My morning walk took me along the wooded hillside to the top of the ridge. I had the urge to see the horizon from a different perspective. Living in the valley, I spend my days looking up at everything around me. It's nice to stand in one place and look down at everything for a change. In summer, the landscape is a single mass of green trees, all blending together. When the leaves are all gone in December, the landscape is covered with thousands of individual trees, all baring their limbs to the world.
The weather's so nice that I extend my walk to enjoy the fresh morning air at a comfortable pace. I'm always watching and listening as I move along, but today the woods are very still and quiet. A few crows fly over and caw when they see me. A single blue jay sounds the alarm and flies into a stand of pines where it can watch me pass from a safe vantage point. My journey takes me down a rocky trail that leads me back into the river valley. Ahead, I spot a big bird in an oak tree at pasture's edge. It's a bald eagle preening his feathers. He just keeps doing what he's doing as I walk by only one hundred feet away. He even lets me snap a couple of pictures before I go on my way.
While walking through a grove of tall sumac, I startle a half dozen purple finches that are busy eating sumac berries. I wonder if they are the same ones that come to my feeders on the other side of the hill. There's one more hill to climb, so I find a sturdy walking stick for leverage. It's like having a third leg, and I can use all the legs I can get these days. The walking stick helps me get to the top where the walking is easier and I can get along without it.
On the way down the other side, I stop for a look at the homestead below me and the rusted metal roof on the old building that was built in 1864. It's old and laid back, but it's home, and will probably be around a lot longer than I will.
At my feet a flash of white catches my eye. There's a bleached skull on top of a moss covered stone. It's a strange place to find a woodchuck skull in the middle of nowhere with no other bones in sight. Heaven only knows how it got there or how the woodchuck met his end, but it's still fun to find these little unsolved mysteries.
While driving this morning I saw a large hawk perched on the very top branch of a tall tree. I pulled over and parked by the large, flat grassy area and grabbed the camera. I've seen a few rough-legged hawks in the Kickapoo Valley, but haven't been able to get any pictures of them until now. These large hawks spend their summers in Canadian plains and tundra. Many migrate south into the Midwestern states of the U.S. for the winter. They prefer large, open grassy areas to hunt for meadow voles by hovering high above while watching for a vole. There are no trees where they live up north, and they have developed this kestrel-like hunting technique. This rough-legged hawk had the dark phase plumage of an adult. The juvenile hawks of this species have lighter plumage, and many resemble a red-tailed hawk. I'm hoping to get some better pictures of a rough-legged hawk this winter, so stay tuned.
The deer hunting season has come to an end, and things are slowly returning to normal. There seemed to be a lot of shooting through the nine day season, and I feared I wouldn't see another deer all winter. I was happy to see a doe and her yearling step into the yard at dusk tonight, only two days after the hunting season ended. I never get tired of seeing deer in this valley.
When the birds at the feeders all flush at once, I always look to the sky, hoping for a glimpse of the hawk that frightened the birds, because that's what the sound of those rushing wings usually means. I heard that sound Friday morning and knew there was a hawk around some place, but couldn't see it. The songbirds stayed well hidden for 15 minutes until they felt it was finally safe to return to the bird feeders. An hour later, I went to the woodpile for an armload of firewood. To my dismay, I spotted a pile of white and gray-blue feathers behind the woodpile. Pigeon feathers! It took me days to finally accept that the pigeon that had made its home here all summer was the victim. I found myself looking for him, of course, but he wasn't there. He had become prey for the Cooper's hawk and, in turn, he would become the cooper's hawk.
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