Departures and Happy Spring Returns

It’s become almost impossible to predict what spring will bring or when it will come in earnest. February’s sub-zero temperatures gave little hope for an early spring, but just in the nick of time, March came in like a cuddly lamb and stayed that way through the entire month. It was April that bared its lion’s claws and the cold returned. There wasn’t much for snow this winter and we all were looking for those legendary spring rains to come, but they never did. There were only four or five frosty mornings in the whole month of March, yet the ground was frosty white nearly every morning in April. Bassackwards!

The maple trees let me know where they were as patches of bright green spread out over these otherwise leafless Kickapoo mountains. In spite of the iffy weather, April ended with a week of warm days and warmer nights, I now feel safe in saying that complete leaf-out will be in another week or so—right on time. 

 

The woodland ice falls are quickly melting away.

Ice falls are often the last remnants of winter and some will last through April, appearing blueish as they cascade over rock shelves. Like tiny glaciers, they make beautiful late-winter woodland scenes that I could enjoy all year ‘round, but soon they will melt away.

On the 9th of March, I watched a pair of turkey vultures circling over the valley. Other first-arrivals that day included a song sparrow and a yellow-shafted flicker. It’s a good start for the bird migration and a good reminder to keep my eyes and ears open every day. 

Hooded mergansers on the Kickapoo River.

A couple of my furry neighbors also made their first appearance today. Under the bird feeders, “Chippy” made his first outing since last November. He must have gone over and knocked on Mr. Woodchuck’s door, because he was soon nosing at sunflower seeds under the bird feeders, too. I wacthed a pair of Canada geese building a nesting place on the top of a muskrat den, as a fancy pair of nearby hooded mergansers watched.

A white robin returned to my neighborhood for the second consecutive season.

 

A piebald robin that showed up a week ago. Related to the white robin??

I was very surprised the next morning when I looked out the window to see an all-white robin hopping around in the yard. He’s most likely the same bird who spent the summer here last year. He’s not the first white robin I’ve seen over the years, but he’s the first to return the following year. As if that weren’t a special enough treat, a piebald robin has also showed up. Could they be kin?

Tortoise-shell butterfly—the first butterfly I’ve seen in 2021.

By mid-March, the crows were setting up their nesting territories and this seemed to be a good reason to give a red-tailed hawk a hard time.  The local kestrels are also feeling the heartstrings of spring on a power line. On the last day of March, I saw the year’s first butterfly—a beautiful tortoise-shell. I hope it’s a sign of a summer full of butterflies of all shapes, sizes, and colors. It will make me forget how cold February was. 

A large snapping turtle has finally made his first spring appearance from his winter hibernation in the muddy bottom of a local pond. 

The beavers are really going at it this year along the Kickapoo River.

I’ve seen lots of beaver sign along the banks of the Kickapoo River so far this spring. They’re still doing what they’ve done for thousands of years, and they’re very good at it. I don’t think the trees are too happy about it, though.

Blue-winged teal pair.

Gone are the days when flocks and flocks of migrating ducks would visit the heart of the Kickapoo Valley each spring. Truth is, just to see any ducks these days is a treat for me. A lovely pair of blue-winged teal brought back fond memories of the many flocks I used to see fifty years ago. 

Bloodroot.

The pretty little bloodroot was like a breath of fresh air assuring me that spring promises are still kept. Best annual antidote to cabin fever I know! On the 20th of April, a white-tailed buck pranced through the meadow with two doe in tow. I thought it a little unusual that he had yet to shed his antlers. 

The year’s first Phoebe showed up in the yard on the 14th, about three weeks later than in years past. Even the towhee beat him back by a day. The first cliff swallows showed up on the 25th, along with several white-throated sparrows, and on the 26th I saw the last of the year’s juncos, who’ve all headed north into Canada for the summer. 

The April drought finally gave way on May 2nd—a relatively sweltering day of 80 degrees. Before the evening thunderstorms, Baltimore orioles and rose-breasted grosbeaks said hello, 2021! The first song I heard the next morning was made by a Jenny wren, which grew into a chorus of warbling songs, and by late morning a hummingbird was supping on the nectar of bluebells north of my schoolhouse home.

My northside bluebells, where I witnessed my first hummingbird of 2021.

There’s no turning back now that the gang has arrived. SPRING HAS SPRUNG!

Naturally yours,

Dan