On the calendar it’s the first day of spring, and outside the weather agrees with the date. The first spring day started out foggy and 40 degrees and by mid-afternoon it rose to 55 degrees and sunshine—not a bad way to start the new season. The warm rain the day before had melted much of the remaining snow and ice, and there was already the slightest hint of green in the yard. Things really do seem to green up in only a day after a spring rain.
The ground in some of the flowerbeds has thawed and there are new yellow-green sprouts of the daffodils peeking up through the dead leaves. They are only an inch tall now, but in my mind I picture their lush green stems and beautiful yellow and white blossoms. It will be fun to watch as my visions of spring flowers slowly take form with each passing day.
The first new signs of spring are evident even before there is any green. Popping out of the leafless branches of the gray willows are dozens of little white pussy toes or pussy willows. They are so bright and new that they seem to sparkle against the dead colors of the marsh. I’m thinking it would have been a good idea to have worn my rubber boots, as the spongy ground soaked into the sides of my shoes. That’s okay. A nice bouquet of pussy willows is always worth getting wet feet. A few sprigs of Red osier dogwood add a nice flare to the first spring bouquet.
It’s nice to bring a little spring into the house and the vase of pussy willows on the kitchen table brightens the whole room. From now until early next winter that vase on the table will hold many different flowers as they come into their seasons of blooming.
There was a thick hard frost on the windshield Friday morning, and I was kind of surprised to see the first Turkey vulture glide over the house on such a cold morning. He was the first of his kind I have seen since last November, and I missed his long outstretched wings and silver gray flight feathers. He turned his featherless pink head and peered down at me as he passed by, and I tipped my hat to him and welcomed him back to the Kickapoo valley. It was a crisp morning and my hat kept the stinging cold off the top of my head. I was reminded that the Turkey vulture doesn’t have any feathers on his head to help keep the frosty air from biting. I wondered if he was thinking that maybe he returned a little too soon.
It was warm enough today for tiny insects to appear. Little flying and crawling insects that have been asleep all winter are now moving around on the ground and flying the warm sunlight. The birds at the birdfeeder have noticed them and they are busy eating insects. The little female kestrel flies down from her perch at the top of a pine tree and catches a small moth that was crawling over the dried grass. The small prey are very nutritious, but the kestrel has to make a lot of trips to the ground to satisfy her hunger. She flies back and forth from her perch to the ground, over and over, all day long. After eating voles all winter, some fresh insects to eat must be a welcome change for Mrs. Kestrel. These robin-sized falcons are capable of catching mice, voles snakes, frogs and even small birds on the wing. Like most birds and animals, the kestrel eats what is easiest to catch and in warm weather that means insects. The kestrel and other hawks of all kinds eat insects—even an eagle won’t pass up a nice fat grasshopper. All the owls, too, take advantage of this great source of protein.
The beautiful male rooster pheasant also searches the bare ground in the farm lane for tiny ants, spiders and beetles. All winter he has made a living eating weed seeds and bits of corn where ever he can find them. He’s happy to be able to finally add some insects to this diet. He also is glad to see some tiny shoots of green grass, which he eagerly snaps up and swallows. The late winter was stressful on the wild ones and there was some doubt that they would all make it to spring. March has been good to them and with more to eat, they will see spring turn to summer.
The long, warm guard hairs that help keep the winter animals warm will soon be shed. I had to laugh at a pony who’s hair had gotten so long it completely covered his eyes. For sure he needs a haircut and probably a manicure to go with it.
The coyote’s long thick winter coat is warm and very pretty but it saddened me to see six of them hanging by their legs from a tall fence. Their warm coats would have protected them from the cold, but not from a hunter’s bullet. At this point in my life I find it very difficult to see any justification in killing wild animals for the fun of it.
The last bird I saw on the first day of spring was the first grackle. He’s the first of many of these long-tailed, yellow-eyed blackbirds that will arrive this next week.
There is something new and different to learn on every spring Day. Get outside and explore this wonderful new beginning.
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