The sounds of spring are growing a little more in volume with each passing day. Crazy warm temperatures have brought a host of different bird songs this week and several firsts for the season. The lovely melodic song of a song sparrow greeted me from the meadow Monday afternoon: tiddle, widdle, widdle, widdle. His famous song is ďMaids, Maids, Maids, put on your teakettle-ettle-ettle-ettle.Ē Monday also brought the first harsh ďcreakĒ from the first purple grackle. It was good to see one of the long tailed blackbirds after not seeing or hearing one all winter.
From deep in the cattail marsh came a song I havenít heard in the Kickapoo Valley for some 15 years. The clear, tremulous, descending whistles of a sora rail emanated from its hiding place in the brown reeds. If it werenít for one of the last remaining cattail marshes in the area, this little marsh bird wouldnít be here. His spring song was once a common sound in the Kickapoo Valley but now is extremely rare. Soras pretty much stick to the marshy tangles and seldom take flight. They were rarely seen even when they were more numerous, but their distinctive spring whistle always gave them away.
Everyoneís talking about the loud, trumpeting calls of the sandhill cranes and the clamoring of Canada Geese. The best time of day to listen to them is around sunup. Itís nice to hear these large birds calling in the new day.
Often as not, I hear a new bird before I see him, but that wasnít the case Tuesday morning. While cutting a little firewood along a wooded lane, I was startled by something moving just to my left. Glancing over my shoulder, I found myself nearly face to face with a ruffed grouse. I thought, wow, what is this guy up to? Maybe he came to give me some wood-cutting advice. He walked back and forth on the same limb I was cutting and when it fell, he jumped to the ground and started walking around my feet. I shut the saw off and walked over to a nearby clearing to take a little break. To my surprise, the grouse followed me and started walking circles around my Organic Valley cap on the ground. He was only a couple of feet from me, yet he blended almost perfectly with the dry leaves on the ground. He had no fear of me and stayed with me for another half hour as I finished cutting, then he followed me back to the car a couple of hundred feet away. I think that spring fever had struck him between the eyes and he was in love. Crazy in love. Not with me, but for the courtship territory that he called his. This was his place and he just wanted to let me know. I said my good byes and left him to his kingdom.
The pussy willows seem extra pretty this year. I think itís because thereís no snow left on the ground, which makes the white buds stand out against the brown landscape. Iíve picked several bouquets for friends. I recommend they donít put them in water if they want them to last. I always put a few pussy willow branches in water so I can see them flower.
The first push of spring has brought out many birds and animals this week. The evenings are filled with the rhythmic songs of spring peepers. These tiny little tree frogs gather around the ponds and backwaters and sing together as one. I rarely ever see a spring peeper that is in the water. They use the little suction cups on their toes to cling to blades of grass and willow branches near the water. They are only as big as my thumbnail and have a little black X on their backs. Their songs started here in the Kickapoo Valley on the evening of March 13th, which is the earliest Iíve ever heard them here.
Thursday morning started with the songs of several robins that sang in fine form: cheery-up, cheery-up. Bluebirds sang their favorite songs as they checked out the bluebird houses in the yard: churr-weet, churr-weet. It was also the first morning that I heard the song of the little phoebe. Heís the earliest of the birds known as flycatchers to return in the spring. He pumps his tail two or three times before singing his song: feebee, fee-ah-bee-wit, feebee, fee-ah-bee-wit. Yet another spring song came from a very vocal chipmunk near the brush pile at the edge of the woods. He repeats his call 10-20 times chock, chock, chock, chock. Once the chipmunks are back, the sunflower seeds at the bird feeders will disappear a lot faster.
A killdeer flies low over the pasture across the road. His excited calls are very loud for such a smallish bird. Killdeer songs also sound a lot like their name: killdeer, killdeer, killdeer.
Ground moles have begun to leave their mounded trails of earth as they make their tunnels across the yard. They have spent the winter searching for worms well below the frost line, and they follow the worms to the surface when the ground thaws.
Little brown bats are out and about each evening. There seem to be lots of flying insects for them to eat. I have to keep reminding myself that itís only the second week of March!
A snow goose sits alone on the small marsh pond. His winter white plumage has been replaced by feathers that are brown and grayish. It has become a rarity to see snow geese here in the spring, let alone one all by itself. These beautiful geese of the far north are almost always seen in large flocks during migration.
The 80 degree temps have really got the frogs singing. The chorus frogs are very vocal most of the day and the spring peepers are already singing at a feverish pitch. Normally they donít reach a maximum pitch until the first or second week of April. I took a ride along the gravel river road after dark and pulled over to listen to the almost deafening sound of the spring frog music.
Donít forget to clean out those bird houses. The bluebirds are looking for birdhouses with no nesting material inside them. A birdhouse that doesnít get cleaned out doesnít get used by nesting birds, so now is the time to do it.
Sunday morning a woodchuck appeared from under a brush pile. He wasnít a real large one, but he looked in pretty good shape as he climbed up on the platform birdfeeder for some sunflower seeds. Why would anyone stay inside on such a nice morning?
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