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
Too busy during the month of December to do much walking in the woods of the preserve. Usually I am looking forward to the snow shoe time with good depth of snow to make it seem necessary to put snow shoes on. This month the trails in the woods have snow on them, but the trees overhead in most places collected snow and that seems to have limited the snow depth on the trails. One could walk the trails quite easily without the need for snowshoes. As the month drew to a close, more snow improved conditions. The woods are beautiful in the winter. I remember the lines from the Robert Service poem, “The Spell of the Yukon”– “It’s a great, big, broad land ‘way up yonder, There are woods where silence has lease, There is beauty that thrills me with wonder, There is stillness that fills me with peace.” Take a winter walk in the woods. Stop. Look. Listen.