FIELD NOTES: REBIRTH — December 2019

By Jack McShane

On a short walk around the woodsy patch normally occupied by that whacky tame grouse, I whistled the usual with no response. The second day, on the ATV, which usually gets a response, I covered my path with many whistles: still no response, very unusual. On the third day I was treated to 10 beautiful wood ducks 7 of which were drakes in their full Fall, very resplendent plumage, all bursting out of our upper pond; very nice. All this including two chickadees landing on my outstretched hand containing sunflower seeds carried normally for my Emotionally Disturbed Grouse (EDG) who again was a no show. What appeared to be a Coopers hawk flew out of the depths of EDG’s normal habitat which I took as a signal as to what might have transpired a few days ago.  On day four, my mind made up that my feathered friend was gone, and unloading brush from the ATV, I heard the familiar chirps, and there he was, letting me know that he was OK and querying as to where the H… are the sunflower seeds? To his great satisfaction I still had some.

Enough now for an unneeded requiem, saved for some unknown future date. It is now December and most of the Fall feathered migrants have passed through. An interesting observation by Nancy in late October was a pair of bluebirds hanging around and checking out the houses built for their use as domiciles in the Spring. It is my opinion that these bluebirds were on their long journey south and were from territory farther north, but happened to see these nice homes and were checking them out for possible use in the Spring.  We bid them farewell and safe journey hoping they might take up our housing offer in their future return trip up North. I have also made a number of sightings of hermit thrushes in unusual environs with unusual acceptance of my close proximity. Could this be because they are just passing through and are from some northern locale where Homo sapiens are not considered a threat? I don’t know. The few woodcocks displayed much the same indifference, but this is not unusual for our resident timber doodles. It is nice to experience this occasional apparent compatibility between normally standoff species, us and our wild birds.

It is apparent that all the migrating ducks have now passed through, consisting of only a small number of our common mallards, but many beautiful wood ducks. Most have been in a mad rush to flight as I surprised them on the small ponds which they are attracted to. The groups had ranged anywhere from a single pair to what had to be a flock of at least 20. The best was when a large flock flew in as I was seated in close proximity and they went about their business of checking out the exit stream of the pond and in and out of the cattails, all the while doing their distinctive chirping (wood duck talk) just to keep in touch when some were inside the cattail jungle. I got a picture of them, but they were too far across the pond to be good for the Gazette, so I took a shot of a hand carved pair done for me by the renowned bird sculptor Ward Hermann. Spectacular color will be lacking if the Gazette prints.

  This just in: an email from a friend, Peter L., asking  if I could identify a bird that hangs in front of their home and then follows both him and his wife as they go about their business. He included a picture of, yes, a male ruffed grouse perched on their outdoor furniture. I explained how I categorize such a creature as an EDG, and I recommended that if you provide sunflower seed, you will have a very interesting and free pet. In the cross emails another friend related how he was followed on his lawn tractor by another EDG. Mike’s wife Cathy made a really cool video of the chase. Could there be a plague of mental illness in our local Andes grouse population? I emailed a friend in the Delaware/Otsego chapter of Audubon informing him of the three different grouse here in Andes and he responded that maybe there is something in our water. I believe and hope this was in jest.

Today, as I was returning on the Tremperskill from one of many trips to Margaretville hospital for my physical workouts, I was treated to a very close collision with no, not a deer, but a red-tailed hawk! The fool appeared out of nowhere, dropped his prey which looked like a mouse which bounced off the hood of my car and the hawk barely cleared the windshield. What a neat treat, a head on collision with a mouse! No damage to my car.

All the songbirds that we cherish are like our canaries in the coal mine, the coal mine being our environment. Our canaries are dying off, as one in four songbirds have been lost since 1970 according to research by Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Of the multiple explanations for this disaster  free roaming domestic and feral cats are the main cause, amongst the others such as habitat loss and glass buildings. Let’s keep our cats indoors and pay heed to maintaining and increasing good habitat in our beloved coal mine home to our canaries.

From Skip the barber in Margaretville: “Having good neighbors requires being a good neighbor.” Let’s be good neighbors to all our wild neighbors.~