FIELD NOTES – June 2012

Jack ThumbnailBy Jack McShane

I have a great excavating company working on my property called “Pileated Excavating Inc.” and it employs two very industrious and dedicated workers. They work on various projects around the property with great diligence and skill. Using their own jackhammers, they hammer incredible sculptural designs out of a multitude of dead and dying trees. I do dislike the mess they leave at the base of the trees as they never clean up after themselves, but the artwork they create entitles them to a feather in their caps. See the attached photo of an example of the work by our largest and most vocal of woodpeckers, the Pileated.

Some sightings from recent wanderings on our property: a Kingfisher, the first sighting in quite a few years. I was alerted by his call as he made his way to one of the upper ponds where I do hope he finds an adequate minnow supply to entice residency and possibly a mate, eventually nesting in an excavated burrow in a stream bank which is their trademark. Prince Charming, the male Mallard cross, with his rather grubby white breast has been cavorting with his all-Mallard mate in a few of the ponds. When I start seeing him on his own I will assume, hopefully, that she is on a nest in a safe and secret place. Two pairs of Common Mergansers were dabbling around on the lower pond for a couple of days and have since disappeared. Mergansers are fish eating, tree cavity nesting ducks, the male being bright white with a green head.

The Phoebe that was night roosting on the light in the breezeway and leaving depository has been banished by the installation of a large plastic owl along side and just in case he thought of roosting and or nesting on the owl’s head, as did some barn swallows a few years ago, Nancy has installed a crown of thorns. The male Robin that was continuously attacking himself on a particular window, thinking mistakenly that the reflection was another male impinging on his territory, has finally decided that it was a futile endeavor, but is now building a nest along with his mate, on top of an outdoor speaker. Effort will be made to discourage this as there are many alternate sites available.

There has been no sign of a cottontail rabbit in a couple of months now; the woodchuck population is nil which I believe is due to the prevalence of Wiley Coyote. For some reason I find it hard to blame the bobcats (see last month’s journal). One morning there was quite a show as two Blue Jays and a red squirrel had a bit of a rumpus over some bread I had thrown out on the lawn, the Jays leaping about, holding ground and bread from the squirrelly assaults. Common sense finally prevailed as the Jays lofted, conceding both ground and bread to a triumphant and about to be well fed rodent.

A bright sunny day inspired me to scale (hobble and crawl) straight up the steep terrain out back to the rocky ledges and caves that attract many critters to den. About half way up I spied a porcupine sunning herself on a ledge in front of an apparent den entrance. She had her back to me, but would look over her shoulder occasionally to monitor my advance. It was interesting in that she seemed to show no fear as I slowly closed the gap. I stopped a few times to take some photos, as she would look over her right shoulder and next over her left. This continued until I was about ten yards away when she decided she had enough of this intruder. She bristled her quills at me and made her way into the den. It was apparent she was not a happy camper and with good reason. When I got to the den entrance, I could hear the squeaky chirps of at least two young ones. She was just taking a break from her nursing duties on her sunny front porch when I interfered. I poked the camera into the den and a flash photo showed nothing but a stone tunnel with a sharp bend; the family snuggled somewhere very deep in their stone domicile.

Continuing my slow trek along the ledge on a well defined trail, I came to another den that I had checked a number of years ago, this one under the root end of a wind-thrown cherry tree. It was still being used by an unknown critter that was definitely not a porcupine but possibly its arch enemy, a fisher.  Fisher and bobcats are the only two predators that will take a porcupine, as far as I know. I think Wiley Coyote is smart enough to avoid contact.

Speaking of Wiley, I had slowly made my descent to one of my maintained trails and took a much-needed respite on an old bench that I installed for such purpose. Suddenly there was the distinct call of Wiley, “Who-who—who-whoo”. It sounded like he was coming my way, and he was. He was on the trail and getting closer by the sound of his calls. I got out the camera, put it on telephoto, aimed at the bend only twenty yards away so that he would come around and waited and waited and waited; no sound, no Wiley. At that point it was apparent that when he reached the spot where I came down on to the trail he caught my scent and silently reversed course. And that is why we call him Wiley Coyote, a very smart dude that does not like giving a photo op. Coyotes have no evil intent, just the desire to live and find sustenance to do so.

I am one of those lucky people that, in a lifetime, have no memory of ever feeling lonely, and I believe the reason is my comfort in, and affinity for, the natural world that was given me at an early age by my parents. If kids are given the chance, at an early age, to wander alone in the forest, scrutinize the shells on a beach alone without fear, self-confidence will result. Returning from a field trip to a wildlife refuge a fourth grader wrote: “the best thing about this place is that it has such nice noises you don’t feel alone when you are alone”. ~