A Welcoming Home

From the corner of the eye I caught the flash of pure bright brown. Off to the right, across from the garden. It came while awaiting for the bucket of smelly fish fertilizer to fill with water; a mixture we were sloshing into the holes we dug for the new trees and shrubs we were planting in the grove and in strategic spots of our prairie. Yes, said Rebecca, she had seen it, too. Brown Thrashers.

We had a pair in the very southwest corner of the grove last summer. We had concerns that with our cleaning of all the buckthorn and brush from the grove over the late fall and early winter that we had fiddled too much with their habitat. So seeing the vivid brown and those long tails, and for her, hearing their song, was wonderful. Over a thousand variations of the song, according to our field guide.

Now, we await the Orioles. Friends have made reports of arrivals further down the river valley, and someone said just this morning that a pair had arrived at her home along the lake. Maybe we’re next.

Living in the flyway has many rewards, and not just in waving at those traveling through. We also rejoice in those who are returning home. Like the Brown Thrashers and colorful Orioles.

A duck in flight in the wetland.

A duck in flight in the wetland.

A huge exciting moment for us came early Saturday morning while we stood in the kitchen sharing a quiet time over coffee and tea. Up in one of the woodpecker trees was a huge dun-colored blob, which sent me running for the binoculars. Meanwhile a second, more colorful mate appeared. Wood Ducks! Oh, what a close and wonderful view through the binoculars! With close proximity to two wetlands, one of our initial hopes was that we would have Wood Ducks in our grove. As we watched, the pair made a very determined and thorough investigation of trees offering possibilities, and yes, we have several.

First one would hop from one canopy to next, soon followed by the mate. As they would stand in the tree we marveled at their dexterity, of how well they stood with webbed feet. Then they would check out another. This continued for about a half hour. Maybe longer. Rebecca and I were anxious and curious. In my limited real estate searches, I doubt if I’ve ever scoured a potential neighborhood more passionately. Our weekend guests soon joined us at our big, kitchen sink window to watch the pair, although I doubt they shared our excitement.

Then, as suddenly as the ducks arrived, they departed. In our search of the grove since it looks as though we won’t be sharing our neighborhood that we now share with Yellow and Golden Winged Warblers, Red Bellied Woodpeckers and any number of other song birds. Apparently we lack enough oak trees and their favored diet of acorns. Fortunately bur oaks were among the trees we planted.

A flushed Red-Winged Blackbird in the Clinton Prairie.

A flushed Red-Winged Blackbird in the Clinton Prairie.

Up in the wetlands we flushed a murder of Yellow Headed Blackbirds that burst from the cattails almost as a feathered bouquet of glorious yellow. Around them the Red-winged males were staunch in defense of their individual territories. Nesting will be happening soon. Same with the paired Canada Geese, who have staked their select corners of wetlands and cozy river bends, and are surely tending nests by now.

Look closely and you can see the owlet.

Look closely and you can see the owlet.

In the river valley we’ve noted heads bobbing in the nests of Bald Eagles, and was fortunate to have been guided to the nest of a Great Horned Owl. If one looks very closely at my photograph, you can see the well camouflaged owlet nestled inside the nest.

Our sky still has flocks of ducks flying between the wetlands, but the huge vees of geese have moved on up the flyway. Those vees have been replaced by the ballet beauty of flocks of White Pelicans. We often share our first glass of evening wine on our small deck hopeful of witnessing those magical moments of flight when the pelicans become nearly invisible before turning as a group in a contrasting flash of white against a deep blue sky.

In the nearby prairies we hear the “barks” of Pheasants, and Wild Turkeys are strutting in display. Trying to capture a display has been almost cartoonish. On two different early mornings I passed strutting turkeys in full display just down the road, and both times I was without a camera. On Earth Day morning, though, when a fog hovered over the wetlands and in the river valley, I was finally able to capture an image of two toms just over a ridge as they tried to woo nearby hens.

Two toms in a strut-off on a nearby rise.

Two toms in a strut-off on a nearby rise.

All of which signals that, yes, spring has finally arrived. Even our acrobatic Barn Swallows have returned, which are more of a joy in flight than in how they leave the inside of our barn! We all have faults, which are mostly disregarded when you’re welcoming home members of nature’s family.

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About John G. White

Somewhat retired after a long award-winning career in newspapers (Wisconsin State Journal, Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, Denver Post and a country weekly, the Clara City Herald). Free lance photographer and writer with credits in more than 70 magazines. Editor with various Webb Publishing magazines in St. Paul, and a five year stint as editorial director at Miller Meester Advertising.

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