Beef cattle graze in the pasture by the road, keeping the grass from growing over four inches tall. On the other side of the fence, where the grass is a foot tall, I spotted a pair of rust-colored Sandhill cranes slowly walking along. I slowed down the car to get a better look at them, and noticed there was a single, week-old Sandhill chick at their feet. The chick was barely big enough to see over the grass, and he spent most of his time bent over, searching the ground for insects to eat. His parents followed along, keeping him constantly in view. They'll continue to keep a close watch on their baby until the young bird grows big enough to fly, 8-10 weeks from now.
I was surprised to see a Sandhill crane chick this early in the season. For the past ten years, the cranes have been returning from the south earlier than they used to, but to have a chick already, this pair must have started nesting in March. Sandhill crane couples often raise two chicks, so I looked for another one as I passed, but I only saw the one.
Snapping turtles have emerged from the water, and are crawling overland in search of a place to lay their eggs. Often the mother turtle will dig a hole at the edge of the road, where the ground is loose and sandy. Here she will deposit her eggs and cover up the foot-deep hold. The warm sun will do the incubating, and in a couple of months, little turtles will appear.
The Barn swallows have already built their mud nests in the barn and are laying eggs. The House wrens, too, have been busy carrying sticks to build their homes. They may build stick nests inside two or three bird houses before choosing to lay their eggs in one.
Saturday night, just after sunset, I finally heard the song of a whip-poor-will. I'd almost given up on hearing one here this spring. The cool weather the last few weeks may have contributed to their late return. Better late than never, I say.
The pretty pink and lavender impatiens that I planted yesterday were promptly dug up last night by a curious raccoon. He probably thought that the loose soil was hiding something good to eat. The tracks I found were from a good-sized coon, probably a lone male. The female stays close to her young from now until next spring. Raccoons, skunks and opossums all come and go in the night. I don't mind having them around, except when they start making more work for me. I try hard to share my space with them!
This morning I noticed a 3-foot long Fox snake stretched out on the grass near the creek, basking in the sun. Last night the temperature dropped into the 40s, and the snake needs the warming rays of the sun to help get his reptile blood flowing again.
I've heard several reports of people seeing an Indigo bunting at their bird feeders. It's a beautiful contrast in color when you see that dark Indigo blue with the bright yellow of the Goldfinches. This treat for the eyes reminds me why I feed the birds year-round. This is the best season for seeing colors at the feeders, because male birds, suited up in their most brilliant nuptial plumage, tend to gather together to feed at the same time. At any one moment there may be seven or more different colored birds at the platform feeder–yellow and red finches, shiny black grackles, blackbirds and cowbirds, as well as rose-breasted grosbeaks, bright blue Bluejays, Blood-red cardinals, rich orange Orioles, and the poppy-red crowns of the Downy, Hairy, and Red-bellied woodpeckers. A view of them together is like a bouquet of colorful flowers. Feeding the birds in summertime is a great way to learn a lot about them–especially for kids.
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