Springtime changes have been slow but steady in the Kickapoo valley. It seems to get a couple of degrees warmer each day. I can't remember the last time that the coming of spring was this steady and deliberate.
March has been typical - a little rain, a little snow, a fair amount of wind, and a splash of sunshine here and there. Some frozen nights, but thawing days have taken the frost from the ground.
Today I spotted a thirteen-lined ground squired standing tall by the roadside. He has just woken from a long winter sleep and emerged from his underground burrow. The chipmunk-sized ground squirrel is hungry, so he's looking for something new to eat - something green. Young shoots of grass and dandelion leaves must be a tasty treat after six months without food.
The groundhogs, too, are awake, out and about. I haven't seen a live one yet, but I've noticed several that met an unnatural death along the roads. Unfortunately, millions of wild animals will meet this fate this year. I have been paying attention to these unfortunate souls most all my life. Rarely do I pass a road-killed animal without identifying it, and I have learned many things from what I've seen. For one thing, I've noticed that there are more dead animals along the roads at certain times of the year. Naturally, they are fewer when temperatures dip below freezing here, because many birds leave, and insects, reptiles and some mammals go into hibernation. But springtime is hard for wild animals crossing the road.
This morning, while driving along the gravel River road, I had to come to a complete stop for a pair of rooster pheasants. They were squared off, face to face, with their wings spread and their hackles raised. They danced around each other for 30 seconds before one of them spotted me watching them. Then off he strutted, with his challenger right behind. I drove by slowly, and when I looked in the rear-view mirror I could see that they were back at each other. They must think the nice flat surface of the road is a good place to battle over territorial rights.
Saturday morning a chipmunk showed up at the birdfeeders. They too have been asleep for the winter, and remember where they got a meal last fall.
I enjoy watching roadside ponds and backwaters along the river as I drive by. One such pasture pond has several old wooden fence posts along one side. A couple of these old weathered posts are down, lying in the water. Since it was 50 degrees and sunny and I thought I might see the season's first painted turtle basking in the sun on top of a half-submerged post. There were no turtles to be seen, but a beautiful pair of wood ducks stood preening on a post. To say a wood duck is beautiful is an understatement, no doubt. The male is probably the most colorful of any bird that lives here in the summer. The brightness of his nuptial plumage is a real eye opener. The female displays her own, subtle beauty, which captured the attention of the male beside her.
Soon the woodies will search out a place to nest. They prefer a nice hollow cavity in a tree trunk or limb. They may land in every tree in a two or three mile area, looking for just the right spot. The search may continue for a week or more. They even check out the chimneys of farmhouses.
Wood ducks are fond of nesting boxes, if they are located in a safe place. If you put a box where you can watch it and the wood ducks use it, they are fun to watch. The 10x20 inch box should have a 3-1/2" hole and should be placed on a tree or pole, 15-20 feet from the ground.
I hope that everyone with spring fever can get outside and enjoy the beauty of it all!
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