Most of the Canada geese in the area have courted and are now paired up. Some have already started the next step. One mother goose is already on her nest in the cattail marsh. It will be weeks before new green cattails will grow tall enough to conceal her precious nest located in a depression on top of a muskrat house. It is heavily lined with the down from her lower breast and stomach. It would be hard to imagine a warmer place for a dozen goose eggs. Iím looking forward to seeing those little yellow goslings in three to four weeks.
A sandhill crane uses another muskrat house to stand on as he surveys the area. Heís a treat to see in his beautiful, summer, cinnamon plumage. Chances are his mateís nest may be on another muskrat house, hidden in the reeds. She usually lays two large speckled eggs that are even larger than goose eggs. The eggs usually hatch around the first week of June, but Iíll look for the chicks about a month early this year. When I see the pair of sandhill cranes together again, there will be little chicks at their feet.
It got chilly Monday night. The temperature dropped into the 20s, bringing on a hard frost Tuesday morning, which made for a beautiful sunrise as a foggy mist hung over the Kickapoo River. The day started crispy cold, but by noon it was sunny and 55 degrees. A very large soft shell turtle wanted in on some of that warm sunshine and crawled onto the grassy riverbank. Itís not often I get a look at one of these shy river turtles, let alone one that looked to be 15 to 20 pounds. As a boy, I was fascinated by turtles and I learned how to catch and handle them, even very large snapping turtles. The turtle I respect the most is the soft shell. We used to call them leatherbacks. They have very long snouts and necks that can reach clear back to their tails. They also have extremely sharp and powerful jaws that can inflict a nasty bite. They strike quickly, so I donít recommend anyone mess with them. They are the only turtles I know of that can stand on all fours and run. A three year-old soft shell may be hard to catch on dry land.
The warm sunshine made the blossoms pop on the flowering crab apple trees. I love that early explosion of color in the spring. There may be a down side to early blossoms this year. I think of the orchard growers up on the ridge. The last thing they want to see when their trees are in bloom is a hard frost, and thereís been one the last four nights in a row.
In spite of the cold nights, the river bottom landscape is as green as the month of May. Makes me want to grab my old fishing pole and sit next to a willow tree on the sunny river bank. Actually, I wouldnít need a fishing pole to spend a little quiet time near the water, so thatís what I did.
I was happy to see a pair of blue-winged teal at the far end of the marsh pond. Because of a loss of habitat, these once numerous small ducks have become a rare sight in the Kickapoo River Valley. The female has the habit of hiding her nest in the middle of a large, grassy pasture or hay field. The nest may be a half mile or more from the nearest water, which means the baby ducklings have a long walk after theyíre hatched. The pretty male will wait patiently for her at a specific spot on the pond, not leaving until she shows up with their new family. The male blue-winged teal has a white crescent in front of each eye.
A hungry raccoon ambled through the yard Friday morning and stopped to nibble some cracked corn under the bird feeder. The bluebells are starting to bloom, and the coon paused to sniff one of the pretty blue flowers. I donít mind having a raccoon pay me a visit from time to time as long as he doesnít get too snoopy.
The woodchuck has discovered the tender young shoots of cow parsnip and has been eating to his heartís content. He still nibbles a little bit of the bird seed, but he would rather just lie on the feeder and take in some sun. Itís quite a change from a cold dark hole in the ground under the brush pile. That warm sun must feel oh so nice.
The little male goldfinches are quickly turning colors from olive drab to their brightest nuptial yellow. Itís still April, and they are some of the last to start nesting. They usually wait until the thistle and milkweed go to seed as they line their nests with the seed down. Iíve never seen the males this yellow so early.
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