BIOPHILIA – August 2009

Jack ThumbnailBy Jack McShane

Biophilia, with which I am afflicted, is a term coined by E.O. Wilson, a premier entomologist, and described by him as a craving for, and love of, wild things. I am a Hunter/Biophiliac who enjoys watching the birds and other beasts and upon occasion killing same. Abhorrent as it may seem to some, it is part of nature’s “prey balance,” something that occurs even without man’s interference. To quote Wilson: “It is central to us, that our relationship to other beings is what makes us human.”

If the above is correct, and that life is not possible without death, why is it that certain deaths disturb me? Some examples are: the beautiful scarlet tanager that died upon impact hitting our front window, the spectacular male indigo bunting that died after crashing into my wife’s car or the fledgling Baltimore oriole carried off by a crow for a feast. Had any of these victims been house sparrows or starlings there would have been minimal sorrow. This is a prejudice for the rare and the beautiful and against the innocent invasive – I admit my guilt.

Yellow breasted sapsuckers; you can love them or hate them. Sorry, I hate them, especially a particular “sucker”. Why do I hate them in general? They destroy my fruit trees and white birch trees by pecking so many holes in the trunks that it can eventually kill the tree. Why do they do it? They do it in order to get the sweet sap and the insects attracted to it. I will admit there is a benefit to others like our hummingbirds that take advantage of the free lunch.

Why do I hate a specific “sucker”? Because this particular individual has found a “sounding board” on my porch just outside my bedroom window that he hammers on at about 5:30 every morning just to make all the other male “suckers” aware that this is his territory. Well, I like to get up about 7:30 and am not a happy camper when awakened by his early morning hammerings. I hung a large plastic owl with big yellow glass eyes to deter him. As it turned out he loved it; the hollow owl had even greater resonance when hammered. I have attempted to eliminate him with bird shot but he has the uncanny ability to disappear when I have gun in hand. One morning I heard the unmistakable sound of a bird hitting the window and, sure enough, there he was grounded and gasping for air. I gently picked him up, held him for a moment admiring his beauty, opened my hand and let him fly off. Why did I not wring his neck? I simply couldn’t. The next morning his hammering seemed a lot more gentle and I wondered if this was in deference to my releasing him or did he still have a bit of a headache? Whatever the reason, he is now back at full throttle. Oh well.

Remember when we called someone a little less nervy than ourselves “chicken?” Here is a story that will counter the thought that chickens are “chicken”. My son, who lives down in Kerhonkson, has a flock of chickens which consist of one rooster and about a dozen hens. One morning he heard the rooster making some unusual sounds and went out to investigate. What he saw was astounding: the rooster, with all the hens behind and in single file, was marching directly at a red fox. The fox held its ground until the rooster closed the gap to about ten feet, then turned and high-tailed it into the woods. That rooster was not “chicken”.

This has been an abysmal year for our wild turkeys; the rain and cold have wiped out many of the newly hatched poults. Turkey young (poults) are extremely vulnerable to pneumonia when they get wet and cold while they are still in down and not feathered out. I am watching four adult hens out and about with no young when they, in a good year, would have ten or so each following behind. Another factor can be nest predation by the usual culprits: raccoons, foxes, coyotes. Often when this occurs the hen will re-nest and drop fertilized eggs that they retain for just such purpose. If successful the late born young are smaller going into winter and if weather is extreme do not survive. Such is nature, and in future years the population will recover as it always does.

As I write this, I have only observed two does with fawns. There are three does without fawns hanging out together, unusual since they tend to be very solitary when they have fawns hidden away. The bear population is way up with many sightings, one of a sow with three cubs. On my property there have been many big rocks overturned and occupied bluebird boxes torn down and ripped apart: sure sign of bear. According to big game biologists, bear are major fawn predators as their powerful olfactory senses give them the ability to search for and find what other predators cannot. The cottontail rabbit and woodchuck populations are way up. We have a family of six chucks occupying Nancy’s gardens, indicating that, just maybe, the coyote numbers are down. We will watch to see how all this plays out.

Many of you know that I hunt turkeys in the spring and that this year I was unsuccessful in getting a particular big tom turkey. I was tricked and chagrined by him and his buddies a number of times. The last two weeks of May (all of May is the open season) I did not hear or see any sign of him and thought possibly he was taken by another hunter, or ran into some trouble. Well, June 1st, the day after the season closed, there was a loud gobble from up on the hill. My supposition is that this was to let me know that he made it and was OK, or maybe just to thumb his nose at me. Anyway I know he was happy and I was, too. ~