Darkness had nearly enveloped the small compound at Winkeler’s Bend last Friday when I walked to the cabin to fetch a flashlight.
Before returning to the campfire, I stood on the small deck momentarily to admire the sun’s last gasp. The final rays filtering through the tall oaks on the Washington County side of the river streaked the swirling water below me.
A few coyotes howled in the distance and the incessant singing of songbirds had been replaced by the occasional hoots of a barred owl.
I was just about to descend the steps when a phoebe landed in a branch nearby. The phoebe had provided entertainment most of the day with its curious feeding pattern.
It would dart out from somewhere beneath the cabin to the branch. Every few seconds the phoebe would bolt from its perch, snatch an insect out of midair, then return to the branch. After thinning the insect herd in that vicinity, the phoebe moved about 20 yards to a metal pole holding a bird house.
The phoebe used the pole as his base of operations for several minutes before darting back toward the cabin. The scenario was replayed dozens of times during the day. And, it was the final thing I noticed before the forest went totally dark.
Fast forward about 11 hours.
The temperature dropped into the 40s last Friday evening. We didn’t bother to heat the cabin. Instead, we piled on the covers. There is something inherently comforting about waking up in the middle of the night and pulling the blankets to your chin, but that is a story for another time.
I arose Saturday morning with a singular purpose – rekindle the campfire.
As I stepped from the cabin door the first thing I noticed was the phoebe. It had just made a beeline from the branch to the metal pole. The sight of the phoebe, although pleasant, was something of a jarring reminder of life in the wild.
I was about to start a fire because I was kind of hungry. The phoebe was working to keep himself alive.
That was just one of many notable moments from our 48-hour getaway.
We spent many of those hours just sitting under the massive oaks and hickories, just observing the nature in front of us.
The several bird feeders there were a constant source of entertainment. There were titmice, nuthatch, chickadees, downy woodpeckers and a couple red-bellied woodpeckers that kept us company. In fact, we learned to distinguish two of the woodpeckers.
Both made “furtive” advances to the feeders, landing in one of the adjacent trees, about 8-10 feet above the feeders. After several seconds, they’d drop down several feet, survey the surroundings carefully and lunge to the feeders.
One of the woodpeckers would snatch a seed, then retreat to the tree he had just abandoned. He’d stop at essentially the same spot every time, crack open the seed and eat. The other guy would fly off in the opposite direction, out of our direct view to eat.
If we had stayed another day they probably would have been assigned names.
But, perhaps the most enjoyable moment came when a prothonotary warbler landed within two feet of me. I was perched on the deck, camera in hand, hoping to get eye-level photos of the warblers when one landed on the railing beside me.
It was a brief encounter. The bird took one look at me and I swear its eyes bulged out in panic before retreating to safer territory. I’m pretty sure I enjoyed our brief meeting more than she did.
LES WINKELER is the outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at Les@winkelerswingsandwildlife.com, on Twitter @LesWinkeler.
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