Although the nights are only a few degrees above "cold," they are more spring-like than they were this time last month. Daytime temperatures are complemented by some sunshine and brisk, warm breezes.
It's the last week of April, and there are lots of signs of the times. Right on schedule is the arrival of the little house wren. He sings his warbling song with all the energy he can muster, and has the strength to sing all day long. He uses nature's calendar to help guide his return, and always shows up here in central Wisconsin by the 30th of April. The wrens know that now it's warm enough to provide them with the insects they need to feed their young.
The house wren rivals the chickadee when it comes to a small bird with big energy. Busy as well as prolific, a pair of wrens can build a nest in a wren house and have six or seven tiny spotted eggs in it in eight days. It takes only 14 days for the eggs to hatch; another 14 days later the young wrens will fledge. With luck, the adult wrens will raise two or three broods before fall. Pound for pound, the little house wren must be one of the strongest birds in the world.
The beautiful rufous-sided towhee, with his happy song, pleasantly reminds me to "drink my tea." His distinctive call is one of my springtime favorites, as he searches the dry leaves at the edge of the woods for insects. Joining him are several white-throated sparrows who have just returned and are also busy kicking around the dry leaves for edible bugs. They let me know they are back with their cheery song: "Old Sam PEAbody, PEAbody, PEAbody."
A yellow-shafted flicker lets out his loud chattering call as he hammers at a limb of the large dead elm tree behind the house. He too has just returned after spending the winter further south.
Songs of nature continue after sunset with a small chorus of spring peeps who live in a little pond up the valley, near the creek. I never tire of their peeping; in fact I open the window by my bed a little more to let their lovely frog songs sing me to sleep.
Another new and welcome night song this week is the call of the whippoorwill. For now there is only one, but his "whip-poor-will, whip-poor-will" adds a pleasant calm to the darkness. It sounds like he's telling everyone that all is safe, all is peaceful.
The tiny white petals of bloodroot shine brightly against the faded, dead brown leaves. They seem to want the whole world to see them. They have been gone for over 11 months, as they bloom for only a couple of weeks and are gone. Now they are back, to remind us of what true beauty is all about.
The leaves of the bluebells are up 4-5 inches, but there's still no sign of those famous blue flowers. I can hardly wait to see them, and know they too will be gone after a few short weeks, for another whole year.
Now is a wonderful time to go outside, and let spring help you feel alive.
This past week we celebrated a special day for Earth, when we give thanks and reverence to the planet and all its life. It's important that though we celebrate Earth day on April 22, we remember to honor our earth every day of the year. Earth day is the day that reminds us to respect all life, all the time.
I spent this Earth Day at the Mote Marine Aquarium in Sarasota, Florida. The ocean life there was a special treat for a Wisconsin snowbird like me. I saw fish that I never knew existed, with strange shapes and showy colors - every color of the rainbow and then some. There were huge sea turtles, sleek blue sharks and stingrays, octopus and squid, starfish and crabs, but my favorites were the manatees. They swim beautifully, in what looks like slow motion.
There were busloads of children at the aquarium for Earth Day. It was as much fun seeing their enthusiasm as it was seeing the sea animals themselves.
I've been to Florida several times, but there's always something exciting and new for me to see there. I couldn't begin to pick a favorite sighting. Walking along the beach at the mouth of a bay made me feel like a young boy who only wants to explore the day away. The beach was covered with a vast assortment of shells, driftwood, and pretty stones, which I eagerly placed in my beach bag. I'll place these treasures around a flower garden back home in Wisconsin.
Not far from shore, a pair of dolphins surfaced now and then as they passed by on the surf. Six brown pelicans flew by, single file and gliding along on their huge wings. Everywhere there were gulls and terns searching the beach for something to eat.
Only 20 feet from shore I spotted the large dark shadow of a beautiful manatee. He allowed me to wade into the waist-deep water and run my hand over his leathery back and tail. A pretty blue crab was also looking for food on the beach. I picked him up for a closer look, being careful not to let his sharp pincers get my fingers.
It was truly a day to remember, as was all the time I spent in sunny Florida. But no matter where my travels take me, it's always good to be back in south central Wisconsin.
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