Journal for December 20, 2008

We’ve been having very wintry weather lately – lots of snow and cold temperatures. I didn’t walk much for a few weeks because of the deer hunters, but now they’re gone and I can walk wherever I like.

The recent snowstorms have been small ones – 2 to 5 inches at a time – every few days. So the snow has stayed soft and powdery, and easy to walk in.

The Narrows

Indian Grass Ridge

Hidden Oaks Point

Buffalo Ridge Prairie

The trees have distinctive silhouetts – it’s easy to see them in the winter when there aren’t any leaves.

Burr Oaks

Cottonwood – This huge old Cottonwood is right next to one of our farm roads. Periodically it loses one of its big branches, but it has several huge trunks that are all still standing. Someday it’s all going to come down across the road; it will be a big project to cut it up and get it out of the way.

Dead tree on Indian Grass Ridge

Paper Birch with American Bittersweet

The Bittersweet berries are very bright against the colors of the snow and sky.

I was walking in the Cat’s Paw Prairie just after sunrise yesterday, and a flock of at least 50 American Tree Sparrows was foraging for seeds in the prairie. I stopped and watched for a while, and the birds got so used to me being there that they came quite close.

Some sparrows light on the very top of the seed stalk of a prairie grass. The grass bends down nearly to the ground under their weight. They peck at the seeds – eating some and knocking some onto the snow. Then they fly to the next grass stalk. Other sparrows hang out on the ground, eating the fallen seeds.

Snow collects on the grass stalks and seeds. This is Little Bluestem.

Here’s the hole of some small animal – I think a mouse – and the tracks it made while searching for seeds.

Sometimes we startle a grouse out of the snow as we walk through the woods. This one flew up to a tree above the path and watched as we walked underneath.

The feeders are full of birds on these snowy days.

Today a young Sharp-shinned Hawk stopped by to see if it could catch a meal.

The Blue Jays shrieked a warning and most of the birds scattered. The few who were left froze still.

This Downy Woodpecker froze on the peanut feeder. It didn’t move at all for at least 10 minutes.

The hawk stayed about an hour – watching the feeders and chasing a few birds – but not catching anything. The other birds stayed away for a while, but eventually they started coming back – cautiously. I could tell when the hawk got ready to chase a bird because it would zero in on one particular bird. Then, all of a sudden, the little bird would move and the hawk would swoop after it.

Because sunrise is so late and sunrise is so early at this time of year, we’re often out walking at both times.

Sunrise from the Knife Edge

Cat’s Paw Prairie at sunrise

Indian Grass point at sunrise

Sunrise over Western Prairie

3 Finger Valley at sunset