The three White-tailed deer were plainly visible as they stood in the moon light at the edge of the woods. They were a hundred and fifty yards from me and I was able to watch them nibbling the tender branches from the ends of some hazel brush. It was seven oíclock and hours after sunset, yet the big bright moon lit up the new snow like soft daylight. I talked gently to them as I passed by and they watched me but kept on nibbling.
The fourteen inches of snow is deep enough to keep the deer from feeding on the grass unless they dig down for it. Itís a lot of work to dig for everything you eat so they start to eat the low-hanging branches in the woods. They nibble off the tender bud-twigs on any bush they come to. It is good food but may not last all winter if there are a lot deer in the area. By spring, if the snow stays deep all winter, there may not be much left for the deer to eat. For now, they look happy and healthy but thereís still three and a half months of winter to go.
Friday was a bright, sunny, but cold day and I drove the river road to La Farge. It was a beautiful day but it didnít get warm enough to melt the powdery snow. I thought of the deer and how they will fare when the snow gets a hard crust on it, making it even harder to dig down for loose corn and grass.
A bird perched on a branch caught my eye and I could see it was a Kingfisher, fishing for his breakfast. Itís only ten degrees but he wonít hesitate to dive headfirst into the river to catch a nice minnow. BrrrÖIím sure heís the only one out fishing today, but he doesnít mind fishing aloneómore fish for him. The hardy little Kingfisher may often spend the winter here when most of the other birds go south. As long as he can find some open water and a good perch, heíll catch fish.
For the most part, the Kickapoo River is frozen over except for where the rapids are and the snow runs right up to the waterís edge. The dark water is so pretty as it flows through the snow and ice, but at the marsh spring the still water is completely covered with lush green watercress. It looks like a bright green throw rug laid over a huge pure white area rug. The contrast is so shocking that it is beautiful. In the summer, I could have driven by and barely noticed the watercress at all. It may stay green all winter but isnít very good eating until it starts growing new sprouts in the early spring.
Spilling down from a rock outcropping were some of Natureís finest ice sculptures. A small spring trickles down over the limestone year íround here. When the temperature drops below freezing, the trickling water forms icicles that grow larger and larger as it gets colder. A large icefall like this one forms when the real cold comes, and man, itís been really cold. It seems early for ice falls. It usually isnít this cold until later on. Speaking of ice, the roads are very icy and the sand that is put on the roads wonít help much until thereís a thaw. I always remember to slow down and stay on my own side of the roadógood advice for anyone who drives these country roads around here.
The wild turkeys have gathered in the snow-covered, picked cornfield. I counted forty-seven of them spread out in small groups, all digging in the snow. They know that if they can clear away the snow with their powerful legs and feet, there will be a reward of a few pieces of corn. A group of turkeys can move a lot of snow in a hurry and I think they are much better at it than the deer. As long as the snow doesnít get a hard crust on it, the turkeys will do pretty good at foraging for loose kernels of corn.
One of the big birds stood high on her toes and flapped her wings a couple of times. Thatís when I could see that she had a crop bulging with corn. Yep, they are finding lots to eat for now, but when the snow gets too hard to scratch away, they will have to find another source of food. Like the deer, they will find food above the ground, and fly up into the trees and eat the new leaf buds at the ends of the branches. The deer can eat all they can reach in a large area and maybe run out of food before spring, but the turkeys have an endless supply of food in the trees. Turkeys are one of only a few wild birds that will never starve in the winter.
As I drive along, my gaze is always on the beautiful winter landscape. I prefer the snowy surrounding to a brown one, for now anyway. The days start getting longer this next week and the nights shorter, yet weíre heading into the dog days of winter. The change of seasons will come very gradually, but the first signs of spring soon will be felt.
The pretty Mourning dove at the side of the road searches for weed seeds, loose grain, and grit. He has a keen eye and can spot the tiniest of seeds in the gravel. They are very hardy and I donít underestimate their ability to survive the toughest winter. Like pigeons, doves are very strong flyers and Iíve seen them outfly Goshawks and Coopers hawks in a tail chase. Iím kind surprised at how many Mourning doves Iíve been seeing in the area this winter. This morning I saw a flock of about thirty in the branches of a dead elm tree, all enjoying the morning sun on a cold winter morning.
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