By Jack McShane

The other day I was notified by my wife that our dear snowplower had called to complain that the conifers planted alongside our driveway were interfering with his truck as it plowed along, and requested that they be pruned up. These Blue and Norway spruce trees we planted 22 years ago as seedlings barely 10 inches in height are now between 25 and 30 feet high. When planted, there was no thought of them reaching this height, at least in my lifetime. The branches overhanging the drive made for a nice country-style entranceway to our home and it was with great hesitation that we took on the somewhat emotional task. We pruned with a pole saw and in the end the result was not too bad, and we were assured that the drive would be plowed in the future. Suggestion: when planting trees think about the future; trees often grow, and often quite rapidly, so consider adequate space for height and width growth and look up. Are you under power lines?

The Norway spruce are excellent trees for wildlife in that they are fast growers and hold their lower branches for many years which afford great protection for prey species.  They appear not to have any major pathogen problems that so many of our other tree species have. During the winter months I have had groups of grouse form what might be called coveys in the dense understory of these trees, protected somewhat from the wind and predators.

If you have been in the woods lately, you may have noticed the large flocks of foraging chickadees, nuthatches, occasionally joined by a couple of downy woodpeckers. According to the DEC Fieldnotes this flocking appears to allow them to spend less time watching for predators and a better chance of finding food. When there are many eyes there is greater chance of spotting danger as happened the other day on one of my low woods strolls. A flock as described above suddenly went into panic mode. Most were instantly gone; others, the nuthatches, went into what I call under-branch immobilization, and an eerie silence ensued. A barred owl appeared on silent wing through the leafless canopy, made no attack as there was nothing to attack and was gone as fast as he arrived. It took a few minutes for things to get back as they were, but eventually the foragers returned. The chirping for some reason sounded more restrained than it had before. Owls are esteemed in many tribal cultures as harbingers of good fortune, whereas in western cultures they are thought to portend the opposite; misfortune. I believe the chickadees to be of western culture.

A friend called the other day asking for an identification of a creature he had observed crossing his road as he plowed the snow. It was like a small mink, with a bounding gait, a pure white coat with a black tip on its tail. It was obviously a weasel in its winter mode which makes it very hard to spot in a snowy environment. Its color changes from brown to white for the winter months. His hyper energy makes this little guy a formidable hunter of all that is smaller than he. Of course, if after the color change there is little snow he is at quite a disadvantage. Although small, he is trapped for his fur and if taken during the white phase, a fine gentlewoman residing on Park Avenue. in the city might eventually be proud of her very expensive and rare ‘ermine’ fur just as many kings and queens of yesteryear were.

For those of us birders, there is really an incredible story of a back-packing osprey. A three month old osprey, named Penelope by Audubon researchers, and fitted with a three quarter ounce solar powered satellite transmitter that allows tracking to within a few hundred yards of its location, flew 2,700 miles from Massachusetts to French Guiana in 13 days. The research has shown that juveniles tend to wander, loiter, and even get lost, whereas adults fly faster and use more direct routes, and are surer of where they are headed. Penelope broke the customary rule. Go Penelope!

More on mountain lions: I received a call from a hunter friend who said that two of his friends, while hunting around the town of Callicoon in Sullivan County, observed a mountain lion on two separate occasions. They had no showable paw prints, no scat, and of course no picture. Other hunters in the area had no sightings. So the myth goes on. “We are defined not only by what we believe, but by what we refuse to believe.”

“Only when the last tree has died and the last river has been poisoned and the last fish caught will we realize that we can’t eat money.”   Cree Proverb ~

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