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Meadowlark Igloos (Margit)

A cold snowy winter has settled into the landscape here in Kansas... and across most of the northern states. Since Christmas Eve a foot of glistening white snow blankets the folds of the fields. While temperatures are dropping to zero through the week, everything else is tucked in beneath the blanket of snow. Usually I get out for a quick x-country ski by mid-afternoon, after tending to our pre-season office work. The sunshine and cold air are a refreshing break from the indoors. So yesterday afternoon, I set off across the fields to the east...time to cut another trail, and follow a familiar path for the dogs. Nico dog had run ahead and crossed the other side of the waterway...looking to rustle up some fun. In August and September the waterways were full of tall shimmering toffee and bronze-colored Indian grass, blooming with tiny bright yellow flowers. Now they have slumbered and succumbed to snow. Soon enough Nico bounded back across the waterway and flushed out a meadowlark which flitted south to the edge of the field. A little farther along, he flushed out another meadowlark that lighted on some grass ahead of me. This one had a small glint of yellow on it's breast as a faded memory of summer...and looked at me with a little consternation for having disturbed it's rest.Nonetheless, I was delighted and surprised to see these two hardy friends... Meadowlarks do normally winter in Kansas from the northern states and we always welcome their return as they feed in fields after harvest. But I'd figured the snows had chased our feathered friends farther south to find open grounds and winter-withered grasses in which to feed and hide. Then I turned and looked from where the bird had fled, and noticed a nicely protected warm, open pocket of grass, beneath an ice cap of snow. It certainly looked like a warm inviting harbor for a couple winter birds...a Meadowlark Igloo! I realized there must be a whole network of passage ways beneath the snow where they can happily feed on seeds of Indian grass, Little bluestem, sideoats and more. The tall stately native grasses not only provide catchment for run-off from the fields...they provide beauty through the season, and food and shelter to meadowlarks and other little birds nestled in beneath the snow. A good thing for some of the most special field birds that are facing greater and greater habitat loss to sterile developments,  and farm fields that push out tree lines and fence rows. Consider the meadowlark...it's bright yellow breast of summer sun, cheerful songs and look for a place in your landscape that may afford the benefit of a patch of tall, stately native grass. You too may be surprised to flush a meadowlark out across your path on a wintery walk  someday.

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