By Jack McShane
Back in late October with brush hogging the fields in full swing, some fields cleared others not, Nancy noticed a creature as it scoured the field closest to the house. He covered what seemed to be every square foot of that field, nose down, nose up, with the occasional pounce followed by a seemingly happy gulp. He completed his search and eat process before mid-morning, but, not satisfied, he was back late in the afternoon for more of the same. Not returning the next day it was presumed that the foraging was continued on the upper and out-of-sight freshly mowed fields. Welcome Wiley, Wiley Coyote! He was not being too Wiley when dining in the bright sunshine on a banquet of dead and or dying mice, voles and on whatever other unlucky critters that had succumbed to the onslaught of the mechanized grim reaper. Watching him reminded me of a very succinct comment made by coyote researcher Dr. Jacqueline Frair of SUNY Environmental Science and Forestry, my Alma Mater: “After wolves and mountain lions were extirpated, coyotes moved in to fill the niche. Coyotes are the ultimate opportunistic omnivore adaptable and plastic, consuming comestibles from corn to crickets, to mice, woodchuck and deer.” A perfect description of Wiley. Other critters taking advantage of the destruction and mayhem was a small murder of crows (seven or eight,) aggregating in the tops of surrounding trees with occasional trips to forage on the ground. What was missing was a red-tail hawk, always a participant in past years.
The missing red-tail hawk reminded me of the annual Franklin Mountain Hawk Watch which is located just south of Oneonta on the top of Franklin Mountain. You can visit in person and possibly help in spotting the birds as they approach. This is a group of Audubon folks that view and tally all the various birds of prey or raptors that funnel over Franklin Mountain as they migrate south during the months of September through December. They are all ardent birders skilled in identifying the birds as they fly overhead, sometimes over a hundred of a single species in a day. The daily tally is printed out and sent out on computer for those of us who have interest. Go to Fmhwdailyreports@doas.us and sign up for a very interesting daily delivery of the individual raptor tallies.
Raptors, hawks and falcons remind me of an equally fierce and small bird and mouse hunter, the little known shrike of which there are two, the loggerhead and the northern. The most common in our area is the northern. Two sightings in my whole life: both most likely of the more common northern. One which I spotted at the very top of a small and open tree with not another bird around. All were apparently aware of this small but fearsome critter. The second, when a screaming chickadee whipped by with a shrike right on its tail, I did not witness the result of the chase. These songbirds with their hooked beaks and yes, they are categorized as songbirds, without talons, like hawks, grab prey by the neck using the hooked beak, then violently fling or shake it with a ferocity that can reach six times the acceleration of the earth’s gravity, research has shown. If not in the mood for a meal, they will impale it on barbed wire or some other prong for a later snack. A tough little predator, to say the least, one which our chickadees make great effort to avoid.
Locally when wandering around the field edges in early November, I came upon a cottontail rabbit that instantly fled upon noting my presence. I called it a survivor rabbit. Later, on the same stroll I found a clump of rabbit fur which obviously came from a less alert non-survivor. Noted also was an intact and very dead male monarch butterfly; he never made the migration.
My EDG (emotionally disturbed grouse) found me, enticed me to go off trail to feed him, this causing me to blame him for a tick that imbedded itself in my butt. I had to go a week on Doxycycline. Thanks pal.
A heartwarming scenario: My friend Ann Roberti sent me pictures of a rescue she made while kayaking, of a red squirrel struggling to survive a swim across the Pepacton Reservoir. Brava my dear!
Let me conclude by stating that not all who wander in our woodlands are lost! I am backed up by John Muir who stated, “These mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them not ‘hike’ through them.”~