Sandhill Cranes and SPRING in the valley.

crex-meadow-sandhill-11-copy1I had an Australian friend who never understood why spring was such a joy to those of us in the Upper Midwest—until she visited here in Winter.

Yesterday the sun was out, the wetlands were wet instead of icy and the Sandhill crane pair were “walking the land” as they do every spring. Normally they arrive with the yearling from last year, but this year there are only two. When they walked into the bottomland forest, our new resident eagle flew out! It was a great moment of birding on the farm.

I’m curious now to see whether nesting will be delayed this year by the slightly later spring (normally they are on the nest by April 5). And I wonder how they will feel about raising young with a pair of adult bald eagles hunting in the same bottoms.

Last word on Snow Country

Photo by Rich Middleton, White Phase Sparrow, flying with a flock of field sparrows near La Crosse, WIWell, now that our Sandhill Cranes, bluebirds, red-winged blackbirds, Kestrel, and Canada geese are back in the valley, my observations on snow country must suddenly give way to spring. But not before I share some pictures of one of my favorite “collector” items…Every so rarely a genetic WHITE PHASE appears in animals that are normally not white except as albinos. But the two pictures shown here are not albinos, but a “white phase” black bear and a “white phase” sparrow.

I’ve also heard of river islands with concentrations of “white phase” muskrats, and “white phase deer”, and of course, white phase buffalo.  I’d love it if you could share photos of your “white phase” creatures for use in a future feature article.

Any way, the short story is that these “white phase” or “Spirit” creatures are expressing recessive genes that helped to protect the species during the ice ages. In Wisconsin, a northern game warden told me that in his life time, he’s only heard of two white phase bear cubs… both in the vicinity of Superior, Wisconsin. Hmmm… makes sense. The same game warden has seen only one white phase sparrow… nearly 40 years ago. I wonder if the white phases of various birds of prey are also expressing recessive genes related to living along the edge of glaciers?

Anonomous Photo, White Phase Black Bear Cub, near Superior, Wisconsin

Above is a very rare “white” black bear cub. Also known as Kermode or “spirit” bears. Normally found only in areas where the recessive white gene was encouraged by small populations cut off from the larger populations, probably by glacier formations. The white gene would have been advantageous to bears living on the edge of the snowfields.

Young Boy with Chickadee in Hand


 Photo by Rich Middleton, boy with Bird, Goose Island near La Crosse, WI

This  photo is a favorite of mine. We were cruising through Goose Island County Park when we stopped at a feeder to capture photos of birds and deer feeding on corn and bird seed left by Sunday sightseers. We watched with interest as a Grandpa began to encourage his two grandsons to feed the wild chickadees from seeds in their hand.

In 30 years of birding, it had never occured to me to try that!

“Could I try that, too?” I asked him? So he gave me some seeds and I watched as the chickadees and nuthatches hesitantly and delicately landed on my fingers to eat the seeds! What a wonderful sensation to feel those feather light little feet on my fingers!!

Then another car stopped and five kids jumped out.

“Could we feed the birds, too?” And they, too, lined up along the road, arms outstretched. The nuthatches and chickadees ate from their hands also!

What a wonderful, unexpected, experience that generous man provided to all nine of us passers-by! It’s something I hope to experience with my grand-kids as well.

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