March began on a gentle note, with sunny skies and warm temps, 35 to 40 degrees. A light warm breeze blew through the swaying branches of the maple trees. It's time to make sure there is maple syrup for next winter's pancakes. Time to head to the old sugarbush and tap some trees.
I heard two new bird songs this morning, from two birds who live here most of the year. A Tufted titmouse whistled his spring song from across the road. "Peter - peter - peter," or "Pee-too, pee-too, pee-too." I hadn't seen one of these sweet little chickadee-like birds since last November, though they landed in my hand for seed all last winter. It's a little strange to hear him sing, yet he hasn't come to the bird feeders yet. I'm hoping he snaps out of it soon and decides to stay.
The other bird I heard was one that I had already seen about a week ago. The chirping of a Robin drew my attention to the tall sumac. There he was, perched on a branch, picking out seeds from the red berry heads of the sumac. He was all alone, and I didn't see him the rest of the day. He must have just been passing through and stopped to eat. In spite of the warm weather, the first robins are a little late.
The weather here in March can change quickly and again put pressure on the wildlife. There no doubt will be some snowy, cold, wet weather to come that can make finding food a tough job for some. For many hungry birds, the sumac berries become a good food source. Nearly all the winter birds will eat sumac berries in early Spring. I've seen turkeys and bluebirds, crows and cardinals, woodpeckers, finches, robins, and many others feeding in the branches of the sumac.
The deer can be seen in groups of 10 to 30 on the sunny hillsides. They've eaten off the brushy browse through the winter. Now they search for food day and night. They find it where the snow has melted away to the grass underneath. As the snow melts in the rows of corn stubble, the deer sniff out bits of yellow corn. A heavy snow now could make life very tough for the deer.
This morning, the scent of "skunk perfume" is in the air. The warm weather has got ol' "Pepi le Pew" out looking for food. The striped skunk's strong odor is definitely one of Spring's first pungent scents.
The numbers of road-killed wild animals is on the rise, as always happens in March. Skunks, opossums, and raccoons are awake, active and searching for food. Unfortunately, along the roadside is a popular but bad place to search. All three will eat anything that is edible, from spilled grain to the litter from fast food restaurants thrown out a car window. A fresh road-killed deer or rabbit is always on the menu. My notes over the past 45 years show that more mammals die on our roads in the Spring than at any other time of the year. If we all slowed down even 10 mph, we could cut highway collisions with wildlife in half. It's one way we can have a positive effect on our natural world.
Saturday was a red-letter day for new Spring appearances. At 6:30 in the morning I was greeted by two new Spring signals. There was no mistaking the familiar bugle of a Sandhill crane as he flew over the marsh. His long neck stretches and his long wings carry him along as he calls out to all. Everything that's alive can hear his Spring greeting: "It's time to awaken now; hear my call to you." To prove that his arrival is timely, two Canada geese fly up the river, silhouetted against the morning sunrise. For the first time since last fall, the call of Canada geese and Sandhill cranes are heard in the Kickapoo Valley. March 6th is the earliest I've seen a crane here in southwest Wisconsin.
Around mid-morning I was treated to a flock of Red-winged blackbirds who flew right over the house, heading north. Talking to each other, "Chuck, chuck," the close-knit flock of male blackbirds are looking for a place to spend the summer with their mates, who will follow them north in a couple of weeks.
In a matter of two hours, I heard and saw three of the most definite signs of Spring. They are the first messengers of a new beginning.
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