FIELD NOTES – July 2012

Jack ThumbnailBy Jack McShane

An email from one of our intrepid editors, Barbara Mellon, asked if I might be able to identify a bird that she had spotted crossing a road. She described it and attached two blurry photos of an unusual bird with a very long beak. Before looking at the photos I was afraid that I would not be able to identify some exotic bird, destroying my minimal birder/naturalist reputation and lose my coveted Contributor position with the must-read Andes Gazette. Lucky for me, it was an easily identifiable American Woodcock, sometimes called a Timberdoodle, a rather diminutive game bird that walks with a jaunty gait using the long bill to probe for worms in the soft earth of wet areas. The males make a sound called a ‘peent’ in early spring evenings and do a mating dance which includes a straight-up flight and a fluttering tumble-down, just to impress the ladies. Contributor position saved?

A good number of Baltimore Orioles are back as are the field-nesting Bobolinks. The Bobolinks are ending a very long journey from southern South America and may now have to compete with Redwing Blackbirds that seem to be taking to nesting in the hayfields. As the Redwings have become more numerous over the years and there is only so much nesting space in the cattail edges of the ponds, their favored nesting ground, some appear to be shifting to the fields, producing what could become a real estate squabble. This phenomenon was noted somewhere in my past ornithological readings and it sure seems to be happening here. Bobolinks are relatively rare. I hope this does not result in a negative impact on their reproduction and viability. Note will be taken of any Bobolink/Redwing hostile interactions.

The Killdeer are back scouting the gravelly sections of the farm road across the way, apparently for a nesting site. The whacky robin(s) that we deterred from nesting on two different outdoor speakers have taken revenge by attacking the side view mirrors of my car and lacing them with multiple defecations. Draping them with towels has ended that; of course the concern now is what’s next? Cliff Swallows are making many attempts to place their mud nests on the beams over the porch and, if not deterred, will make it a nasty place to have a meal, so long pole removals proceed with vigor. To my great pleasure, the fields and forest are rich with avian life. I have been called by an old friend “an infernal optimist”.

I spotted a red fox kit run across Route 28 headed for the carwash at midday. I can’t imagine what he was thinking.  A few days later, a little further toward the reservoir and again at midday, a small mink crossed in the same direction. A friend on Dingle Hill told me about being out for stroll through his fields when he noticed that he was being followed at very close quarters by a doe. The only explanation that I can think of is that she had a fawn nearby and was in extreme protective mode. Other than that it was very strange.


Photographer Lore Mahler took this photo of a sow and her two cubs at her home on Brace Hollow on Mother’s Day. “It was a better gift than flowers, ” she said.

A large bear with a damaged left front leg was spotted by a friend over the hill from me on Wolf Hollow Road and by another neighbor in the same area. Last seen on the other side of the Tremperskill Road, near the transfer station, someone  noted that the paw was actually missing. What happened is a mystery, as I cannot think of a thing in the natural world that would cause such an injury. A possibility that does come to mind is a trap set for coyotes or other furbearers by a licensed trapper. One of you trappers out there find a bear foot in one of your traps? Lore Mahler, who lives over another hill from me on Brace Hollow, is a great wildlife enthusiast. She got some great bear shots with her trail cam. See the sow with her two cubs of last year. It is a special shot.

My favorite, well-attended and -observed Bluebird box, which is not far out the side kitchen window, has been housing the regular pair of Bluebirds and their offspring. It was torn down. The female and brood were extracted and consumed by an unknown predator. What makes this sad event unusual was the timing: between 10:30 and 12 on a sunny day. Such a predation, usually a nocturnal occurrence, was most likely by a raccoon and not a bear, as the box was intact. I must say it is a little heart-breaking to see the male bluebird perched on the empty post, looking around and probably wondering what ever happened to his home, his wife and kids.

I trust he will eventually move on and find another mate and continue with his life without remorse.

Since I wrote up my ‘Bobcat Journal’ two months ago, I realized that I had one other brief sighting. At least fifteen years ago, when viewing from somewhere near the house, I observed a hen turkey leading her large brood of poults around the edge of the lower pond. Suddenly she went into what I would call an agitated state, putting loudly and somehow conveying to the kids to lock down  (and by this I mean stop and don’t move) which all did, some actually lying down. She moved slowly forward, aware that there was mortal danger ahead. Reaching the brushy edge, she stood her ground, emitting loud alarm calls until finally a bobcat leapt up and vanished into the deep woods. This is less about a rare bobcat sighting, and more about witnessing the bravery of a hen turkey protecting her brood from a very lethal predator. Nature has many surprises.  ~