The night’s stillness was frozen in a chilling quiet, like a winter’s night in January when the stars brightly twinkle in a frigid black sky.
Halloween night the temperature here, dropped to 15 degrees. The candle was still burning inside the jack-o- lantern sitting on the front porch. His lid was frozen on tight. The wild bird’s songs had the hint of hunger, so I filled the feeders to their eager delight. Funny how their attitudes change when there is a sudden drop in the temperature.
The week before was much warmer and the southwesterly winds carried lots of migrating birds southward. Robins and bluebirds, flickers and fox sparrows were some of the birds that stopped at the bird feeders every day.
The hawks and vultures also moved out last week. The local adult red- tailed hawks will spend the winter while many other hawks from further up north, especially the first year hawks, will migrate south for the winter. On a good migration day I might spot broadwings, red shoulders, harriers, red-tailed and goshawks along with a few kestrels, some turkey vultures and a couple eagles. There were a couple of days like that last week. They knew it was going to get cold so it was time to move south.
On Sunday of last week, I noticed many flocks of whistling swans passing over and going southeast to their winter homes in the Carolinas. These are some of nature’s best work when it comes to pure beauty in flight. From their beautiful long necks comes their soothing call, “woo-ho, woo-ho”. Often flying in a V-formation like geese, they are sheer poetry in motion.
The swans pass through central Wisconsin each spring and autumn during their migration. When the temperature dropped last week it sent many of them on their way. This usually doesn’t happen for several weeks.
The sub-freezing temps didn’t dampen the spirits of the water striders in the stream. In fact I saw quite a few insects today, to my surprise. Grasshoppers, box elder bugs and some tiny unidentified, flying insects.
At sunset last evening I watched a large low flying bird over the marsh along the Kickapoo River. At first I thought it was a marsh hawk hunting over the tall faded grass. As she came closer I was thrilled to see a short- eared owl. The first one I have seen in three years and the first one I have ever seen here in the Kickapoo Valley. How graceful she was as she hunted on quiet wings and a keen sense of sound. She dips and flips like a swallow maneuvering to catch mosquitoes. Her sharp hearing makes her move in the direction of any sound that will lead her to a fat vole or mouse.
The short eared owl, like most owls have a flat facial disk which directs sound back to their hidden ear cavities. This helps them to hear a vole or mouse in the grass or leaves and they are quickly directed to their next meal.
If you’re ever lucky enough to watch a short eared owl while they hunt, get down out of sight and make a squeaking sound like a mouse. This may sound strange but don’t be surprised if the owl turns and comes your way. On a couple different occasions I have called them nearly into the car with me. So intent to find the mouse, the owl nearly flew into the open car window before seeing my smiling face and veering off at the last moment.
There was a time when this beautiful prairie owl was a common sight in southern Wisconsin. Because of the loss of its grassland habitat, their numbers have fallen drastically. Same old story, there just doesn’t seem to be room for them anymore.
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