FIELD NOTES – June 2011

By Jack McShane

On one of my multiple trips to Margaretville on Route 30 along the Pepacton Reservoir, I spotted a large beaver that had recently been killed lying in the center of the road. On the way back I decided that I would pick it up and place it in the back of the car if it had not yet become part of the road. It had not, and I endured the sweet smell of beaver musk for the balance of the trip home. Now why in the heck would any rational human being do such a thing? It was not for the value of the pelt, and beside that it was highly illegal, beaver being classified as a fur bearer and its possession and taking regulated by the DEC; there is a season and a license is required. Anyway I took the chance with the thought of putting it out in the field in front of the house where I could observe it and watch the various potential scavengers do their thing. Coyotes, turkey vultures and possibly, with great luck, a bald eagle came to mind. Sunday, April 24th, beaver in place, between 6 and 6:15 pm I watched two inquisitive turkeys, not turkey vultures, circling, tentatively approaching and clucking. I think they were saying what the H—- is wrong with that dude? They left and darkness ensued. It rained heavily that night decreasing any wafting scent and “old beave” remained untouched. Two rainy days followed and no action, and then on early Wednesday morning: Gone! The culprit left his (or her) calling card – a large pile of bear poop. Scouting the peripheral woodlands showed no sign of the beaver, a very large and nourishing meal for a hungry bear just out of den. I really should get a trail cam.

Jack Keefe called to report a very interesting observation: turkey vultures, five of them on the ground with two obvious males strutting around doing a courtship display. It is unusual to see them on the ground other than at a carrion site. Speaking of unusual sightings, I thought I saw a white swan out on the Pepacton. Anyone else see it? They are numerous down on the Cross River reservoir in Westchester County.

On April 30 we had a very successful bird walk here on my property led by Andy Mason of the Delaware/Otsego Audubon Society. As we gathered by one of the ponds before starting out, Andy said he heard a Red Breasted Nuthatch. I immediately informed him that the last time I saw one here was 20 years ago and suggested a White Breasted Nuthatch, the common local species. Lo and behold, atop the Norway Spruce – a Red Breasted Nuthatch! As we ambled along, Andy showed his keen hearing and ability to identify bird song, hearing before seeing and alerting the ardent followers of a particular species’ presence. Then with patience and good binoculars the feathered critter was more than likely to be spotted and positively identified by the ardent birders.

On May 5, I hiked up the hill on the other side of the road. I should say I bushwhacked which means I avoided the trails. The primary purpose of this trek was to ascertain whether or not I was correct in a feeling that I had as to where a particular bear had denned over the winter. I saw this young bear a few times last fall as he was feeding on the ripened corn that Marty Liddle had planted in one of my fields. Twice he or she had bolted up the hill in the same direction where there was a fallen maple that was fully leafed out and remained fully leafed out over the winter. I considered this a perfect bear denning site, but did he? With all the snow we had, I never got up there until this day. Dead leaves remaining still, I maneuvered around under the cover and, sure enough, there was this hollowed out niche with a few strands of black bear hair. I had called it right and was kind of happy that he was not home on this particular day. I trekked on and found and harvested three morel mushrooms, observed two pairs of Bluebirds, a number of odd birds that I was unable to identify, one sunning garter snake, picked up an old posted sign that marked a neighboring property that after three ownerships during my tenure is now owned by NYC and, finally, as I emerged at the bottom of the hill a pair of Killdeer that seem to return every year. A very satisfying hike made possible with a pair of trekking poles without which – forget about it.

About the morel mushrooms: Nancy would not eat them and insisted that I check with a mushroom specialist. I did. I ran into town to visit with John Gregg, a specialist in many things, who obliged with two books about mushrooms, both good and deadly. Upon review, there was on one page a picture that looked very much like my morels labeled edible. Happy with that I was ready to return home to try to convince Nancy that they were OK when we turned the page and, lo and behold, was another picture that looked even more like my morels. It was labeled deadly. Lesson: when it comes to mushrooms if not sure, don’t eat them! And always turn the page.

Remember – The earth does not belong to us, we belong to the earth. ~


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