FIELD NOTES: CRITTER UPDATE – April 2017

By Jack McShane

Since the deadline for the Gazette is on the 15th, some of what I write about are observations made just after that and are not in your hands until a month and a half later, therefore rather old news. Example: the arrival of blackbirds, an early sign of spring in late February and read about in early April, will be rather dated by then. Sorry! The hot spell, 72 degrees registered in Margaretville around February 24th, resulted in a plethora of “sign of spring” sightings: 4 redwing blackbirds, 1 big male grackle, 1 female bufflehead bobbing around in one of the small ponds, and 2 skeins of between 2 and 3 hundred Canada geese chatter-honking their way north. Two of them checked out our ponds for a potential nesting site. Heard but not sighted were the territorial knockings of a couple of woodpeckers.

Now writing this on March 4th with temperature last night dropping to 4 degrees and maybe lower, the ponds have now refrozen, and with light snow on the ground, I do hope my feathered friends have made an aerial U-turn and are returning to warmer climes.

The emotionally disturbed grouse (EDG) remains a survivor, still on occasion hand-fed a mix of cracked corn and black oil sunflower seeds, but apparently not dependent as he has gone as much as a week without the handout and remains in a very healthy state. He does appear more tentative of late, but still jumps on my knee when offered my hand-held offering. He prioritizes the sunflower seeds over the cracked corn and when that is gone cleans up the remaining corn.

A physically impaired blue jay (PIB), his left wing hanging and unable to fly, pays a daily visit below the feeder garnering what overflow there is. I first noticed him when, instead of flying off when something spooked the rest of the gang, he literally scampered up the white birch tree from which the feeder hangs, much as the white breasted nuthatches navigate. At the end of his foraging he shuffles off and tentatively hops across a very small stream, rock to rock, ending up in the safety of a dense thicket of spruce and blackberry, where he apparently spends the rest of the day roosting and hopefully healing.  Only time will tell. This disabled blue jay does no bullying, nor have I ever seen him bullied by any of his compatriots. He is given deference as we do our disabled. With much needed luck he will not cross paths with our local feral cat which, thankfully, has not been sighted in some time. I chalk this up to snow conditions. One day when the bounty of the feeder had dried up (my fault as I did not get out there), all the regulars—birds and the gymnastic red and gray squirrels—had abandoned the site as a lost cause. There was the PIB obviously in great hunger hammering away with considerable determination at the frozen layer of ice where a few last chips of cracked corn were imbedded. I admire his tenacity and wish him luck. Once he was gone I did get out there to fill the feeder and spread a few handfuls around for his next visit.

Then there is the yearling doe that also has become addicted to the feeder overflow and remains steadfast during all my futile attempts to shoo her off. She has become so tame and oblivious to the danger of proximity to humans that I just cannot imagine her making it through next deer season. If she has a fawn, will she pass on this lack of fear? If so, poor fawn; its chance of survival will be greatly reduced.

There is an occasional bald eagle or, more rarely, a pair, shoulder to shoulder, perched in proximity to the broken nest on the Dingle Hill bluff on Rte. 30. But I have not noted anything that I would call nest-building or, more accurately, nest repair. I remain an optimist; it might still happen. The golden eagle project remains robust with a new bird being fitted with a transponder.  She was named Sisu. A second with a previously fitted transponder that had shifted also was trapped, his transponder corrected, then duly released.

Macwa, bruin, Ursus americanus, mystery beast, and well, OK, black bear: the tally is in by the Department of Environmental Conservation for the 2016 bear hunting seasons: 1,539 harvested in the entire state, 1,025 of those in the southern zone, and 23 of those in our own Town of Andes. Walton was mentioned having produced a 540 lb. boar, second largest taken in. It must be noted that the historical average annual take for the whole state has been only 207. So obviously Macwa is thriving and his numbers are expanding, especially here in Andes. Successful hunters are asked to send in to the DEC an extracted tooth from their kills so they can get an idea of the ages of those harvested which helps with their management objectives.

Hopefully that “mystery beast” which turned out to be a big momma and her three big cubs caught on trailcam back in November, made it through the season and are peacefully in hibernation somewhere, dreaming of a good berry, apple and acorn year and, oh yes, full bird feeders out for their pillaging. Of course, you’re reading this now in early April: some will be out and about, so watch your bird feeders!

Ryan Trapani, Director of the Catskill Forest Association, a great organization, wrote this about a request from his very young daughter,

“Daddy, I just need to go in the woods, I want to go outside with you.” “I had to readjust what I was about to do and took her ‘in the woods.’ Watching her reminded me just how magical being ‘in the woods’ still is.”

One of the secrets to happiness is not to simply spend time with one’s children or grandchildren, but to share their world and to maintain a childlike wonder and find the joy in every moment.~