By Jack McShane
Thirty-one years of residing on Bussey Hollow here in Andes—which has included much hunting, fishing and just plain trekking the fields and woodlands has given me the chance to have many encounters with myriad critters. A quite memorable one was a momentary faceoff with Wiley coyote on a remote trail high on our hill. On a very early morning trek, as I rounded a sharp bend there he was, each of us oblivious to the other, until we were 10 yards apart and head on. Our eyes locked for an immeasurable moment, now confronting each other in very close proximity, each having been thinking something very different the second before. I then may have blinked, only to have him gone, choosing flight as opposed to fight. The encounter is etched in my brain ever since. What Wiley thought, I will never know. I can only write about it.
On another occasion two friends and I were hunting for an elusive and endangered species. One of us was an expert on the critter and knew the secret location on which we were doing our hunt. It was near the peak of one of our local mountains here in the Catskills, and in our search we were bushwhacking around very rocky terrain with many ledges and small caves. I was leaning down and peering around a flat ledge, when, without warning, there he was: content and sunning himself and only inches from my face, our quarry—a timber rattlesnake. Luckily my sudden appearance didn’t seem to “rattle” him and I was able to back off from this very, very close encounter with this comfortably coiled and beautiful, but potentially dangerous, serpent. I called my friends over and we all enjoyed an infrequently-seen creature that has an undeserved, bad reputation. These rare snakes tend to be nonaggressive and prefer to be left alone. It is also against the law to kill or disturb them in any way. An example: you are hiking and find one lying across the trail. It is the law that you are to circle around and not disturb him in any way. My advice would be to go around on his tail side and be happy that you didn’t inadvertently step on him. He would most likely react in a potentially lethal way.
Route 30 between our Shavertown Bridge and Route 28, a road that I traverse four times a week, has become a wildlife viewing alley for me. Beside the two snapping turtles that I moved to the side as they were venturing across, I was treated to a close flyover by a sharp-shinned hawk, called a “Sharpie” by ardent birders when conversing amongst themselves. The hawk landed on an unsuspecting chipmunk on the shoulder of the road and immediately took on the mantling position. Most birders believe this spread-wing position covering their prey is taken only to prevent another from attacking and pirating the prey. I believe it is aimed at providing balance as the prey slowly dies from the penetrating talons. Imagine trying to remain balanced if your feet were coiled like fists. Once the prey is dead the hawk can fly off to a tree branch or other safe place where it can then enjoy its meal.
Barn swallows are beautiful and acrobatic flyers, but may they nest in the barn as their name implies and not on top of my outside porch speakers! As the building of their mud and dry grass nest was proceeding, I attempted to restrain them with Rachmaninoff at high volume. The building process was not diminished, so apparently they enjoy classical music. The deep baritone/bass voice and resultant vibrations of Leonard Cohen was enjoyed as well. Final solution: ladder, nest removal (no eggs yet), thornapple barrier. They have now moved to the welcoming pole barn where they are initiating a nest directly over the seat of my tractor. In deference I have moved the tractor.
On Tuesday May 30th, a morning of bright sunshine, a doe lay down in the grassy field only 50 yards from our kitchen window and in full view produced her small fawn. After licking it intently for 20 minutes she finally got up. The little guy on very wobbly legs tried to reach up to feed but could not make it to the milk source and collapsed back down. She lay back down so that the fawn could feed. Time passed, she rose again, as did the little guy who was now able to feed standing up. She eventually walked closer to the house, fawn in tow, where they both took a rest and a look around. The fawn dropped down where it remained as mom moved again now farther out in the old pasture. After she was out of sight Nancy went out and got a quick peek. It remained motionless as it should. Since then we have sighted the two of them always in close vicinity of the house suggesting this is an area mom considers a safe zone. With more than a little luck, this youngster may make it to maturity. We will be watching.
The renewal continued as we watched “Big Momma,” a very large female painted turtle, burrow down with her hind legs into the soft earth and deposit her eggs. Quantity unknown. And will they hatch this year or next? Depends on the weather.
“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.” John Muir
John, we can also get nature’s peace right in our back yards here in Andes.~