FIELD NOTES: BIRD WHISPERER? — June 2019

By Jack McShane

Am I one who can whisper to our avian friends, have them come to me and land on me without fear? The answer is no, but I can entice them with a free handout of sunflower seeds as they seem always to be hungry, especially now that the feeder is down. A perfect example of this was when I had the crazy grouse up on my knee, happily feeding from my right hand. I held out my left with seed and a few chickadees—exuding great uncertainty—one at a time, did land on my hand, grab a seed, and leave in great haste. Now to get Nancy to wait patiently nearby, camera ready. Yet to happen.

The Canada geese have arrived only to encounter a very sad tragedy. They had gone about their normal routines with the gander standing guard as the goose fed heavily on the emerging grasses and clover and on occasion winged off to chase an interfering would-be interloper. The goose arranged her nest in the normal place, eventually laid three eggs and diligently began the brooding process. I noted all this until, one morning, I beheld the remnants of the previous night’s tragedy: the nest disheveled, eggs broken, mom’s feathers scattered about. What predator committed this ghastly act? To reach the island where the nest was located the predator had to swim across a minimum of fifteen feet of water, most of which is two to three feet deep. Who are the local suspects? My guess is first and foremost a mink; the second and doubtful, an otter, though I haven’t seen one around in a few years. The other possibilities are usually land-bound and not normally wanting to swim for dinner: coyote, raccoon, fisher, or bobcat. A rare, but still a possibility, is an eagle-spotting mom from above in the daylight hours. A reminder that tragedy is defined by us humans. For the predator it was a major success. It might have been hungry, having young to feed, or a caring mate to succor. The natural world is a continuing work in progress without our self-righteous morality play rules of right and wrong.

One morning Nancy, having returned from the transfer station, apprised me of a road-killed turkey on the Tremperskill Road which I might use to bait one of our trail cams. When I reached the location, there was already a guy salvaging the feathers, so I proceeded to Margaretville and picked up the de-feathered bird on my way back.

This reminds me of one of the rarely mentioned harbingers of Spring our turkey vultures who scour for roadkill and whatever other cadavers lie fermenting in the woodlands. They do this from high in the sky, floating around on arched wings, relying on rising thermals and their keen olfactory senses to alert them to an aromatic meal. They might then perch in a nearby tree, looking like what a friend called a conclave of morticians, briefly awaiting a safe time to drop down on the odiferous cadaver and feast. Sometimes joined by eagles, crows and ravens.

My good wife Nancy and friends completed their annual local roads cleanup with bags, gloves and grabbers. A big thank you to all who participated. A request that those who toss their junk out of their car windows, cease and desist! An article I read mentioned how bald eagles somewhere in Washington State have become a nuisance, as they have made a habit of retrieving junk food from a local dump, dropping the excess and littering the highways. They also should cease and desist. From my observations—although an occasional roosting was sighted—I don’t think the bald eagle nest on the Dingle Hill bluff, overlooking Route 30 has been put to use this year.

Other bird sightings of note: A number of pairs of wood ducks and both common and hooded mergansers, all tree cavity nesters, visiting the ponds. Whether any of the many duck boxes constructed for them have been put to use is unknown. A lone American kestrel in an upper field, a species not seen in a number of years. And also, after a number of years, a barred owl flew off from the bend, a place written about in the “Barred on the Bend” years ago. We are delighted to see a pair of bluebirds returning to use the box just outside the kitchen. On last look a neat nest, but no eggs yet. I sighted four double-crested cormorants, a fish-eating bird that was common in the bays of Long Island, perched on some high-standing debris in the entrance to the Pepacton. They appeared to be on some kind of military sentry duty.

A final good news wrap-up: May 12, there are now four eggs in the bluebird box, a new pair of geese are on the previously raided nest, or is it the gander with a new goose? Don’t know and spotted a very beautiful male scarlet tanager inspecting downed tree tops deep in the woods. Caught a picture of the Emotionally Disturbed Grouse in all his glory-full strut!~