chipmunks will gather up most of it and the Blue jays will get more than their share, but other birds like the small Song sparrows and Juncos will appreciate it, too.
With each passing day, the landscape takes on more of a winter look as the remaining leaves fall to the ground. Time to think about settling in and slowing down.
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