End of WinterSUNDAY, MARCH 24, 2013
Our tour for this first weekend of Spring is titled “End of Winter”, but the weather today seems more like the middle of Winter! With a high of only about 30 F, snow falling at an angle with a stiff wind, this could easily be a typical afternoon in January or February. On a slightly warmer, sunnier day earlier this week I enjoyed my first glimpse of a chipmunk that had come up from its over wintering underground den to see if Spring had arrived. I am pretty sure that chipmunk is back underground in his den today. We still have over 6” of old crusty snow and numerous icy patches. The ground is still frozen. On our night walk last night, which was titled “Skydance” because we usually watch the male Woodcocks aerial mating displays, we could find no Woodcocks in the Arboretum. This is to be expected when the ground is still frozen and still covered with old hard snow. This is becoming one of the longer lasting, snowier winters any of us can remember.
So what is out and about in the Arboretum during this snowy, windy still wintry first week of Spring? There are a few signs that Spring is coming. At skunk cabbage bridge, at the edge of Wingra Woods, the skunk cabbage have emerged and their flower parts are growing. As happens early each Spring, the patch of ground with most of the skunk cabbages is already bare of snow from the heat given off by these unusual plants. Everywhere else the ground is still frozen and snow covered.
Robins have returned in fair numbers and can be seen and heard flying through and above the trees. We hope they can find some of the old remaining fruit on the trees and bushes to eat to help them get through the remaining days until the snow melts and the ground thaws enough for them to probe for worms. Surprisingly Turkey Vultures can be seen soaring high over the Arboretum trees, presumably looking for carrion to feed on. Vultures do not have feathers around their heads, so they are not usually very cold hardy. Hopefully the early returning vultures that are now experiencing our extended cold weather and snow are able to find food to survive the remaining cold days.
Standing on the edge of Curtis Prairie you can hear the frequent song of the Red-winged Blackbirds. Occasional flocks of these early returning migrants are seen flying about the edge of the woodlands or across the prairies. Presumably they are able to feed on the remaining prairie grass seeds and the few remaining fruits. There are very few, if any, insects for them to eat. It is a good thing that Red-winged Blackbirds are very tolerant of cold weather, otherwise they would have to turn around and fly a few hundred miles south to get back to warmer climes.
Last night on the nightwalk we discovered the site of the demise of one of our Wild Turkeys. The bird had left large patches of the snow covered with its feathers. Today we discovered the only remains of the carcass, the breastbone and pieces of the leg bones. From the piles of feathers and a few blood stained patches of snow, it appears the bird was over come by a predator, who apparently enjoyed quite a meal of turkey.
Why would one of our usually healthy Wild Turkeys allow itself to be caught by a predator? At night they roost safely up in trees. During the day they fly away from danger or take off running. Perhaps this turkey was already injured or ailing in some way. The story left in the snow was a strong reminder of the life and death struggle to survive among the wild life living in the Arboretum.
Later while heading out on the Icke boardwalk, first we heard distant sirens and then we heard the unmistakable yelping of several coyotes. The coyotes kept up quite a chorus as we stopped to listen to them. It crossed our minds that maybe some of the missing turkey was eaten by one or more of these coyotes.
On our way from Teal Pond back toward Curtis Prairie we watched two young deer saunter through the area where the forest mower has opened up the view. The deer crossed the trail not far in front of us as we headed back to the visitor center. Even though it still feels like mid-winter, there is still plenty to see and enjoy during a tour on the ice and snow trails in the Arboretum