FIELD NOTES: October and November Sightings – December 2015

Jack ThumbnailBy Jack McShane

Wiley the coyote has spoken and has shown that his brain works well. When he learns something he remembers it and teaches same to his offspring; he is constantly changing and adapting to the ever-changing environment and plays a major role in our dynamic ecosystem.

And now onto recent happenings in and around the forest of Bussey Hollow:

Saturday, Columbus Day weekend, I sat in a cheap plastic Adirondack chair placed discreetly above a small pond deep in the woods where I thought I had a good chance of seeing some wood ducks flying in. Now I sat patiently enjoying a good cigar. The day was comfortable with bright sunshine and at about 4 in the afternoon I was relaxed and ready for whatever nature might present.

Suddenly there was Macwa (black bear) circling the far side of the pond, and to my great surprise he came all the way around and headed directly at me.  Is it time to make some movement and noise to spook him off? No, do what you have always told people that asked, “What to do if I see a bear?” Grab your camera! OK, now it was my turn and that is what I did. The camera on the ground by my side was an easy grab, but it was still in its case, which required some fumbling as I kept my eye on Macwa making his lumbering approach. My slight movement caught his eye—we made eye contact. He froze and gazed at me for a few moments, the camera not quite ready. He decided not to disturb this dude in his chair, but to turn a little to his right and continue his trek. He passed over the trail I had come in on and continued up into deep woods behind me. I relaxed and thought, if I had not been such a fumbler with the camera, I might have had a chance for a selfie with him. Five or ten minutes passed and, as I contemplated the unusual experience, I thought I heard some very light foot padding behind me. I thought no, that bear would never try to sneak up on my backside, but then, why was I twisting around for a look, nothing there. I decided my mind was fabricating scary noises as Macwa had continued on his way, ignoring the strange dude in his Adirondack chair.

Time passed and the heavy pounding of a pileated woodpecker resounded through the silence making a nice audio backdrop to the otherwise silent forestscape. The pounding, a staccato of three to seven beats on a tree unseen and then moving to another, closer also unseen  came through to me as not a search for food, but more of a territorial signal. “I am here and this is my territory,” seemed to be the message, although unlikely, as this was not the spring breeding season, when territoriality can be an imperative. I lightly mimicked his knocking, three groups of three, no response, a couple of minutes go by and he is closer with much louder knocks, I remain silent and suddenly he flies about twenty feet over my right shoulder and up into the deep woods behind me. Did I call him in or was it just that coincidentally he was following his preplanned flight pattern? I would like to say proudly that I called in a pileated woodpecker, although most birders would pooh-pooh the thought.Makwa Turns Away

One of my weekly Sunday runs to Margaretville for my paper turned quite interesting. First, there was a road-killed opossum on a bend on the other side of the road, sad but no big deal. At the Freshtown market there was a small black rooster poking around my parked car, I thought this kind of weird unless they are now selling really fresh chicken and this was an escapee. Whatever. On the way back, I saw what I thought were two deer running across the road. They stopped at the guard rail, milled around, and then it appeared it was two coyotes. No. Now that I was closer I realized they were two dogs. Traffic was behind me and traffic coming from the other direction. I slowed with my blinkers on as one went back across the road, the other milled about. Luckily, the cars behind did not attempt to pass and the oncoming cars saw what was happening and slowed to a stop.  Then the other canine decided to go back across also. They disappeared into the woods and everybody was smiling, signaling hi-fives, no road-killed dogs. Now rounding a curve nearing home, a juvenile bald eagle rose up from the road right in front of me and cruised just overhead as I slowed and looked up until he finally landed in a tree right next to the road. A perfect photo op. No cars behind, I pull over, reach for my camera that was not there, OK eagle, thanks anyway. Afterwards I realized that I had interrupted his feasting on the road-killed opossum. This trip not over yet. I am now on the Tremperskill when a raccoon runs across and as I pass him he turns, sits on his butt and faces me with his paws out in front in what appeared to be a defensive position. Did that little guy really think he could fend off this huge steel monster? Here in the Catskills just going in for your Sunday paper can be an exciting trip.

Back in the year 1800, Alexander von Humboldt commented, “The effects of the human species intervention were already incalculable and could become catastrophic if they continued to disturb the world so brutally.” I believe his prescient view has now come about. ~