I was kinda glad when it started to snow on Saturday. Itís time to cheer up the landscape with some color. About the time I was convinced that snow would be nice, it turned to light rain. I reminded myself to accept the weather and take it as it comes. At least it stayed warm enough to keep the rain from freezing.
The wild birds gather each day at the bird feeders and remind me that, no matter what the weather, I have to adjust. I watched them from inside my warm house, amazed by their ability to adapt to weather conditions. They live only in the moment and deal with whatever comes their way, be it hunger, predator or weather. Their lives seem simpler, but I doubt they are easier. Their only commitment is to stay alive and do the things necessary to assure another day. They teach me to adjust to having fewer options, give thanks for those that I have and to cherish each moment.
Growing up as an adventurous boy in a small southern Wisconsin town meant little, if any, leisure time. There was always something that had to be done or somewhere to go. While many kids wondered if there would be snow on which to try out their Christmas skis or sleds, I was busy going door-to-door looking for snow shoveling jobs so I could make money. There would be time for fun and adventures in the snow after the work was done.
The mild early winter has been fairly easy on the firewood. The deep cold hasnít come yet, and I always save the good dry hardwood for after the first of the year. Until now, Iíve been feeding the woodstove with boxelder and ďpoppleĒ, both soft woods that donít make any lasting coals. Oak, hickory and hard maple will burn hot and slow and make a bed of coals that will last all night.
There have been reports of Snowy owls in Wisconsin. Birders around the state reported over 100 sightings of these beautiful, large, white owls last week. Snowy owls are the only true white owls and have no feathery ear tufts like their slightly smaller cousins, the Great Horned owls. Their year round home is the arctic tundra of northern Canada. In this treeless habitat they depend on lemmings for the main part of their diet. Every four of five years the lemming population hits a cyclic low, causing the snowy owls to drift further south in search of food. These large, white birds posed against a dark, barren landscape stand out like nothing else. Usually seen atop a wooden fence post or maybe a power pole, they prefer to hunt during the day. They sit for hours in one place, waiting for a vole to appear. On five and a half foot wings they swoop down to catch their prey. Snowy Owls have little fear of humans. I have walked right under them as they looked down at me from their lofty perch. They prefer open grassland, probably because it resembles the vast, wide-open expanses of the arctic tundra. I havenít actually seen a Snowy owl yet this winter. Iím hoping to spot one before the snow comes and makes them harder to pick out. With luck, Iíll be able to get a few pictures.
I have spotted several other visitors from the far north. Last week I saw three Rough-legged hawks move further south for the winter. Like the owls, they search the open country-side for voles and can be seen hovering over a field as they watch for prey moving in the grass. Itís a method they have developed for hunting in treeless areas. Rough-legged hawks are large, like Red-tailed hawks, with dark plumage and a white tail with a black bar across the ends. Hopefully Iíll get close enough to get a good picture of one to send along to you. Until then, I hope this pencil drawing gives you some idea of what a Rough-legged hawk may look like.
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