FIELD NOTES: WINTER – February 2016

Jack ThumbnailBy Jack McShane

Ask your young child or grandchild the following: What local animal comes in many color variations—white, gray, red or black? One type can even fly. You just might get the correct answer if you treat that child to special time outdoors, books on nature and magazines like the NYS Conservationist. Just do it and you also may learn. Or maybe you already know.

Lately I have had a problem with a neighbor, not the owner of the property, but a tenant. The owner who has not visited the place in over twenty years is probably not aware of the moldering and decrepit condition of the old single-wide caused by the lack of secure doors and windows. With no sanitary facilities the encamped vagrant defecates randomly anywhere he chooses. This was once a nice camp, but presently it is inappropriately occupied by this rather scurrilous individual whom I rarely see and who has the habit of emerging primarily at night and brazenly sneaking down to my place and doing major property damage. Word is, he is also making strange noises like moans and grunts, also some wheezing sounds. I am asking of you my friends and neighbors in Andes who read this, for support in the court of goodwill as I make various attempts at removing this individual from our beloved neighborhood. Thank you all.

This is a real time (12/26) update. The individual has passed away due to lead poisoning, but, believe it or not, it turned out there was a second individual performing the same acts of destruction. He was captured, but released by my compassionate son a very long distance from point of capture, this, I presume, in consideration of the Christmas season. We are now free, if only temporarily, of Erethizon dorsatum!

Now, if I may, and hoping not to bore you too much, here are a list of wildlife sightings of the past couple of months: A surprising midday jaunt by a beautiful large mink brought it along a path paralleling the stream in front of the kitchen window. At a small waterfall, it went out of sight and was not seen again.

A robin that was unable to fly hung out in a grassy patch for a week and a half until it disappeared which I assumed was the result of a predator attack. But he actually showed up again a few weeks later, now able to loft to low branches. He still needs a lot of luck to get out of here before the real winter sets in, something he seems to have.

I barely missed two skunks slowly moving across the Tremperskill Road; they were lucky and fortunately my car was not skunked. Whew!

Sadly, I observed but one Monarch butterfly this fall on our milkweeds. The Monarchs migrate all the way to Mexico for the winter months. Their numbers are in a downward spiral and they may soon be on the endangered species list.

A very rare sighting of a beautiful cock pheasant strutting roadside on a drive into Andes was most likely an escapee from a local pheasant farm or one released for sport hunting which had escaped the shooters. This farm-raised bird more than likely will not make it through our winter with our abundant predators lurking about.

A black-throated blue warbler struck a window and was killed, and thinking it was a new species for my bird list, I checked and it was not. It was already number 81 on a list of 111 bird species sighted over our thirty years on our Bussey Hollow property.

Not having seen one since late spring I was delighted to see a cottontail rabbit on our entrance road in December.

A friend hit a wild turkey on the way into work and did surprisingly major damage to her car, the bird not salvageable for a gourmet dinner. At least she was OK.

Probably one of my best days ever for wildlife sightings in 2015 was on December 20th, when two mature bald eagles cavorted over the Tremperskill Road and finally winged their way up my own Bussey Hollow Road. Same day there were six Canada geese waddling around the flat at the entrance of the Tremperskill into the Pepacton Reservoir, and on our small roadside pond there were two pairs of mallard ducks both species I thought had all migrated south, as I had not seen any for the previous three weeks. Near the end of the day I noticed that my favorite chair up in the woods had again been flipped over by Macwa (bear) even though I had weighted it down with a large stone. This may be an indication that he truly feels ownership and is not happy with my observational perch in his turf. He has survived hunting season and was out and about past his normal den time. As I settled into my chair I was mesmerized by a golden eagle making slow circles in a crystal sky just overhead and finally drifting off to the north. I hope the bird hangs around and participates in the ongoing research directed at his species in and around Andes.

In a recent conversation with a good friend, another retired police officer, we wondered what our revered woodlands will look like in a hundred or so years. Will people care for them as we both do now, will the trees be healthy and vibrant, and will the critters that inhabit it be here when we are long gone? Will invasive species decimate the trees we love, as it appears now might happen? Will developers develop (ruin, in our minds) our special places? Will anyone care for this wonderful place or will it be uninhabitable for humans as in the scenario imagined by the great naturalist writer Charles S. Cadieux (see page 9, the closing paragraph of FIELD NOTES, in the Nov. 2015 issue) where a skulking coywolf emerges from some safe place wondering if he is now safe from what the Homo sapiens had wrought. We will never know.

By the way, that local critter that comes in so many color phases as most of you guessed, is our squirrel. The “flying squirrel” does not “fly,” but glides from treetops to the base of others using a wrist controlled patagium, a parachute-like furry membrane that stretches from wrist to ankle. The culprit Erethizon dorsatum is our notorious tree-girdling porcupine. May he rest in peace and his mate not return.~