If it's alive and it lives wild, it's wildlife.

Kevin J. Cook                                              Kevin@WildlifeWindow.com

Daily Reader

 

 Daily Readers 


March 2009 



Expectations — Sunday, 1 March 2009

    March is a month of arrivals.
    Great Horned Owls hatch from their eggs. A moth crisscrosses the cone of light projected by a streetlamp. Flowers grace twigs of Siberian Elms and Silver Maples. Black-crowned Night-Herons materialize in cottonwoods. Ants appear on sidewalks. Common Grackles return to birdfeeders. Common Dandelions blossom in crevices. Honeybees warm themselves on fences and tree trunks. Striped Chorus-Frogs fill local ponds.
    Every night walking streets and trails and every morning standing on the patio while sipping my Earl Grey, I breathe in the newness and tune myself to what comes next.
    March is a month of expectations.



Jiminy Snail — Monday, 2 March 2009

    The snail lives in a gallon jar sitting among my cluster of houseplants. Neither pet nor captive, it was rescued from an exasperated gardener who would toss it in the street for a car to kill and a Crow to eat. The snail is my Jiminy Cricket.
    Snails eat and get eaten. Their shells provide the vital calcium so many female birds need for their eggs each spring. They host countless flatworms and roundworms that parasitize other animals. But for all I know of snails, I know so little about them.
    This rescue snail reminds me I am not done learning.



In Time — Tuesday, 3 March 2009

    A Steller’s Jay can make me slow my step, turn my head. A mature Douglas-Fir can seduce me to loiter where I can smell its fragrance. Together, they can alter my thoughts and paralyze me for time I cannot reckon.
    Georg Steller and David Douglas, forsaking the cultural comforts in their own times, walked into the world that they might engage life. With passion, they explored, discovered, learned, and shared.
    Now, in my own time, a sassy Jay and a thousand-year-old tree, together, span the centuries that I might share Steller’s and Douglas’s wonder, a wonder not lost in time.



Wolf-Spider — Wednesday, 4 March 2009

    In the cone-light of the trailside-lamp, a small dark shape begged my attention. The warm night had seduced a female wolf-spider from her brumation, and she was sluggishly prowling the sun-warmed pavement.
    A few moth caterpillars crawled this area just last night; antsy Boxelder Bugs galore flitted here yesterday and today. Ever the huntress, she might sustain herself on one of these; but a field-cricket would suit her more. Watching her, I listened for a telltale chirp that never came.
    She and her prey will no doubt engage a highly exaggerated slow-motion hide-and-seek during this waning season of come-and-go cold weather.



Last Year’s Stuff — Thursday, 5 March 2009

    Through verdancy and flower, the world yearns for a fresh start; but last year’s stuff, anchored in place like so much clutter in the garage, dulls the luster.
    Old grasses have weathered to the universal dun of spent foliage. Old floss from milkweed, thistle, and willow clumps together in pockets protected from winter weather. Old hair in tufts and strands stuck to rose prickles, tree bark, and yucca spines flutter in zephyr and breeze.
    But old grass, floss, and hair are not garage-sale wares. Birds will harvest last year’s stuff and, weaving it into nests, will make it their own.



Barbwire Blacktail — Friday, 6 March 2009

    The Black-tailed Jackrabbit, a gray form in gray shadow cast by a gray fencepost, hides in plain sight.
    Head pulled back between its shoulders, ears sleeked back, feet tucked beneath it, rump leaning against the fencepost, it aligns itself lengthwise exactly beneath the bottom strand of the three-strand barbwire fence. Neither Golden Eagle nor Ferruginous Hawk, both mortal enemies, can touch it. Not in this place.
    For the Black-tailed Jackrabbit barbwire has become a life-saving cover resource. Crouching beneath the barbwire and huddling next to the fencepost thwart raptorial predators and thereby extend survival for at least a while longer.



The Drummer Returns — Saturday, 7 March 2009

    The sound varies from site to site, occasion to occasion.
    Yesterday morning, it was sharp, like knocking against dry, dead wood in a live tree. Yesterday afternoon, it was dull, like beating against composite-board trim on a house’s gable end. This morning, it was sharply metallic like hammering against a chimney cap. This afternoon, it was dully metallic, like pounding against the roof gutter.
    Though the sound varies, cadence and function remain constant.
    Northern Flickers make the sound to advertise territorial claim: this tree – or house! – is occupied. Mine! The staccato sound declares the drummer within the woodpecker has returned.



Nightcrawler Opera — Sunday, 8 March 2009

    As the Sun spends more time in the sky, rising higher overhead each day, frostline in the soil retreats upwards; and Nightcrawlers follow. When the soil warms to the surface, the great earthworms emerge.
    For a ravenous Nightcrawler a leaf is a meal. With tail end anchored in its burrow, a Nightcrawler gropes about for last year’s leaves: apple, birch, elm, maple. Grasping a leaf in its mouth, the Nightcrawler withdraws pulling its leaf-meal with it. Such leaf-wrestling creates characteristic crinkling that fills the nocturnal quietude with Nightcrawler opera.
    It is the voiceless song of Life awakening from Winter slumber.



Big Little Prints — Monday, 9 March 2009

    Too big for mouse or vole, too small for woodrat or squirrel, wrong configuration for cottontail, one toe shy for weasel: four-toed prints this size in this configuration could only be chipmunk.
    Days of above-average temperatures seduced the chipper from its hibernaculum; then winter returned during the night. When the eager chipper roused the next day, it found fresh snow blanketing its pineland world. Its fresh spoor shows where it hopped here and scampered there, over a log and up a stump, eventually looping back to where it started and disappearing.
    Another few weeks snoozing won’t hurt a thing!



Stray Feathers — Tuesday, 10 March 2009

    Two stray feathers, artifacts from different birds, tell separate stories of life.
    Sizes and proportions reveal from which parts of the birds the feathers came. Details of shaft and vane indicate upper and lower surfaces and positions relative to body midlines. Color and pattern identify the birds. Wear and weathering complete the story.
    One from the left side of a young Blue Jay’s tail; here all winter. One from the right side of an adult Northern Flicker’s tail; settled here recently.
    Each feather a vignette, seeing them invokes memories of colors, shapes, motions, and sounds. The birds are in their feathers.



North Matters — Wednesday, 11 March 2009

    Snow lingers here in tree shadow north of the fence. A bit cooler; a bit moister; a bit longer. North matters.
    What holds for north sides of trees and fences in the city applies equally well to north sides of hills and mountains. North side: cooler, moister; south side: warmer, drier. North side: more trees, fewer shrubs; south side: more shrubs, fewer trees. And wildlife from Calypso orchids to Bighorn Sheep know the differences and use them to govern their lives.
    The naturalist’s craft is to see the detail and comprehend the picture, to learn what wildlife knows: north matters.



Purple Treasure — Thursday, 12 March 2009

    Yesterday, this little plot of ground bore the mosaic of soil patches and plant tufts that lends a mottled look of greens, grays, and browns. Today, Purple Mustard flowers – too pink to be purple but too purple to be pink – flush the mosaic with a delicate lavender hue.
    An Asian immigrant, Purple Mustard starts meekly in late winter, builds momentum in early spring, becomes the dominant wildflower of vacant lots and parking lot fringes through mid spring, and fades to obscurity in late spring.
    By summer it is gone; but right now, Purple Mustard is a treasure to be found.



Cabbage White, Black Knight — Friday, 13 March 2009

    Exotic little things, Cabbage Whites came here from Eurasia – just as people did – and have long since made themselves fully at home – just as people did. One now frolics about my backyard, coaxed from brumation by sunny warmth and no wind.
    Though simply colored and inornately patterned, they bring cheer merely for what they are and when they appear. Considering their appetite for grazing broccoli and other garden cabbages, one might think them to be more "Black Knights" than "Cabbage Whites."
    They are what they are, and in Winter’s closing days a butterfly on the wing is a glorious sight!



Bud Promise — Saturday, 14 March 2009

    The plants are coming back; that’s what buds do for them.
    A bud is a parcel of tiny plant parts all snuggled together, each waiting for the master signal to release then grow. As such a parcel, a bud is a savings account into which a plant deposits a little of its life essence.
    Each bud-bearing plant weathers Winter’s harshness then uses its collective savings to live on. Toward such end a bud is a promise, a way by which a Pussy Willow or a Silver Maple may say, "I will come back."
    And they are now fulfilling that promise.



Yellow-rumped First — Sunday, 15 March 2009

    The only real question concerns when Yellow-rumped Warblers will appear because to consider some other warbler might arrive earlier in late Winter or early Spring would tempt non sequitur.
    Perhaps if you keep your head down and do not survey the tops of cottonwoods and ashes you might not see that early Yellow-rumped hunting insects among the twiggery. And perhaps if you hum loudly as you hustle house-to-car and car-to-store you might not hear the Yellow-rumped’s telltale "Chep!" that sounds husky for a little bird.
    If you don’t look and don’t listen, you just might find some other warbler first.



Vision of Fish — Monday, 16 March 2009

    In Denver’s Downtown Aquarium swim Colorado Pike-Minnows, Hump-backed Chubs, Bony-tailed Chubs, and Razor-backed Suckers. I have waded, watched, and fished western rivers to experience these same fishes; but always they remain aloof, merely illustrations on endangered species posters and names in reports.
    I have imagined them swimming opaque waters flowing past me but cannot know with naturalist certainty that they still swim their lives in there.
    The Aquarium transcends imagination and makes Colorado’s rare fishes far more than subjects of poster and report. Seeing them in the tank improves the vision the mind needs to see what the eyes cannot.



Soundful — Tuesday, 17 March 2009

    Kestrels squeal; doves coo; flickers cackle; squirrels chuck; chickadees whistle; finches chirp; spatsies chatter: all give voice to their lives with utmost disregard for each other. The untutored ear might hear only undisciplined noise, but it is the untutored ear that is undisciplined. Segregate the individual life sounds and listen to each as its own music, and the world ceases to be noisy and becomes exquisitely soundful.
    Spring’s cacophony reminds me how I love Winter’s silence, not because I prefer the absence of life-sound but because the hushed quietude provides comparison by which to gauge the magnificence of Spring’s songfest!



Robin Hordes — Wednesday, 18 March 2009

    American Robins, solitary lawn fixtures by summer, enter spring in flocks of dozens or hundreds. But they are ever passers-through.
    Like bands of gypsies, they work a Russian-Olive windbreak from one end to the other. Then, they disappear.
    Like hordes of barbarians, they descend on a neighborhood and sweep through viburnums and Ussurian Pears, ever chirping, constantly moving. Then, they vanish. 
    Like troupes of mendicants, they appear in the backyard, willing to sample raisins or grapes, suet or peanut butter, quick to drink or bathe. Then, they are gone.
    Whether fixtures or passers-through, Robins grace each day you get to see them.



Buttercups — Thursday, 19 March 2009

    The world supports 400 species of buttercups, 90 of which occur in North America, 19 in Colorado.
    Different buttercups grace the plains, the foothills, and the deep mountains even beyond the forests onto the tundra.
    They grow in pond water and on ponds’ muddy shores. They grow in gently flowing streams and in streamside fens. They grow in sunny meadows and in shady forests. They grow among sagebrush in the basins and at the edge of snowmelt on the high peaks.
    Each buttercup has its place, and every place has its buttercup. And one of them is blooming right now.



Spring — Friday, 20 March 2009

    Mathematics interpret the dance of Sun and Earth thereby allowing the U.S. Naval Observatory to determine with atomic-clock precision the moment of Spring. Our calendars highlight the first day of Spring, and our culture affiliates the season of Spring with the end of the school year.
    More ethereal than math and culture, Spring as an expression of Life follows its own course, reaching a south-facing slope on Friday but ignoring the corresponding north side until a week from Monday.
    Spring is a moment, a day, a season, a process; and the birds and the wildflowers are my math, my observatory.



Checkerspot Icon — Saturday, 21 March 2009

    Mountain Bluebirds, Common Pasqueflowers, and Mourning Cloaks always appear with Spring; but one bird, one wildflower, one butterfly do not a Season make. Once eye and mind agree to cooperate, the invisible becomes noticed. Like that small brown butterfly.
    Bigger than some, smaller than most, it flies less quickly than some, more sprightly than others. This Northern Checkerspot awakens with Spring then plays hide-and-seek with warm weather.
    Seeing one magically coordinates eye and mind; and suddenly, foothills slopes grown with Ponderosa Pine and Wax Currant shimmer with Northern Checkerspots.
    The inconspicuous becomes obvious, even anticipated. And Spring garners another icon.



Gladness from First Ant Sadness — Sunday, 22 March 2009

    Anticipating natural events suffuses my life with gentle pleasures, and seeing the year’s first ant after several months of ant absence is one such pleasure. So it was a moment of sadness finding the year’s first ant as a tiny corpse in my dog’s water dish.
    Such a tiny thing might seem insufficient to invoke sadness, but greater size does not amplify the magnificence of life.
    Sadness completes the spectrum for gauging emotions; and by that spectrum I will more richly understand the gentle pleasure, the gladness, to be felt seeing the year’s first ant alive and on the prowl.



Thickening — Monday, 23 March 2009

    The world thickens moment to moment, hour to hour; but the eyes need days to see what the mind understands.
    Last year’s meadow grasses look crimped, thin, and wan; deciduous trees reach skyward with scrawny twiggery.
    But on those twigs buds are swelling to life, and beneath the old grass new blades already green are creeping upward and outward. Consequently, last week’s scrawny trees appear thicker this week, less sky peeking through; and last week’s grassy meadow looks, well, thicker, suggesting imminent lushness.
    Renewal through growth is Life’s work of the season. March thickens the world and it is wonderful.



Sharp-tailed Grouse — Tuesday, 24 March 2009

    Spring dawns seduce Sharp-tailed Grouses to stamp toes, cock heads, inflate vocal sacs, elevate tails, flare wings, erect tufts. Their courtship may amuse the detached observer, but ephemeral amusement is a cul-de-sac of experience. Watching reflectively produces more enduring gratification because Sharp-tailed courtship is metaphorical.
    Life is competitive, is challenging, deliberate, and uncertain.
    Life is not fair, is not equal, not simple, not guaranteed.
    Life is both in the moment and in the morrow.
    Find the Sharp-tailed Grouses, observe their behaviors, and learn a bit of life. Their courtship excites the active mind.
    But watch them – always! – with a smile.



Common Grackles — Wednesday, 25 March 2009

    Common Grackles returned last night.
    "Purple Grackles" and "Bronzed Grackles" were the first birds I learned to identify. Merged as "Common Grackle," they sparked my interest in wildlife classification and diversity, initiated my interest in birds adapting to human landscapes, introduced me to human bird bigotry (Peregrine Falcons may kill birds, but Grackles may not). Grackle courtship made me notice wildlife behavior; and Grackle migration got me to notice life, as a procession, has a calendar.
    I’ve enjoyed Grackles for more than 50 years; so naturally, I notice them.
    Yesterday, Grackles were not here; today, they are. Welcome back...Teacher.



So Much Story — Thursday, 26 March 2009

    A bit of bone tells the story:
    Forepart of a small mammal’s skull; cranium and lower jaw missing; zygomatic arches broken but stubs enough to define the orbits; one upper incisor in place and doubly grooved lengthwise. The grooves identify the prey; the dry weathered-gray pellet identifies the predator; the combination tells all.
    A Long-eared Owl, an aerial bird, caught and ate a Plains Pocket-Gopher, a fossorial mammal, digested its prey’s soft tissues, then egested the bones. The hunting and catching, the eating and purging all happened more than a year ago.
    A bit of bone tells so much story.



Plains Pocket-Gopher — Friday, 27 March 2009

    A Plains Pocket-Gopher built this esker.
    Harvester-ants erect cone-shaped mounds composed of grit. Steppe-squirrels build circular mounds with conspicuous entrance holes in the middle. This mound is merely a bit of soil bulging from the ground.
    The most completely fossorial of our mammals, pocket-gophers spend virtually no time above ground but live their lives in the dark world of roots and rhizomes. Unlike harvester-ants and steppe-squirrels, Plains Pocket-Gophers can be perfectly abundant and remain exquisitely invisible. Except for their telltale eskers. And sometimes a severed underground cable. And some crop loss. And the occasional skull in an owl pellet.



Fire Blight — Saturday, 28 March 2009

    Spring breezes slip sadly through the twiggery of this small hawthorn.
    A young tree, it has hosted Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks, Mourning Doves and Eurasian Collared-Doves, Black-capped and Mountain Chickadees, American and Lesser Goldfinches, plus uncountable Dark-eyed Juncos, House Finches, and House Sparrows. And Fox Squirrels.
    This small, young tree is also a well-liked and well-used tree. And it is a sick tree.
    Bacteria afflicted it with fire blight last year. Starkly contrasting maroon-brown bark and dark green foliage, infected twigs and branchlets looked sickly yellow-green.
    Soughing breezes now ask the fate of this little hawthorn. And so do I.



Crow Trios — Sunday, 29 March 2009

    Spring winnows American Crow flocks from hundreds to dozens to trios.
    Pairs associate year round but renew their bonds before nesting. Males face females, fluff, bow, utter soft rattling gargles – sweet-nothings only another Crow could love – before the pair engages mutual preening.
    When they begin nesting, a third Crow brings sticks offered for rebuilding. It is last year’s offspring. As customary among Crows, it will spend its second year helping its parents, learning what Crows need to know before starting its own family life next year.
    And so, flocks of three, Crow trios, are the product of Spring’s flock winnowing.



Norway Spruce — Monday, 30 March 2009

    Spruces abundant beyond imagining clothe the high mountains in dark-green forests. Individual trees fade into the netherworld of familiarity, even in yards and parks of plains towns where spruces grow as icons of aesthetics. The eye sees but the mind ignores urban spruces, though a newcomer grows among them.
    Compared to native spruces, it grows bigger cones but smaller, much greener, less bluish needles on less-dense twiggery that allows more sky to peek through.
    It is the Norway Spruce, transplant from Europe. Once eye and mind discover its distinctiveness, the Norway becomes a novelty tree, a treasure worth noticing and enjoying.



Anticipation — Tuesday, 31 March 2009

    A fourth of the year has passed, and Life quickens, intensifies. Something flowers each day; something migrates in each night; something wakens from hibernation each week. And excitement builds like a summer thunderstorm.
    Will the Calypsos still bloom where I found them last year and the year before? Will the Heart-leaved Twayblades be as abundant? Will the Northern Goshawk use the same nest this year? Will the Burrowing Owls take the same burrows? 
    Life offers so much to discover
and to experience; and that abundance, that richness, makes me so afraid that I won’t be there to see it...all!



 

 

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