Jack ThumbnailBy Jack McShane

I experienced some memorable sightings in late 2013:

³ A beautiful male cardinal making a late season appearance even without the bird feeder up. Feeder hanging was held off until my black bear friends were safely tucked in their dens, wherever they might be.

  •  When the bird feeder was finally hung, it was less than an hour until the first chickadees arrived … what memories they must have. Stopping by one of my bluebird boxes just to check and clean them out, I did my usual knock first routine and a little gray face with large black eyes and a very terrified look appeared, stared at me for a moment, then quickly ducked back down to the safety of his nest: a flying squirrel. I went quietly on my way making, no further disturbance.
  • The sight of a multiple of skeins of honking, migrating Canada geese of 50 to 200 birds each, high on a crystal blue sky, all on their way to southern climes.
  • Having made the decision that the last cottontail rabbit had been taken by the local predators, I was delighted but skeptical when my son told me he sighted one that bounded under the pole barn. To prove it he took me down to show me the tracks in the snow, and yes, a cottontail rabbit.
  • Spotting a snoozing, young porcupine in one of the very productive apple trees clutching a partially eaten apple; a perfect photo op. Watch out for the local fishers, little guy! As most of you know, the fisher, although the name suggests an aquatic habitat and diet, actually prefers dense woods and porcupines.* Big males can grow to 40 inches long and are probably the basis for many “black panther” sightings.
  • When I sighted a few apparently satiated turkey vultures hanging out in a tree above a slain deer gut pile, I was reminded of a characterization by the author Edward Abbey of those vultures as “a Convocation of Undertakers,” a very apt description.

PorkyA recent issue of TIME magazine included an article about the wild animals invading “our” suburban and even urban enclaves. The writer asserts that we must not lose our position in nature as the apex predator. The final sentence in the article was something I never thought I would see in TIME magazine: “Now it is wise to correct the more recent mistake of killing too rarely.” Is hunting possibly becoming “politically correct”? All this reminds me of a retired wildlife biologist with the DEC who told of receiving a call from a woman complaining of a deer in her back yard and moments later receiving another call, this from a deer complaining of a house in his front yard. Along the same lines I heard of a local woman who put coyote urine around her large garden to ward off deer. She was surrounded by the howling of coyotes and now in great fear of leaving her home. This is a true story.

Recently an old friend, Dr. Dan Palm, received from the Watershed Agricultural Council the coveted Karl Connell Award which is awarded annually in recognition of outstanding land stewardship and “related activities”. I received this award a number of years ago for far less “related activities” than Dan, who has committed many hours as stand-in director for almost every conservation organization in the region. The following is an excerpt from his acceptance comments which gave great resonance to good land ownership and which I feel could not have been stated more aptly: “Man has the greatest ability of any species to impact the ecosystem. With this ability comes responsibility. Thus, my philosophy is to think and plan for long-term sustainability while acting in the short term to carry out those plans. As a private forest landowner, I am the temporary steward of the resources on that land and am responsible for ensuring the ecological balance is sustained. While this is not a new philosophy, it is one I try to pursue.” Kudos, Dan, and congratulations! Be aware that Dan and I often enjoyed a friendly competition for the first and largest Tom Turkey of the spring hunting season.

Walk lightly through the forest and wonder as you wander.

*Jack promises a full account in a future issue of how a fisher tackles a porcupine. ~