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Woodland Trails: Plenty of change in the air

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Change is a part of life. The change of seasons is once more upon us. Rain pelts my window and puddles gain in size outside on the ground. The wind howls, making limbs shake and weeds teeter and totter back and forth as the winds powerful unseen forces rock their world. Reports coming across this writer's desk show warnings of up 2 inches of rain could hit south of us.

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Right now robins fill my yard and blue jays squawk out the loud calls for what purpose only other blue jays know. Maybe they are passing rain warnings to one another. These are migrating robins looking for food -- worms I would think. Their flightiness gives them away and differentiates them from those robins that choose to winter here. If I had a choice I think I would be a robin that traveled south for the winter. Acting giddy is part of the fun of traveling!

Way down in the valley I see the pond appears down this spring. Mud flats are exposed because water levels are way too low again this spring. It wasn't that many days ago that I noticed geese standing on the ice. I smile every time I see that because to me it looks like the geese are trying to hurry spring along. They want the ice to melt so they can begin to lay eggs and raise their young.

Our local Canada geese are not under the time frame as, say, snow geese in the Arctic. They have only a short window of time to pull off a brood and get their young into flight mode so they can make it south before freeze-up. They are on an extremely tight schedule for their broods' lives going one way or the other.

To me it seems that local Canada geese and robins, for that matter, are a bit confused. I used to think all geese and robins went south for the winter. But we all know that we have over wintering geese, robins and more that no longer go south for the winter like I was taught to believe. Were all those school books wrong? Is this another part of the global warming scenario that some want us to believe? I have no clue and unless I live to be around 350 years old I don't think I'll understand it completely if I do get that old. So let me get back to you around the year 2359 with more data.

The wind is picking up and rain is coming down horizontally now. The water on the glass smears my view, but I can still make out the brilliant red of the bird looking for seeds that might have appeared since the rain has melted the last of the snow and ice. The cardinal seems to pay no attention to wind and rain.

Wind and rain are parts of its life and redbirds don't rely on umbrellas and Gortex rain gear. A large brewer's blackbird has arrived and is trying to land on the feeding station. The wind wins the battle and the wet bird heads for a tree limb where it bounces in the breeze. It does not look very happy. A small junco bobs moves through the myriad of birds that now fill my yard.

Overhead I watch a pair of honkers rip west with the strong tailwind pushing them along. Birds going east to feed in now fully exposed cornfields with last year's waste grain find flight much slower. And then I hear it. The unmistakable sound of this ancient traveler.

Looking skyward I watch the pair ride the wind waves as they circle. Their guttural calls echo through the hillside as they did eons ago. They drop their landing gear and settle in on the wetland. Huge wings fill with the wind and as they turn and glide effortlessly as if on strings.

The sandhill cranes are back.

Immediately upon touchdown they sound out a chorus of calls echoing through the wind to each other, one not waiting for the other to stop before it begins its call.

No, it is not an arguing couple but a couple in love dueling their mating call. On and on it goes and eventually it will all end with their mating, nest being built and then, if everything is successful, a clutch of eggs to hatch and young to raise. It's all part of the spring spectacle that is going on all around us once again.

I've been counting cranes with the International Crane Foundation for a couple years now. I felt excited about being part of a worldwide effort to substantiate the fact that there are mating pairs, three, in fact, in St. Croix County. They have an extensive breeding range right here in Wisconsin and especially up in one of my favorite places, Crex Meadows, in Burnett County. I highly recommend you take a trip there and take advantage of their car tours and the Crex headquarters on the northwest side of Grantsburg. The spring migration is an awesome sight to behold. I can think of no better place to watch it all than Crex Meadows!

But this time of year it's all about their calling. Mated pairs of cranes, including sandhill cranes, engage in unison calling, which is a complex and extended series of coordinated calls. While calling, cranes stand in an upright posture, usually with their heads thrown back and beaks skyward during the display.

In sandhill cranes the female initiates the display and utters two, higher pitched calls for each male call. While calling, the female raises her beak about 45 degrees above the horizontal while the male raises his bill to a vertical position. It sounds spectacular. It's all about changing of the season and getting ready for what the new season will bring.

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