The blood-red eyes of the male Wood duck follow me closely as I stop the car at the side of the gravel river road. He and his lovely mate stand together on a partially submerged log one hundred feet from me. From the car I slowly snap a few pictures before moving on. The Wood ducks never left their comfortable perch and I let them go on about their business. Their time for courting is over and she has found the right nesting hole in a secret tree. Each day she will lay a single round egg until there are twelve or more. When she is satisfied with the size of her clutch, she will begin to incubate them. In about twenty days the eggs will all hatch at once, and the little duckling, once dried, will climb up to the hole and jump out. Fearless of how high up they might be, they leap out with their little fuzzy wings paddling and their tiny webbed feed kicking. They bounce up off the ground like rubber balls then gather together to be lead to the nearest water by their mother. Iíve watched this many times and have seen the little ducklings leap from a height of over fifty feet. Iíve never seen any of these baby Wood ducks get injured from a fall. A fall like that would likely do permanent damage or worse to us frail humans, but the little ducklings just shake it off and go on with their day. For now, the beautiful Wood duck pair spends their time together until the day she begins to stay at the nest, leaving him to wait alone. Waiting is the game the male Sandhill crane is doing, too, as he stands on top of the muskrat house watching over his domain.
The Canada geese have also started laying their large oval eggs, one of which I found in the marsh grass with a large hole in it. Hard to say for sure who it was that stole the egg, but judging from the size of the hole, it may have been the work of a crow. The female goose lays a single egg each day until she has a clutch of six to ten. She then incubates them all at once and they all hatch at the same time. If the nest is left unguarded while she is laying her clutch, a crow can quickly swoop down and peck a hole in the egg so he can fly off with it. Heís very smart and knows how to get a free meal on short notice if given the chance.
The young eaglets have hatched and their mother stands next to them in the large stick nest in the old white pine. The old stick nest has been used by the pair of eagles for many years and has grown as they add more sticks each spring. I have no doubt that the nest must be very heavy and probably weighs over a ton. The pine tree is showing signs of stress from all that weight. A strong wind could topple the tree and Iím hoping that doesnít happen before the young eagles have fledged.
The wetlands are slowly coming alive and the pretty Marsh marigolds are starting to add some more color in the marsh. Nearby, a patch of lovely Dutchmanís breeches are on display. These delicate little flowers seem to appear from out of nowhere and their little white and pink flowers really do like something a little Dutch boy might wear.
The Skunk cabbage is beginning to spread out large, lush green leaves, and within three weeks will be four times larger than now. Nestled down in the soft mud is a little dark green bullfrog who has just dug his way out of the mud that has protected him while he slept through the winter. His lifeís energy will slowly return to him as he warms in the morning sun, and soon he will be looking for something to eat.
The turkey hen spends her days alone. Foraging for food, she wanders across the fields and meadows. She, too, has a hidden nest and returns to it once a day to lay an egg until she has a clutch of a dozen or so eggs. Then she will sit on them until they all hatch at once. Itís interesting that her eggs are noticeably smaller than those of the Canada goose even though the two birds are similar in size.
There was a heavy frost on the ground Friday morning. The small fire in the wood stove felt good, but Iím looking forward to the day when I donít have to carry firewood to the house. In spite of the cold, the first House wren showed up this morning. Sheís right on timeóitís the 29th of April, and they always return within a couple days of the 30th of April. I had just finished cleaning out the wren houses the day before and the little wren was already checking them out.
There are about a dozen Goldfinches coming to the bird feeders for sunflower seeds each day. The males have already turned a golden yellow even though they wonít start nesting until late June. They like to wait until the thistles have gone to seed so they can line their nests with thistle down. I love having these brightly colored gentle little birds around in the summer.
At the pond near the river, the Tree swallows fly low over the water searching for small flying insects. Today they are joined by several Barn and Cliff swallows who have just returned. They all hunt together over the pond, in search of any flying bugs that may appear. Even though the nighttime low was twenty-eight degrees, the swallows will find enough insects in the morning sun to feed all of them. The bugs are still scarce and the swallows must stay air born from sunrise to sunset to make a living.
It was a cloudy, rainy day Wednesday and the little Bloodrootís white flowers were closed for the day. As pretty as these tiny flowers are, I recently read that their red roots are very toxic and should never be eaten. The nettles, on the other hand, are about six to eight inches tall and just right for eating. Steamed, they are delicious and are quite good for you, being full of vitamins and iron.
The first Rose-breasted grosbeak showed up at the window feeder today, and by the weekend there were eight beautiful grosbeaks in the yard. Boy, can they go through the sunflower seeds, but what a treat to heave these colorful birds around. They are well worth the price of a bag of seed.
It was cold and windy Saturday morning at 6 a.m. The sun hadnít come up quite yet and the light wasnít good enough for photos. To my surprise a tiny Hummingbird was hovering over the daffodils near the driveway. I tried to get a picture of him but he was gone before there was enough light to take his picture. It was still neat to see a Hummingbird on the first day of May. Hopefully heíll find enough flower nectar and insects to satisfy his hunger in spite of the chilly temperatures.
Spring has really sprung here in the Kickapoo Valley of southwestern Wisconsin and each day brings new surprises and lively adventures. Thereís no better time to be outdoors enjoying the earthís natural wonders.
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