By Jack McShane
Once in a while the stars align and luck—a confluence of positive currents—happens. The evening of May 3rd was a birder’s delight. As I settled into my chair on the corner of my porch, a male bluebird flew overhead, a good sign that more was to come. It did. An American crow feeding on birdseed (spread out as a black bear had recently de-treed the feeder) was interrupted by a very audacious attack by a chipmunk, truly a sight to see, as usually a combative chipmunk is attacked by the crows. Interesting, what hunger can drive a small beast to. Shortly after, there was one, then two, then three and finally four beautiful male rose-breasted grosbeaks amongst an assortment of redwing blackbirds, bluejays, mourning doves and a variety of finches. All this was a great sighting for an avid bird and wildlife aficionado, but it gets better yet. Two chestnut-sided warblers, a male and a female, glide into the crabapple tree right in front of me and go about very intense inspections of the branch tips as they seek insectivorous sustenance and are successful only three or four times. This search occurs about six feet from my very admiring eyes, the male in full Spring mating attire.
At about this time a pair of wood ducks fly into the small pond as three deer forage on the adjacent field. The big doe, obviously pregnant, occasionally chases off what might have been her fawn from last year. This act is not uncommon, as she will eventually choose total solitude and a small piece of turf to deliver her new fawn or fawns.
Then there was what appeared to be a golf ball bobbing about the seed spread. Oh wow! It was the little chipping sparrow with a pure white head (leucistic), sighted last year. It somehow made it all the way back from the unknown southern climes where it wintered, a very lucky little bird. This little guy who could pass for tennis ball-sized bald eagle would seem to be very easy pickings for an avian predator, but somehow it made it back to its home grounds, and with no GPS. As all my attention was focused on “Little White Head” there was some high-pitched quacking overhead emanating from a second pair of wood ducks heading for the upper pond. All the while there was the pair of Canada geese working the green edge of the lower pond, the hen feeding intensely, the gander mostly standing guard (weeks later I spotted her on her nest on an island in our upper pond.) And then suddenly, the birds that had been feeding on the scattered feed were gone, the bluejays now high in the trees screeching out loud warning calls. I watched with great interest, hoping to catch a glimpse of what skulking predator might have caused the alarm: a bobcat, coyote, or a fox maybe? Nothing. Darkness was creeping in and the show was over.
The next day wasn’t bad either, as on an ATV trip up the hill on the other side of the road I surprised a large and very brown fisher, the second sighting in my lifetime of this very elusive predator.
The forest was wide open, allowing me to follow his bounding and loping retreat from rock to log to rock with occasional short stops for a look back to see if I was making chase. I was not, and he eventually slipped into a deep and dark hemlock forest. Now how lucky was that?
Now it is May 8th and the first catbird of the year has been sighted. Little White Head seems to be making the birdseed area his regular turf. The evening brought a surprise visit by a cooper’s hawk that had been waiting patiently in a tree above the emptied feeding grounds. When a red squirrel eventually bounded out and began to feed, it attacked and nailed the little guy. The squirrel thrashed, but evidently had received mortal penetration by the hawk’s talons. The hawk stood aside momentarily, then made a second pounce resulting in more thrashing. Now immobile, the hawk did a brief mantling before taking off with the squirrel’s lifeless body. I was happy that Little White Head had not been the target, my unfair prejudice for one little critter over another. Mantling is when a hawk stands over its kill, spreading its wings in what looks like an effort to shield it from another predator. I disagree with many of my birder friends and feel that it is mainly to achieve balance as the feet (talons) are wrapped around the prey.
Last month I related how my friend Lori found an intact turkey beard, and my son chimed in saying that most likely the turkey was taken by a predator. Lori called and said that of five toms, all of which previously showed up beards intact, one had turned up later beard-free, but otherwise in good shape. So, what happened?
Life and death goes on in our natural world. We cannot have the one without the other.~