FIELD NOTES: JOY OF SPRING — April 2019

 

By Jack McShane

I guess the word eventually gets out in the world of birds, but it often takes time. Sometimes it seems too much time for us impatient homo sapiens. I waited with no alternative and without great expectations and somehow slowly it all happened. The single mourning dove below the feeder became two and now six, blue jays six, now anywhere between twelve and twenty, wild turkeys eleven, now often twenty-three, white breasted nuthatch none to one, downy woodpecker none to one, and finally dark-eyed juncos from one to three. The best was a beautiful male cardinal—a bright red dot hopping around on the melting snow. Warm weather will come, bears will emerge from their dens and of course the feeder will be taken down either by me or a bear. The Winter show will be over and a new one, the Spring one, will arrive. And now, hopefully, arriving bluebirds will be nesting in the nearby box. With great anticipation and high expectations, we who immerse ourselves in the natural impatiently await the new show.

Signs of Spring territoriality are manifesting as there has been more fighting in the squirrel world, gray versus gray and black versus gray, black versus black and, when apparently equally matched in both temperament and muscle, the violence can be extensive. A fight over the most seed-lucrative spot under the feeder between a black squirrel and a rabbit turned into more of a jumping match without any or barely any, actual physical contact, each eventually accepting that a foot of space between them would be satisfactory, resulting in an edgy truce. Dominance is showing amongst the wild turkeys, especially between the young jakes and the “boss” gobblers. The hens are more interested in feeding than arguing, having a dozen or so eggs to lay and eventually poults to rear. At night we hear an auditory fence being structured by the coyotes around their chosen territories, supplementing the physical scent markings. Some are now calling this very adaptable predator the “song dog.” I have noted that the eagles of the Dingle Hill bluff have often been on station, possibly signifying that the nest will be refurbished, and a new family raised. I am keeping my fingers crossed on that one. Also, I saw my first robin on March 11th.

Got a couple of heads up from two friends concerning weasels. According to some minor research, there are three different species of weasel: short tail, long tail and the least weasel. All turn white during the Winter months, which gives them an advantage when hunting in snow conditions, and at this time they are all tagged as ermines. The least weasel has several sub-species. All are members of the mustelid family, which includes skunks, mink, otter and others. The first was a call from a friend living in Pennsylvania who said that in snowy February his cat killed a weasel who was still in the brown phase, which we both thought very unusual. The other was an email from a local friend, Andy, that included a great shot of an ermine that has been living in his attic and has used its hunting skills to rid the attic of a mouse population, much to Andy’s and Cheryl’s delight. They have now named their little friend Herman the Ermine. As a kid back in the fifties when Queens still had expansive forests, my buddies and I, a woodsy bunch, would hunt and trap all kinds of critters, then mount (taxidermy) them  ourselves, and display them, usually in our basements. But for me they were too important; my museum was my bedroom, which at one time housed 29 different mounts. When I finally got a weasel, I treated it as a trophy that endured as a fine mounted specimen. Now I will “weasel” out of this mustelidnous diatribe as that is the “least” I can do. Really bad, Mel can attack me on that one.

Robin Patten wrote in her book The Carcass Chronicle, “Death is not the end of life for the cow elk, but rather the locus of a transfer of energy from one creature to another as fragile and as temporary as every one of us.” I thought this a very well-written comment on the reality of our natural world in which we all exist. We might consider this when observing a road-killed deer.

Finally, we all know the saying, “birds of a feather flock together” but many don’t know that crows, geese, eagles and barred owls all mate for life, as do Jack and
Nancy.~