Sunday, February 14, 2010
Winter still casts long shadows over snow-covered fields and prairies. It's hard to believe that Sandhill Cranes will begin returning to southern Wisconsin in just a few more weeks. Naturally, there are other harbingers of spring one can find when visiting the woods. After discovering the roosting Barred Owl last weekend, Dottie and I eventually located a female Great Horned Owl sitting on a nest. Even in winter, a new season of life begins to emerge. Nature begins her work slowly, then with a crescendo of activity as we near the apex of spring bird migration.
Should you be so fortunate to find a nesting owl, be sure to keep a reasonable distance so you don't create a disturbance. Owls may attack people who venture too close! Also, it's good to hang back because it's easier to spot the male owl roosting or on sentry duty. Don't be fooled by appearances; his sleep is light but alert. Passing crows might spot the female on her nest. Often times the male will run interference by flying off, leading them away from the nest so she doesn't have to endure corvid mobbing.
There aren't that many winter walks before the snow gives way to dirt and grass. Decked out in my winter garb and snowshoeing gear, I listened to my paced breath as I admired the beautiful scenery of the winter woods. Winter has a flavor and spirit all to its own. The resident nuthatches, chickadees, cardinals and jays seem all the more like mobile decorations on the bare limbs and branches. Barring a brutal blast from the arctic, the migrants here are likely in the clear. They've made it. These are the birds that have survived another Wisconsin winter.
All images © 2010 Mike McDowell