Allan Bell’s Birch Bark Nature Notes Revisited: Tracking nature

Phenology might be said to be “keeping a record of the recurrences of natural events in the plant and animal kingdom, in relation to climate and weather, at a specific geographical location.” Here’s a sample of what I keep track of:

Tuesday, May 8. First goldfinches at feeders since last fall. The males are gaudy in their wedding attire – but beautiful.

Wednesday, May 9. Wood Anemones blooming. Dicentra (bleeding heart), too. Saw first chipping sparrow.

Friday, May 11. Noon. Male oriole on hummingbird feeder.

Saturday, May 12. 8 a.m. Four red crossbills, three females and one male, feeding in small red pines, just over my head at Kahle Park. Real rare, as far as I’m concerned. On the Wisconsin River, a striking greenhead mallard drake paddles around his brown spouse. A few feet away a pair of blue-wing teal float. Close by is a lone hooded merganser, a female. Where is her mate?

Two white-throated sparrows kept me company as I walked along the river. Trilliums were starting to open, bloodroot and wood anemones were in bloom. Still a few hepaticas out.

Caller reported two bluebirds on East Wisconsin Avenue, apparently mating and/or nesting there. Noon. The year’s first hummingbird showed up, a male.

Sunday, May 13. A trip to Colby on county Trunks T, YY, C and F rewarded us with: Two deer standing in the road, a kestrel hovering, unidentified hawks orbiting, a red-headed woodpecker landing in a bush and two meadowlarks singing from telephone wires.

Outside the kitchen window of my Uncle John and Aunt Irma Coastes, a half dozen bird feeders present an all-day show. The star was a male red-bellied woodpecker making frequent trips to the suet. Six or eight male goldfinches crowded a sunflower seed feeder in their new, bright yellow outfits, outnumbering the rather drab females. Pine siskins and female purple finches vied for perches, too. A white-breasted nuthatch and a downy woodpecker took turns at the suet. A vial of honey was sampled by a female oriole.

Gray and red squirrels and a chipmunk worked on corn scattered on the ground for them. Baffles, pipes and positioning keep them from the seeds.

Uncle John gave me all of his maple syrup making equipment. I can hardly wait for winter, because after that comes the sap run and I can tap the maples. The trees at Road Acres will be decorated with pails next March, I’m all excited!

Monday, May 14. 6 a.m. 32° clear. The river is smothered with fog. A deer is just about to cross the road when it sees me. It flies across in two leaps, with high kicks. A white-throated sparrow is singing its pretty song quite close (I can’t hear him if he’s very far away).

Herb Mitchell Road. The wonderful song of a hermit thrush. Now there’s the way to start the day! Just across the road, an ovenbird is making noise. The bird books say “TEACH-er, TEACH-er.” To me, it sounds more like “ah-CHEEP, ah-CHEEP,” with the emphasis on the last syllable, not the first. Robins are happy, perched in the tops of the sun-tipped aspens. And there’s the first wild (now) asparagus.

Tuesday, May 15. 6 a.m. 30° calm and clear. I stepped out of the door to hear a cardinal singing, a hundred yards away. At Road Acres. Imagine that! Down the road, an almost robin-sized bird was feeding in the top of an aspen and singing, too, although not really loud. A male rose-breasted grosbeak. It’s about time. Others have been seeing them for a week or two.

A little way up the road, a large black and white bird with a red crest beats its way across. A pileated! Now, that’s what I call a good day. 6 p.m. A bright red bird is perched in the flowering crab. I can hardly believe my eyes. A male cardinal! It hopped down on the ground and picked around in the sunflower seeds the other birds had dropped. It stayed around for 10 minutes or so. I’ve got the proof in my camera! Everything happens to me – and Dick Tracy.

Solar eclipse. Wednesday, May 30. Do NOT look at the sun! Do NOT view directly? A few seconds exposure could damage your eyes forever. Project the image through a pinhole in a piece of cardboard onto another cardboard. Practice several days in advance. Better yet, wait and watch it on TV.



Late nature writer Allan Bell wrote this Birk Barch Nature Notes column for the Tomahawk Leader back on May 23, 1984. In revisiting some of his phenology, or keeping a record of the recurrences of natural events in the plant and animal kingdom, in relation to climate and weather, at a specific geographical location, we can get an appreciation for how unique this area is. A lot of the same things, like it’s about time the red-breasted returned to the Tomahawk area in recent weeks, are still things that excite us and remind us why we are so lucky to call the Northwoods of Wisconsin home.

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