Jack ThumbnailBy Jack McShane

Events in the natural world can bring great sadness especially when they occur in the spring. The death of two creatures that I watched struggle through a cruel winter and somehow garnered an attachment to, brought about this feeling. First it was Porky the young porcupine that loved the dried-out apples in the trees in the old orchard and would sit for a photo op without fear. His lifeless body discovered hunched behind the stack of summer tires with no apparent trauma was a downer for me. The kettle of eight or ten turkey vultures over the upper pond was the first clue of another death. Following a path of deer hair I found the orphaned fawn that hung around with little fear, due to the loss of the mother that would have instilled a fear of things unknown especially predators, lying below the bank, now nothing but skin and bones with every morsel of meat gleaned by the hungry. If it had survived it would have been a yearling doe. I must remind myself that predators have no evil intent and that “in nature death is a wild celebration of renewal”; there are no funerals or mourning. The dead lie on the ground for consumption by others, and not six feet under the ground messing up the aquifer.

According to Tom Salo, golden eagle expert writing in The Belted Kingfisher the Delaware/Otsego chapter of the Audubon Society’s newsletter, reported more sad news. Maxine the two year old golden eagle, live trapped, banded and fitted with a GPS tracking device here in Andes on February 8 is thought to have died. She apparently fed on some invasive Eurasian boars that had been killed by the US Dept. of Agriculture using lead ammunition. Although the body of Maxine has not been found, a dying bald eagle, poisoned by lead ingested from the same site where Maxine had also fed had been found earlier. The Dept. of Agriculture has been notified of this by our NYS DEC and the practice of using lead ammo for this purpose will now end. As Tom stated in his article, we don’t want to eat lead, nor do we want scavengers eating it. Gun hunters should be apprised of this and asked not to use lead bullets; arrow-killed game contain no lead. By the way it is now illegal to shoot the Eurasian boar as the authorities feel that this will make the boars ever more cautious and difficult to trap and then dispatch.

Some enjoyable observations by this family: a small mink sighted by Nancy was carrying something in its jaws while cavorting down and then through a road culvert of the Bussey Hollow brook. My son Kris working on a neighbor’s property observed and got some pictures of three red fox pups that were observing him, all the while mom, a safe distance away, keenly watching all. Two days later Nancy spotted a large red fox with white on his tail, just out back, successfully leaping on a rodent: could this be Dad?

4 Toms displayingOn a beautiful sunny morning driving down our road, I sighted a grouse scamper across and, when I passed, it turned, gave me a strange look and then proceeded to fly after me and my car for at least 50 yards. Ruffed grouse have been observed doing strange and inexplicable things. I wonder if this dude would try to chase a black bear down the road; I rather doubt it. They need to give us more respect. I suggest reading Woodstock poet Will Nixon’s poem My Late Mother as a Ruffed Grouse. Cleaning out my bluebird boxes, I came upon one with the entrance hole well chewed and widened, giving the clue that a rodent of some sort had taken up residence. I, as usual, knocked first and very slowly opened the front door which showed a well woven nest of fibrous grasses etc. and began the removal. Nest out and on the ground, a panicked flying squirrel that was clinging to the ceiling of the box flew out, patagias stretched, glided to the base of the nearest tree. The obviously pregnant little creature barreled up the tree and then proceeded to glide down to the base of another. Somewhat anguished with guilt, I quickly gathered up the nest and replaced it in the box. I wished her well and moved on to the next box, hopefully empty of critters.

IMG_0122 (4)A reminder that we here in the woodsy Catskills have our own natural alarm clocks, as opposed to the city folks’ ringing bells: the yellow-bellied sapsucker that loudly rat a tat tats on the porch siding, definitely alarming and way too early, the Canada geese honking, somewhat annoying, wild turkeys gobbling, (OK but tone it down), a robin banging on his image on the window in the breezeway, damn fool; crows caw-cawing, much too loud a discussion group and often cawing on top of each other as some at the Andes Roundtable like to do; the coyote chorus sounding like a conference call amongst themselves, sans a phone, mourning doves coo-cooing, who are they mourning?, red squirrel pattering down the porch looking for trouble, the porcupine chewing loudly on the porch furniture, (trap and transfer?), crash in the middle of the night: black bear tipping over the barbecue and breaking it, (not good), finally stepping out in the morning sunshine, a ruffed grouse drumming. Great!

Alan Lightman a physicist at MIT wrote in the New York Times, “Nature is purposeless. Nature simply is. We may find nature beautiful or terrible, but those feelings are human constructions. Such utter and complete mindlessness is hard for us to accept. We feel such a strong connection to nature. But the relationship between nature and us is one sided. There is no reciprocity. There is no mind on the other side of the wall.” I thought this well said, but I would disagree about reciprocity, in that those of us who are enamored of nature get much joy and satisfaction from our participation in, and observation of nature. This is enough reciprocity for me. ~