Jack ThumbnailBy Jack McShane

Presently there are exactly twenty turkeys working the overflow from the bird feeder and showing less and less fear of our movements in and out of the house. They are now here on a daily basis, in the morning racing to the feeder area, as those who first arrive get first dibs, something like how the early bird catches the worm. (I wonder if they ever consider that it is the second mouse that gets the cheese?) When all is cleaned up, there is what appears to be great hesitancy to leave, scratching around and a peering up at the unreachable fountain of cracked corn and black oil sunflower seed, manna from heaven, and finally, and seemingly reluctantly moving off, but always ready to race back to catch the seed sent forth by the harsh landing of a red squirrel or the jostling of a few competing blue jays. My wife now wonders if we have a moral duty to continue to feed these feathered beasts throughout a long winter. My answer is, “No.” We humans have empathy and something called morals, but Mother Nature does not and knows better. The weak will die of starvation and predation leaving only the genetically strong surviving and reproducing. Will we continue to feed? More than likely.

While on the subject of wild turkeys, here is a fascinating scenario observed by my son while bow hunting down in the New Paltz area where he works: perched in a tree at field edge he watched as a flock of turkeys worked their way toward him, when suddenly a redtail hawk did a very low and threatening aerial over them and landed in a tree close by. This caused a small panic with an array of alarm calls and heads-up posturing by all. Eventually things returned to a calm with normal feeding and shuffling along. After a few minutes the redtail made a successful dive pinning either a mouse or vole, which was noticed by the ”angry birds” which then in a concerted, cohesive, aggressive, mob fashion, stormed the hawk causing him to leave forthwith, abandoning his precious prey. A redtail hawk learned a lesson: do not harass a flock of wild turkeys as they will remember, and united, they will attack.

zzPHOTO Turkeys 01News flash: as I write this on the last day of November I have good wildlife variety in the front yard: a full bodied, four point buck, which is relatively safe, as the “three points on one side to be legally shot rule” is in place, and a porcupine foraging under the apple trees, which is quite unusual as it is midmorning, and, of course, the turkey flock as mentioned above. Variety when observing wildlife is great and that reminds me that a couple of weeks ago while working in the old garage a bird call that always excites me resounded loudly. I immediately poked my head out and there he was: a regal pileated woodpecker spiraling around a favored cherry tree. That same day I saw a large barred owl not “on the bend”, but in a new distant location and a six point buck nosing after a what appeared to be a bemused older doe as the rut was in full swing. Adding to this, while on the Tremperskill Road on my way to Margaretville a redtail hawk swooped down in front of me to land on an unknown prey on the shoulder of the road, only to be spooked by my vehicle as I passed, losing his prey. I wonder if the two cars behind me saw the act or did they think I was nuts for braking for nothing and did he come back to retrieve his loss? This reminds me of a quote from an unknown ecology writer, “The absence of predators halts the evolution of their prey and hinders the health of the ecological balance.” Anyone remember the days when all hawks were called “chicken hawks” and were shot on sight by farmers and others to protect the chickens? And it was thought that milk snakes would mouth a nipple on a cow’s udder and drain it of its precious milk, when in fact both were doing the farmers a favor helping control rodents that were pillaging their feed? Enlightened humans can sure benefit the environment, but I believe we still have a long way to go. Somebody once said, and I concur, “my species sometimes disappoints me.” And, “our species tends to see nature as something of a nuisance, a phenomenon to be outwitted.”

A friend who is a wildlife biologist in DEC Region 4 (where we are) kiddingly said, “Now that they have brought back the bald eagles, bears, fisher, otters, and protected the hawks, maybe it is time for the DEC to fold up and leave.” He had actually received a bald eagle nuisance complaint; a couple of eagles were harassing and taking someone’s pet ducks. Did you know: our bald eagles mate for life, which can be up to thirty years or more? They will often use the same nest, rebuilding it year after year, which can reach 6 to 8 feet across and weigh up to a ton; got to have one hell of a strong tree! The tree with the eagle nest on the Dingle Hill Road bend on Route 30 is in use, but the pair was unsuccessful this year. Another nest in the Andes area, exact location undisclosed, resulted in two fledglings, both banded by DEC, according to my DEC sources.

This fall my son returned from a day of clearing brush and fallen trees from our trails with a deer tick crawling on his neck. The deer tick, the size of a poppy seed, can carry the spirochete of Lyme disease. This is the first one we’ve encountered here; dog ticks, yes, but not the deer variety, which can carry Lyme. Take heed if you have been out and about in brushy areas and check yourself when you come in for these ticks. The deer tick has to be imbedded in the skin for a minimum of 24 hours in order to pass on the spirochete.

My wife Nancy is very good at what she does in general and has become an intrepid trapper. She has quite a long trapline with sets in appropriate locations, she baits them properly and has been very successful, although in one instance a creature was apparently caught by one leg only and made off with her trap. She did a major search of the surrounding environs, but was unable to locate the trap or the trapped. I told her that at a future date she would locate same using her olfactory sense which she did; the stench led to the trapped and long-dead mouse secreted in the far corner of a stuffed closet. She was not trapping for valuable pelts. From Science News: “A mouse can gather everything it needs to know about the world including clues about a potential girlfriend including if she is sick, pregnant, or stressed out all this by his strong olfactory senses. Isn’t this much more efficient than stalking her on Facebook?”

I do love to quote: here is the iconic Rachel Carson: “Our heedless and destructive acts enter into the vast cycles of the earth and in time bring hazards to ourselves.”   ~