Woodcock and Skunk Cabbage

moon phase Week of 03/22/2009 Best days to prune trees.

It's been three years since I put that note on the trunk of a big old oak tree that was marked to be dropped by a logger. This very special tree had a large stick nest high in its branches—the long-time nest of a pair of Red-tailed hawks.

Skunk cabbage and Woodcock Skunk cabbage and Woodcock The note I tacked to the tree said, "Please don't cut down our home, it's where we raise our family. Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Red-tailed hawk."

The compassionate logger spared the tree, but many other large oaks and maple trees in the immediate area had already been felled.

Sadly, the hawks decided to move, and built a new nest on the east side of the ridge. They were still close enough that I would see them most every day, but I miss watching them on their old nest across from the house. Hawk's nest Hawk's nest I miss watching them carry sticks to add to their home; I miss seeing them together, high in the large tree in the early morning sun. I miss seeing Mother hawk nestled down over her eggs and watching her mate catch voles and snakes to bring to their hungry young. I'm glad to still see them, but I don't feel the Red-tailed hawks' energy in the valley like I did before they moved their nest.

I believe the hawks were not comfortable with the change in the amount of foliage. It decreased enough that it wasn't what they were used to. Sandhill Cranes Sandhill Cranes That's not to say that a pair of hawks wouldn't build a nest where there were few other trees—a savannah, maybe. If that were their initial choice, they would be comfortable so long as there were no severe changes in their territory.

I worked in Maryland on a raptor ecology study in 1983. Part of the study was to measure the density of the surrounding foliage in the immediate vicinity of a nest tree. Over the years, I've learned there are many good reasons for knowing what kind of habitat hawks use.

I suppose there's a chance that a pair of Great Horned owls may take up residence in the old hawk's nest, but it hasn't happened yet. Spring thaw on the creek Spring thaw on the creek I keep thinking there's an outside chance that the hawks may return, but I'm not going to hold my breath.

This morning was very spring-like, after a couple of days of 50 degree weather and nights that were above freezing. On a small pond just off the river, a pair of wood ducks enjoyed the open water. They are the first of their kind I've seen this spring, and their beautiful colors were a special treat for my eyes. From now on, the colorful signs of spring will be more and more evident with each passing day. The forecast calls for 60-plus temperatures, and the color green will begin to appear in the marshes and pastures, especially if there's a little warm rain to help it along.

Old bird house Old bird house The first green of Spring came in the form a Skunk cabbage, as it sends up its first sprouts at the edge of the marsh. The large, rhubarb-like sprouts will eventually turn to large green leaves that give a lush feel to the area where they grow. With his long bill, a male woodcock probes the marsh mud for worms wherever the Earth has thawed. Each Spring evening he dances his courtship dance, and calls out with a nasal "Peent!" to attract a female. He will continue his ritual each night until early June, and he will mate with any female that enters his territory. The woodcock is another sign of Spring that your ears will detect before your eyes do. This is one of the best times of the year for an evening walk. Let your ears discover the first signs of Spring.

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