By Jack McShane

What seems a million years ago, the wave at Sunset Beach in Hawaii was somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty feet high. I shot down its face, overcome with trepidation, I leaned back, was swept off the borrowed long board and was sent down in a torrent of powerful ocean waves, down deep, my body crashing against coral heads the size of Volkswagens. I finally surfaced, greeted by two feet of salty foam only to be crushed down by a second, as big, wall of water.  I had, as surfers call it “wiped out” a bad one which I somehow survived, eventually working my way from the break line and into the surge of water going the wrong way, that is, from the shore back out to the open sea. I managed, exhausted, to reach the beach, crawl up only to find a busload of tourists watching this wretched soul prostrate on the beach. The borrowed board was back out on the break line. I had to swim back out and retrieve it. Admittedly, I did not attempt to catch another wave that day.

A much better day was in a place called Cerro Azul south of Lima, Peru where  a couple of friends and I wound up after we were told by some Lima locals of fabulous surf down the coast. The waves were not huge, but well-shaped and the water crystal or, as we called it back then, “gin clear.” Well-shaped waves, just over our heads and water warm as bath water, we could not ask for more, that is until on one perfect wave I had a surprise buddy coasting along with me – a friendly porpoise. Taken aback, but not off the board, I realized that there was no danger and this dude was enjoying the ride as much as I. My human buddies had a tough time believing when I related the incident after paddling back out to the break line. Amazingly, it happened again, this time as one of the guys was paddling out and caught sight of the scene. None of the other guys had such an experience. Was it the same porpoise? Was it the color of my board that attracted this joyful dude or sheer coincidence? We had a fun discussion trying to figure it out, but whatever the reason that beautiful sea creature made for me a very special day never to be forgotten.

A just born ring-neck snake which was too skittish to get a dime alongside for sizing

ANDES – There has been an early season on Macwa (bears) September 9-24 so now some are gone. Last year Delaware County had the 2nd highest bear kill in the state with 149 taken during the open seasons. Since it is illegal to shoot a sow with cubs (or for that matter a cub) I have high hopes that Big Mama and her three cubs are safe and will continue so during the upcoming bear seasons of this year.

Many other local critters seem to be thriving, from monarch butterflies to garter snakes. Speaking of snakes, we have many local species other than the garter: there are black, green, ringneck, milk, but luckily no rattlesnakes or copperheads. By the way, my son working on a friend’s house down in Kerhonkson, removed three copperheads from her basement. For monarch butterfly conservation: on the five fields I just brush hogged, I left uncut patches of milkweeds just for these endangered beauties.

Healthy Looking Red-Tailed Hawk

Where did the bluebirds go? For the first time since I installed the box at the end of the drive ten years ago we went without our blue friends. As a matter of fact, I did not see a single bluebird the whole season, first time in 31 years. A pair of wrens had moved into the bluebird box.

“Mystery Death of a Young Redtail Hawk” should be the title of a naturalist’s mystery book. The young hawk was first noted by Nancy on Sunday August 27th standing on the ground in front of the house appearing healthy, looking around seemingly for a foolhardy rodent. It moved about on the ground with ease, all the while looking alert and healthy. Going down to get a better look I surprised him and with little apparent effort he flew low to the ground, landing comfortably on a bench nearby. I then ignored him, but when I came back later he was in a different location, about fifteen feet away. We stared at each other for a few moments; he then returned to his mouse watch. The next day we had a number of plein-air painters scattered about in the act of producing beautiful paintings and not one of them saw the hawk. I had questioned an Audubon friend, relating the unusual lack of fear of the young hawk and he responded, “Young redtail hawks are known to exhibit a lack of intelligence.” Sadly, on Tuesday Nancy found him under a Norway spruce, in close proximity to the house, dead but intact with no broken limbs or other obvious trauma. I placed the carcass up on our hill at a trail cam location and amazingly it was ignored by a bobcat that night and sniffed by a bear at noon the next day. Audubon suggested a call to the DEC up in Stamford to see if their pathology lab might check it for the cause of death. They stated that it was now too late to do a proper necropsy and were not interested. The cause of this young hawk’s death will forever remain a mystery, of which there are many in our natural world.~