Snakes Overhead

moon phase Week of 04/29/2013 Best days to plant late beets.

The week got off to a cold, wet start with about an inch of snow on the ground Monday and around 35 degrees. The snow melted during the day, and the air gradually warmed up through the week. It was strange to see the first swallows of the season, but there they were flying low over the snow-covered hayfield. They were a little too far away and moving too fast to get a good picture, but I could see there were two tree swallows and four barn swallows. It was nice just to watch the swallows glide swiftly through the cold air searching for flying insects to eat. I didn't see another swallow until Friday, when it was sunny and 60 degrees.

Molting Sandhill Cranes Molting Sandhill Cranes It warmed up to around 50 degrees Wednesday and I saw the first snake of the season as I drove down the gravel river road. No, he wasn't crossing the road on the gravel, but he was crossing the road. Why did the snake cross the road? A red-tailed hawk, flying over the road right in front of me, held a small snake dangling from his beak. I'm sure he was on his way back to his nest where there are probably a couple of hungry chicks to feed. For sure, it was a pretty neat way to see the first snake of spring.

Wilson's Phalarope Wilson's Phalarope The sandhill cranes always seem to be in a good mood no matter what the weather is. I like to get a little closer look at them so I can see how their feathers are molting. The pair I saw Wednesday morning were about half-way through their molt and the marbled brown and gray plumage looked rather beautiful, I thought. I spotted a small familiar-looking shore bird not far from the two cranes. The little female phalarope was the second one I've recently seen in the area. After my first sighting, I just figured it might be years before I ever saw another one, but here she was.

Red-winged Blackbird Red-winged Blackbird It's obvious to me how few red-winged blackbirds there are in the river valley this year. Oh, they are still a common sight, but there are nowhere near as many as there were 30 years ago. The pretty male redwing I saw this morning was claiming a spot at the edge of a small patch of brown cattails. Cattail is the perfect nesting habitat for these blackbirds, but sadly there is very little of it left.

First Crocuses First Crocuses The first crocus are finally blooming, and oh, how beautiful they are. They're the first flowers to bloom in the spring and a sign that everything is going to be alright. I'll be keeping my eye out for the pretty white flowers of the bloodroot any day now.

There was a heavy frost Wednesday night, and at 6 a.m. the thermometer on the porch read 16 degrees. The clouds moved out in the night and it got cold. It's not unusual to get frost in the valley up to the first week of June, so I just take it in stride. It warmed up to over 50 degrees on Thursday and a beautiful full moon seemed to make the frogs sing louder than they had yet this spring. There's something about a full moon that makes one want to sing, and the coyotes and barred owls joined the frogs in a lovely spring chorus.

I had to make a double take when I saw the season's first rose-breasted grosbeak at the bird feeder on Tuesday morning. He certainly was a beautiful change from the house sparrows I had been watching that morning. There was only one and he didn't stay long. I was lucky to have seen him. On Friday morning a single little house wren sand his warbling song from along the creek. The tiny wren flew from birdhouse to birdhouse checking out the prospective homes and didn't seem to be able to make up his mind.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet Ruby-crowned Kinglet It was a day for little birds, I guess, because several white-rumped warblers were fluttering around in the bushes at the edge of the woods. Along with them were a few very tiny ruby-crowned kinglets, which were traveling along with the warblers. If you make a squeaking sound with your lips, there is a good chance they will come out of hiding and fly very near to you to find out where that strange noise is coming from.

Strutting Tom Strutting Tom The turkeys are still busy with their courtship, even though some of the hens are already nesting. The big Tom turkeys are strutting around trying to prove to the hens that they are the most handsome of all. They got off to a slow start this year, but this week they seem to be making up for lost time, and the spring mornings are filled with turkey gobbling.

Male Blue-winged Teal Male Blue-winged Teal I watched several male blue-winged teal on a marsh pond Friday morning. They were all in their most beautiful nuptial plumage and trying their hardest to impress the lady teal who was with them. The aggressive males would chase each other across the water as they bid for the affections of the pretty little female.

Mourning Cloak Mourning Cloak The first butterfly flew by and lit at my feet in a flowerbed at the side of the driveway. He was a mourning cloak, and gave me hope that the weather was finally going to stay warm. I also saw the second snake of spring this afternoon when a male red-tailed hawk flew overhead with a small grass snake in his beak. I still haven't seen a snake in the grass, but I've seen two in the air this week. You never know where the next sign of spring will come from, so keep your eyes and ears open. Things are picking up as we head into the final week of April.

Naturally yours,

All art ©2013 Organic Valley

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Judith from from Capitan, NM on May 4, 2013 at 12:56:47 AM
I enjoy your writing and observations very much. Your pictures have helped me identify some of the birds who visit us from time to time.
Thanks for sharing.
Stephanie from from Chicago on May 2, 2013 at 04:47:05 PM
Hi Dan,

Last week in Chicago, I saw a 'snake on the ground' as I walked my dog across railroad tracks, it slithered over the rail too, into the tiny spot of what's left of the 'prairie' where I grew up as a child.

The snake was a small yellow-striped Garter Snake, and surprised me,as I rarely see any here anymore (as a child they were always sunning themselves on the sidewalks in our yart).

So, it too, gave me hope that Spring has finally Sprung, and since, WI is just a bit behind IL with the seasons, you too should be warming up very soon!
Karen from on May 1, 2013 at 06:20:36 PM
Flying snakes! Who would have thought? Thanks for another enjoyable post!
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