FIELD NOTES: Avian Friends Return – JULY 2016

Jack ThumbnailBy Jack McShane

On a day trek deep in the forest, rounding a familiar bend on one of my more favored trails, I was temporarily taken aback by a pair of glaring dark eyes. They emanated from a spooky looking circular gray face ensconced high in a thicket of hemlock which seemed to be telegraphing great disdain at my sudden appearance. It held my gaze. It was certainly holding mine, not me holding his. Then, when he chose, he let me go. Although my staring back seemed to make the contempt more intense I held my ground and reaching for my camera took a quick shot. This was too much for the camera-shy barred owl as it took flight on silent wings. Yes, it was on the bend in the trail where I have had previous encounters with this species, and written of it in the “The Barred on the Bend.” I was quite delighted, as for some years now the bend has been bare. I say, “Welcome back pal,” knowing full well that you do not extend the same greeting to me.

Other returnees to my forest and to my delight include the Baltimore orioles who seem to favor the edges and the black cherry trees where they will eventually build their unique, woven, baglike nests. Farther deep in the forest, I encountered the first male scarlet tanager. This guy was definitely hanging close and seemed fearless as I wondered if he just wanted to show off his most brilliant and almost incandescent red plumage. I also welcomed back from their annual trip to southern South America, two male bobolinks as they flew field reconnaissance, likely Jacks Woodchucks - DSCN0834 (2) securing their individual territories. I must admit that I do find it hard to imagine such a small feathered creature surviving such a colossal journey safely and intact just to breed, nest and raise its young in my fields after a two continent aerial navigation. Bravo! I am very proud to welcome you guys. Please make yourselves at home. Again high in the heavens the forever tipping, gliding turkey vultures are riding the thermals in their energy-efficient manner. Very important, as the carrion food they require can be unpredictable and widespread.

First spotted at the edge of a brushy area by the upper pond, there appeared a brown thrasher, a bird I have not seen in some twenty, twenty-five years when a pair nested annually in this same vicinity. What brought this long-tailed rusty brown creature back home? Could it be one of the original pair? Might it be some kind of generational memory passed down? We will never know. At the lower pond as I was gazing down at some pearly eggs in a scoured nest hole, guarded by a two pound largemouth bass, another brown thrasher flew across, which seemed to be passing a message, “Make note of us in your writings as it has been a long time.” Such is my wonderful imagination.

All these wild birds returning, many from very distant points on the globe, bring back memories of when I was young, breeding and flying homing pigeons. Along with a couple of buddies, I would capture homers that were lost and now living with wild birds in an abandoned railroad coal yard. We identified these by their muscular appearance and the band on a leg which separated them from the derogatively called “rats” as the wild birds were known. One hen, a retrieval from the yards, was carried to somewhere deep in the Adirondacks by a friend and released. She was back in the coop in two days. What a bird!

Sadly, at this time my bluebirds have not shown. Where are you guys? The many boxes await you, cleaned, squatters removed, and needed repairs done. No excuses!

Fatso, the ever-expanding, forever grass-munching woodchuck stands erect on his butt surveying the area. For who?

Wiley coyote? A mate that does not appear? Or is it that you like to just act as a model-cool rodent so proud of your fat physique? I’m watching you!

A free roaming donkey? Can this be? No, it is a local doe now so bloated that she just may have triplets growing within her. If so, it would be only the second time in thirty years such a multiple birth has been noted by me in these environs. We must wait and see as she may only have twins. Good luck, mom. May your deliveries be successful and easy.

All the above was written during the last two weeks in May. It is now June 4th and I must give a couple of important updates. On May 31st I observed a pair of bluebirds checking out the box close to the kitchen window that annually, for many years, housed a pair….yahoo!

Two days ago I rescued a small painted turtle from the Tremperskill Road which now resides in the middle pond…welcome turtle, you owe me. Also, “happening now, breaking news” but not quite enough for Wolf Blitzer on CNN: Fatso, the woodchuck, is a mom. I noted her carrying a pup up from the pole barn den to the stone wall in front of the house, and since that time she has been taking to leisurely stretching out with four, yes four, pups doting on her. Now Nancy is having a panic attack, sure that every planted flower will be consumed by the motley crew. My lack of flower concern, I admit can be agitating. Reality is that some of the baby woodchucks may fall prey to canine and feline predators that depend on their bounty and others in time will disperse to not too distant fields, nature’s way.~