No use pretending otherwise. Winter is here.
A drive to the cabin this past week, only a day after the latest raw front blew in, confirmed it.
The sky was a cheerless slate gray. The roadside sumac that flamed brilliant scarlet only a fortnight ago was just a leafless thicket now.
We make that day trip several times every year. In October the pastures still were lush green, filled with cattle bedded happily in what seemed almost picnic weather. But now little groups of them lay touching, bunched together for shared warmth.
Most noticeable as a signal of the season’s change was the great abundance of red-tailed hawks.
Those wonderful raptors breed and spend their summers in the far north of our continent. Only the onset of bitter weather drives them southward to these midland wintering grounds.
Red-tails are gifted predators. Their preferred prey are field mice, voles and the occasional careless rabbit. And though full-grown males are said to weigh no more than 4 pounds, they have even been reported to take an immature groundhog or baby raccoon.
Which means that in the country in hawk season, it’s best to keep a much-loved house cat indoors.
These large hawks have extraordinary eyesight. Sometimes you spot them circling 100 or more feet aloft, hoping to see some small movement in the grass below. But more often they’re spied perched on the crossbar of a utility pole or on a fence post at roadside.
Hunting is hardest for them when corn and soybean crops are still in the field, providing cover for little creatures that creep and burrow. But by early November, when the harvest is finished and the fields lie bare, the odds turn again in the hunter’s favor.
In that earlier October drive, with four sets of eyes watching closely, I believe we counted something like a dozen red-tails.
On our recent trip — covering exactly the same route — the total was a few more than 50. Clearly for a red-tail, this is a fine place to pass the winter.
To each his own. But if I were a hawk, I’d be in Florida now.
For more of C.W. Gusewelle, go to gusewelle.kansascity.com.