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The birds will be coming
Random Thoughts, February 9
Random Thoughts by Wendell Smith

MUSCODA - I never had much faith in a groundhog being an accurate predictor of weather in this part of the world. But it does seem as though some birds can be tied closely to the seasonal calendar. Locally, it’s a pretty good bet that the first sandhill crane calls coming from the local river bottoms will be heard sometime within a few days of March 1. It wasn’t always that way. Those 4-ft tall birds made a comeback from near extinction in this area.

I recall the first time I heard that high-pitched mating call of a crane. I was taking part in a “crane count” and was stationed on the Vic and Lil Jonas land east of Muscoda when a sound like I had never heard before came from the swamp. I ran along the high-bank, looking across the marsh, hoping to see its source. I didn’t see the bird that day.

Now, cranes are quite common, often seen in fields, sometimes even on lawns in the City of Madison.

Some folks tie the coming of spring to the seeing the first robin of the season, although a few robins stay around all winter, living on evergreen berries. Back in the days when I hunted ruffed grouse a robin would sometimes flush from a small snowy cedar tree.

A community in Ohio is confident enough about the time vultures return that they schedule a spring celebration around the arrival of the big black birds. Vultures seem to be able to float through the air with little or no effort and are fun to watch.

Last spring several great egrets, a tall white wading bird, spent time on Goodwiler Lake. If we are lucky perhaps they will visit us again this coming spring.

At the other end of the migration calendar, a few older ice-fishermen may recall a great blue heron that stuck around that lake long enough into the winter to dine on small bluegills tossed to it by folks fishing through the ice.

Another local oddity in the bird world came on a bitter first day of a 9-day deer season in November many years ago. It was cold enough for the Smith hunters to abandon our stands and head for home. There we found an abundance of little pine siskins, a small sparrow-like bird at our bird feeders, probably driven south by a food-failure in Canada. The birds were so tame I took pictures of our young son Kip having eye-ball to eye-ball encounters with the siskins as he stood near a feeder in our yard.

That year was among just a few when we have seen pine siskins. Our bird book says they only come this far south on rare occasions. The years we fed them perhaps were the same winters we had trouble getting cars started for our kids to drive to classes at the Richland Campus. I remember enlisting Ellis Nelson to get our old Chevrolet started. He would cover the car with a big tarp and shove a Kerosene-fired portable heater under it.

We haven’t seen that kind of cold for several years – global warming - maybe?