According to scientists, the northern most parts of the earth are warming, resulting in the melting of the Arctic icecap. On the other hand there hasn't been much melting going on here southwestern Wisconsin.
Last night the thermometer dipped below zero for the third time and it feels a whole lot like winter.
I knew the cold weather was on its way when I saw the tundra (whistling) swans heading south. They are very hardy and are some of the last birds to migrate south. They spend much of their time on the Mississippi. Then the extra cold weather freezes their favorite loafing areas on the river. An earlier cold snap sent many of the swans packing south about a month ago. I was very surprised how many I saw passing over in large flocks for 2 days.
Many of the area lakes are already frozen hard enough to walk on and the ice fisherman are cutting holes in the ice so they can wet a line. The words "global warming" come out from between chattering teeth.
The cold weather hasn't kept all the wildlife away, in fact it's been a great week for nature. Besides the beautiful swans, in the past week there has been 7 white-tailed deer hanging around. I'm glad they survived the recent gun season. They are always welcome here.
There has been a little gray phased screech owl sitting in the hole of the owl box on the north side of the house. I just put that box up about a month ago and already there's an owl using it. Nice to know that sometimes things go as planned. The tiny 6 inch owl squints through closed eye lids, so his big bright yellow eyes don't give him away. Screech owls eat large insects, small snakes and frogs in the summer but when it gets cold, they have to depend on their nighttime hunting skills to catch a mouse, vole or small roosting bird. The night is very still and quiet when it's cold, but the haunting song of a screech owl may reassure you that there are living things out there in the cold.
A pretty ruffed grouse flushed up in front of me while on a morning walk. He sure gave me a start as I was following the tracks of a rabbit in the fresh snow and hadn't seen any grouse tracks. Suddenly he burst up with a roar of wings. Out through the oak scrub and sumac, his red/orange tail feathers fanned as he broke to the open and sailed off down the valley. That was once a common occurrence on a walk around here. That's the first ruffed grouse I've heard or seen near the house in three years.
On December 10, 2000, the weather was much more mild than it is now. I remember I was splitting wood on that sunny 40 plus degree day and three singing bluebirds stopped for a couple of hours in the yard. That was the latest I've ever seen bluebirds. Here, there many not be as much activity with wildlife in the winter as during a Wisconsin summer. Often though, the things you see, can be very interesting. The things you hear at this time of year are also at times, very interesting. I heard a robin this morning. All I heard was a nervous bup, bup and I couldn't see him in the thick brush but I knew he was there. To hear a robin in the spring or summer is one thing but I wonder what he's doing here on the 10th of December. Maybe he'll stick around for the winter, which they do from time to time. I have never had a robin come to the bird feeders in the winter, although there were several winters when they would hang around near the yard but never come near. Their favorite food in the winter seems to be sumac berries.
The white breast of a red-tailed hawk can be seen from a half mile away, as she sits high in a tree in the morning sun. These sunning hawks stand out like a sore thumb this time of year. That white breast clashes with the dark branches of the leafless trees.
No matter what time of the year it is, there is always lots to see. So please get outside and look around and enjoy the winter for what it offers us.
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