FIELD NOTES: TEASE A BEAR? — November 2019

By Jack McShane

Who would tease a bear? I would, I fess up. I tried; I failed, but captured another critter (on film.) Teasing any wild animal would be frowned on by many especially our new-found Brooklyn hipster friends, many of whom, prior to their visit to Andes, may have only encountered the denizens of Prospect Park. Being an ardent naturalist all my life, I am an observer of our forest land both with open eyes and, sometimes, with baited trail cams. These I place in what appear to be well traversed locations by many species of wildlife such as trail intersections and pond corners, to see what’s going on when I am not present at these locations, which is most of the time. So why was I picking up a road killed woodchuck in front of my neighbor’s house, my car blinkers on? A woman in a car behind me stopped to ask,
“Are you OK?” When I replied that I had stopped to pick up a dead woodchuck, she smiled and drove on, I assume thinking that I was not “really OK.” I accept this presumed response.

The road-killed woodchuck was wired up and hoisted over a branch just high enough that it was out of reach of a large bear standing on his or her hind legs, and a trail cam placed opposite. I guess that this might be called teasing, the reality being that a hungry bear would eventually figure out how to acquire the free meal. On the third day after setting up the camera trap I went up to check and retrieve the SD card. I was very surprised to find the well-hooked-up woodchuck gone, no broken branches, no scratch marks on the tree: just gone. As you can guess I was in a high state of anticipation to see what the pictures taken by the cam would show. Surprised and delighted, which is often the case when first viewing what is on the SD card: no bear, but a very agile and determined young, or maybe female fisher. This little gymnast returned to the scene four different times over the three days, two during daylight, the others under the cover of darkness. There was much work maneuvering, climbing, hanging on, biting, tearing, eventually completely removing the woodchuck. And believe it or not the little rascal was back inspecting the location a week later looking for another challenge. There was none.

After the very positive reports from the Adirondacks of a very large population of monarch butterflies this year, I thought it would be a banner year here as they flew south on their annual migration to Mexico. This failed to materialize on our many milkweed-laden fields. Waited long with high hopes, saw few. These fields have now been brush hogged.

A quick comment on our local crows: There is a family of four: two adults and their apparent progeny of two. Their loud cawing is the morning wake up call that can be interminable, (but much better than the wail of sirens.) What gets me is the incessant whining of the pubescent continuously nudging for a free morsel handout from one of the adults. Time to grow up kids and find your own grub! A friend in Pennsylvania raised one that became his pet which he called CC,   Common Crow. CC was notorious for grabbing anything shiny that was inadvertently left lying about. He’d pick it up, fly off  twenty feet, then caw loudly, daring the owner to fetch his keys or whatever. Upon movement in that direction, CC would lift his loot and fly off another twenty feet, drop it and repeat the challenge. The only way to make a successful retrieve was to make a very fast charge, eliminating the chance of another grab and flyoff. Do these guys have a sense of humor? I think they might, given a chance.

Is there a dearth of songbirds? Apparently so, as research now shows that we in America have lost almost 30 billion since 1970, this due to habitat loss, pesticide use, feral cats, tall glass buildings and other man-made travesties. So sad. This is a massive continent-wide ecological disaster. I feel that an individual enjoying our bucolic Andes environs can and should support our environmental organizations, both local and worldwide. My friend John R., an Andes fireman, took note of this phenomena a number of years ago on his rural Andes acreage.

Mary, after a very well worded description in the Gazette last month of your very tense moments with porcupines, you mentioned the arrival of “the feral kittens.” Please be advised that they may not be what you think. As mentioned in the news magazine The Week; a Tennessee woman rescued what she thought to be a stray kitten, only to be informed that it was a young bobcat: “I was going to go home, give her a bath, put her in bed with me. When we decided that she was in fact a bobcat, I was like, I probably better not do all that.” Mary, be sure to identify accurately “your feral kittens” before acting on any potential adoption plans. Good luck and cheers.~