By Jack McShane
I have been waking up to the incessant cawing of our local common crows. This may be an indicator of an imminent spring, but I will not bet my butt on it. Why suddenly they get vociferous in the middle of winter with two feet of snow on the ground – “I wouldn’t have a clue,” as my Kiwi (New Zealand) friends would say. Possibly they are missing the tidbits that I occasionally throw out on the lawn for their particular consumption. Now that the lawn is covered with two feet of snow, although they are one of the smartest of our birds, they are too dumb to understand that anything I throw out now sinks to the bottom and is not available to them, resulting in their frustration. This morsel tossing is still serving another wildlife sector as it is being scarfed up by the under-snow-meandering rodents, i.e. mice, voles and, yes, the occasional chipmunk on a break from its winter slumber, so the tossing continues. Even a red squirrel, that has made domicile in the front yard rock wall, tunnels to the food cache and, now and then, pops up and scampers to the supplementary bird feeder. There he wreaks the usual havoc amongst the avian guests, not the crows of course, as they do not favor such human contrivances. Observing the crows when feeding along the roads either on road kill or filling their gullets with sodium-saturated grit, I find them not overly fearful of my onrushing vehicle, but I must say they are quite respectful, stepping aside or jumping up on the guard rail, always looking over their shoulders and hunched, ready to take flight, just in case.
This crow talk reminds me of CC, a common crow captured in his youth by a friend many, many years ago that became his household pet. CC would land on your shoulder, anyone’s shoulder for that matter, and let out a plaintive caw begging for a handout. When satiated by handouts or other sources of food which were not often agreed to by the owner, like a fried egg off your breakfast plate, CC would be looking for trouble in other places. Put a fishing lure down on the dock or place your watch down to take a dip in the lake and chances were that CC would drop down from the sky, snatch the loot, loft and drop down 15 or 20 yards away, place it on the ground, and let out his famous double caw caw! Move to retrieve your stolen goods and CC was off with the loot another few yards and caw caw. With experience, the victim of the theft learned that only by a very rapid charge at the thief, arriving before he could lift it, would there be a chance of recovery. On a cross country trip by auto, CC would be allowed out for a fly-around, almost as one would give their dog a walk. CC always returned when offered a tasty reward. I lost touch with my friend and never knew the eventual fate of the black-feathered and very smart clown.
This brings to mind another captured-bird story going back to when I was a teenager with friends with likeminded tendencies, like catching whatever wild thing we could. My friend Dix could climb any tree that was climbable (and for Dix most trees were) and capture any wild thing that lived in any crevice or hole in the tree. On one of those escapades he was able to reach in a hole and come out with a small juvenile hawk, species unknown, but most likely a kestrel. The bird was fed and raised and allowed free handouts. One day it failed to return and, within a week, the word was out that some lady down the block had somehow gotten the bird and was intent on keeping it as a pet, even when Dix explained to her that it was his bird. A plot was hatched to break and enter and snatch back what was theoretically his. The plot never came to fruition as somehow cooler heads prevailed, after one of our parents got wind and interceded – thank you very much as I don’t think I would have had a career as a NYC police officer had that teenage escapade been attempted. Another week passed and the bird apparently escaped and returned to my friend’s cage of his own volition. He stayed awhile and finally flew off on his own to freedom, never to be seen again. Two very important points: One, I do hope both captives had long and happy lives as they were taken from their wild heritage and denied their real freedom in the natural world. Two, as most readers are aware, it is against the law to interfere with or capture wild animals to be used as pets, which includes all birds and animals which are regulated by our game laws.
Of recent note was the fluttering about of two robins at the turn from the Tremperskill Road to Route 30, this on March 2 with almost two feet of snow on the ground. If the snow subsides, the Redwing Blackbirds should arrive about March 10 as they have in the past, a sure sign that spring is on the way. Last year, a more pleasant year, they arrived on February 28. During my four-times-a-week run into Margaretville I have watched as more and more deer are working the edge where there is much brushy vegetation, which is lacking in the mature or semi-mature trees of the interior forest. This fodder for the very hungry deer is maintained by our road maintenance crews that clear the right-of-ways and then the brushy stuff that the deer love regrows. For this migration of deer to these areas I have coined a new term, “edging,” So, as you drive, be aware of “edging” deer as some will attempt to cross at an inopportune time to the other “edge.” And soon, sadly, as the snow leaves the porcupines will be heading to the roads to satiate their spring craving for sodium (road salts) resulting in much road carnage of these critters. I do hope that reading this in early April we will all be enjoying greening fields and much birdsong.
A great French expression: “If only the young knew and the elderly could still do”
P.S. March 15: Gazette deadline, no sign of a Blackbird, so winter continues. ~