It is now the middle of May. The trilliums are still in bloom, the ferns are up, and the woods of the Scotch Creek Preserve are greening up from the understory of the woods to the treetops. I walk the trails several times a week and the trails of the preserve are in fine condition. This last Monday, my daughter Lori and I walked the abandoned railroad right-of-way that forms the south boundary of the Preserve. We were looking for birds-our unofficial bird count we do in mid-May. We identified 24 species seen from the railway path alone. We saw the usual Robins, Cardinals, Orioles, Crows, etc. We saw a Blue Heron near the creek, but the most interesting was an Oven Bird. I had heard Oven Birds before while backpacking in the Porkies in Upper Michigan. I was familiar with the “teacher-teacher-teacher” call. Lori said she heard an Oven Bird-I heard a bird call, but did not recognize it. Lori took out her phone and played a different bird call of the Oven Bird from an app she has on her phone. Almost immediately we saw a bird flying past us and landing on a branch of a nearby tree. It was an Oven Bird and despite not playing the call anymore, not wanting to confuse the bird, that pretty little bird spent the next five minutes flying past us again and again landing nearby looking for that other Oven Bird.
I spotted what looked like a Screech Owl in a hole in a dead poplar tree. We both agreed it did look just like a Screech Owl. With a water-filled ditch between us and the tree and a reluctance to bother the owl, we left. After lunch we returned, this time with my 10x binoculars and Lori with her super long lens on her camera. It wasn’t an owl. It was a leaf that had lodged in the hole in the tree. Disappointment didn’t last long. I saw a rounded shape in a tree off in a distance through the woods and a look with binoculars revealed a Barred Owl looking back at me. A few days later, while walking my dog in the school forest area of the Preserve, I spotted the 25th species when a American Redstart went branch to branch overhead. The flowers are still pretty, the woods is a beautiful green, the flies aren’t around yet, and the mosquitoes are hardly present. Its a great time for a walk in the woods. Maybe you will see a Screech Owl. Posted 5/16/15
Its now the middle of April and I just cleaned out the Bluebird houses on the north fields of the Scotch Creek Preserve. Usually I like to do that task in late March or early April, but that task got delayed. The birds were waiting. As I walked along the trail I could see birds sitting atop the houses. I didn’t see a bluebird, but the tree swallows were waiting for someone to clean out last year’s bird nests and other nests from the houses so they could begin their nesting. Of the seven houses all had bird nests from last year. Three of the bluebird houses had also housed mice over the winter, with the abandoned bird nest completely filled with milkweed fluff and dried blossoms from goldenrod. I don’t know how the mice get into the birdhouses. They have to climb about four feet of steel conduit to get up to the house. As I approached each house, the swallows flew away, then returned immediately after I had cleaned the house and had walked away. I moved one house from the edge of the woods where it had wrens nesting each year, and I moved it to a more open area, hopefully it will house bluebirds. I may put up another house for the wrens. They will arrive later in the spring.
The snow is gone, the trails are once again walking trails, and we only have to wait a while until things dry out completely and until the last of the frost is gone from the ground and then we begin the late spring time in the woods. The deer have been herding in the preserve. Groups of several have been seen lately. One of the Barred Owls that have been seen regularly in January and February was found dead in the school forest adjacent to the Scotch Creek Preserve. With no outward signs of trauma on the bird, some natural cause of death is suspected. Since that finding, another couple of Barred Owls have been seen in the preserve.
This early spring time is a great time to learn the trails of the preserve. We members of EATS have talked to a number of residents of Edgar who say they are reluctant to walk the trails in the woods for fear of getting lost. With the vegetation down now and visibility great in the woods, trails can be easily followed. A walk in the school forest area directly north of the Edgar High School football field is a little muddy now. The members of the Agriculture classes have been collecting maple sap from the many maple trees in that area, and one can see what seems to be more than a hundred blue sap collection bags on the trees. So–with your skis and snowshoes put away, its time to put on a pair of boots and walk the trails. Lots to see in nature.
The Barred Owl is still being sighted now and then by skiers and snowshoers at the north side of the woods of the preserve. Apparently it has established somewhat of a permanent residence in the Preserve. Although mid February is having some very cold weather, the days are getting longer at a rapid pace and the territorial songs of the Northern Cardinal give promise that spring is on the way.
Following up on the Barred Owl sighting noted above, if you go outdoors on a still evening and listen, you will probably hear owls calling. This is their mating season and you will probably hear Barred and Great Horned owls calling. Cardinals may be heard best at daybreak.2/17/15
During the month of January I have walked the trails of the Preserve a couple of times. The trails are excellent for walking, and from the looks of the tracks, one does not really need snowshoes on some of the cross trails, as boot tracks are evidence that some people are walking the trails without snowshoes. Deer tracks abound and deer beds along the trail tell me that deer are to be seen if you take your time, move slowly, watch carefully and pick a day when the trails have not had a lot of traffic. The woods are very silent with snow on the ground and about the only creatures I heard were the Nuthatches working on the tree trunks. I didn’t notice a lot of scales from spruce, hemlock and pine tree cones on the snow. However in my yard in town, which has a lot of evergreens, the snow has been littered with cone scales. No surprise that I had about thirty Pine Siskins visiting the bird feeder socks with the thistle seed. Pine Siskins will feed on the seeds of evergreen cones. Red Crossbills may also have been the birds working the cones for seeds, although I didn’t see any. Crossbills are less likely to visit bird feeders. The usual Nuthatches, both varieties, and of course Chickadees are regulars at the feeders. I have counted as many as 20 Mourning Doves on the ground beneath the feeders some days and they appreciate the bird bath with the heater to give them liquid water to drink. A few Blue Jays, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, and in the semi-darkness of early morning and evening, a pair of Northern Cardinals complete the bird show. I haven’t noticed a Tufted Titmouse at my feeders–ever, although people I know who live just fifteen miles away have them. There have been sightings of a Snowy Owl or two in the area, but nothing like the irruption that occurred just a year or so ago. ( irruption is the term used to describe a mass migration of Snowy Owls southward out of Canada when their food supply is inadequate in the far north). Snow Owls have migrated as far south as Georgia along the East Coast in recent winters.
A Barred Owl has been sighted often in the Preserve lately, by several different people, usually in the woods to the east of the school forest. They will take an occasional squirrel or rabbit, but their usual and seemingly favorite food is the vole, or meadow mouse. Posted 1/24/15