FIELD NOTES – March 2012

By Jack McShane

In the cap of a pen there was a small object lodged at the far end that my wife was unable to remove. Neither could I, as both a small knife and the tip of needle nose pliers were too large. Voila! I thought of what a species of crow, a native of New Caledonia, had done: They would find a small length of wire, shape a small hook at the end and use it to fetch the obstruction. Of course, in their case it was a food morsel purposefully placed in a tube to test their innovative skills. I had this idea from having read about them and their genius. Presently along the banks of the Hudson River there are thousands flocking, roosting and loudly conversing murders of crows. It is thought that this activity serves a very special social function for this very social and not so murderous bird.

Here are some other things that are of interest to this intrepid naturalist: Snowy owls from the Arctic are being sighted in very high numbers in New York State and other areas way south of their normal winter environs. It is thought that their primary food source, the lemming, has cycled to very low numbers causing what is called an “eruption in sightings” of the birds far south of their natural habitat. Sadly, one got as far south as an airport in Hawaii and was shot by federal officials. Government brilliance? If I am lucky enough to see one, I can assure you it will not be shot by me.

There was an article in the New York Times about a gray wolf that had been GPS collared and wandered down from Oregon and into northern California. This was the first known wolf in California in 88 years. Now there is a clamoring by some to have others released in the area, females that is, as the wanderer is a young male. This is so that he can get on with his love life.

It sure seems apparent that wildlife in general is on the move attempting to reclaim its former territory. Take for instance the mountain lion that wandered from South Dakota to Connecticut, the grizzly bears that are on the move from the Rockies eastward, black bears and bobcats in New York State greatly expanding their territories, the invasion of our ubiquitous coyote. What I found quite humorous was the opossum hiding under the seat of a D train in Manhattan. Panicked, clueless riders claimed to have seen the largest rat ever! Speaking of rats, it was reported in Science News that experimentation has shown that rats will show empathy for a fellow rat trapped in a cage by making great effort to open it, and when they do, even save some chocolate which they love for their liberated friend. So think twice before calling someone a rat.

We have been warned by the DEC to be on the lookout for feral swine and to shoot them on sight, as they are considered to be very destructive to the environment, rooting up everything under the sun. OK, if I see one I will attempt to shoot it and invite all to a pig roast. Another note from the DEC is asking that folks be on the lookout for deer that are acting strange or are dead (but not road kill) and to report same to them as they are concerned about the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease which was found in a deer in Maryland.

Observations in and about Bussey Hollow: On a trip up the other side of the road to the top where there is a large open field, I was surprised and delighted to see a herd of ten, if not more, deer browsing along contentedly. This was great, as I had been constantly complaining to my son and others about the dearth of deer locally. They are apparently herded up and either you see none or a lot of them.

Down below in a small pond that was open due to the warm temperatures, there he was, Prince Charming, along with his mate dabbling about. Prince is a male duck thought to be a cross between a mallard and a ruddy with a large bright white chest that has been returning each spring for the past five years. Speaking of ducks, a flock of eight mallards flew over one evening, split into two groups of four each, with one group dropping into one of the upper ponds and the other four heading for the Pepacton. Nancy again has spotted a cottontail two mornings in a row. I have not seen one in months— maybe I should again become an early riser. A small flock of starlings passed through, a first for a January observation. Things at the bird feeder went silent one morning. All feathered and furred creatures disappeared in a flash as a Coopers hawk lofted over and into the wood line without a single beat of a wing. Ten minutes passed before the first brave Chickadee returned. Amazingly, crows can fly over at close range and no one is daunted.

I was traveling out of the Hollow and onto the Tremperskill Road one evening, not at breakneck speed. There was a partridge strutting across. With no time to avoid the bird, I passed right over him. I looked in my rearview mirror. There he was, nonchalantly continuing his strut thanks to a high undercarriage on the Subaru. A car behind me was able to swerve around him. One hell of a lucky partridge!

The DEC reports that this past hunting season was one of the safest in decades with few deaths, injuries and accidents. I wonder if this was because it was the first season in decades that I did not hunt?

A quote from Russian novelist Vasily Grossman: “Man never understands that the cities he has built are not an integral part of nature. If he wants to defend his culture from wolves and snow storms, if he wants to save it from being strangled by weeds, he must keep his broom, spade and rifle always at hand. If he goes to sleep, if he thinks about something else for a year or two, then everything is lost. The wolves come out of the forest, the thistles spread and everything is buried under dust and snow.” Go to sleep everyone. ~


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