Jack McShane with some of the birdhouses destroyed by the bear

By Jack McShane

A brief divergence from local Field Notes: Back in January 1964 I was surfing with friends who were hoping to be contenders in a World Surfing Contest. One was an old friend from Lima, Peru, Shigee Juavanez, an outstanding performer on big waves. He had an uncanny knack for picking the largest wave in a set, always waited for that one and could recover from horrendous wipeouts. We were surfing the “Pipeline” on the north shore of Oahu, Hawaii, renowned for its tunnel-shaped waves which were particularly treacherous that day, the waves 15 to 20 feet high with the occasional coral head showing, due to low tide. I had given up, as the conditions were well beyond my ability and daring, and joined others watching from the beach.

I was told by a photographer that he had just gotten some excellent footage of Shigee and his ride. It had been duly recorded on sixteen millimeter Technicolor film using a Bolex with a telephoto wide-angle lens, very high end stuff back then. His wipeout near the end of his ride was no more spectacular than others taken that day. There was one difference, however: It took thirty minutes and about two hundred yards of beach before his body washed ashore. It was never known whether it was his board or a coral head that had caused the two-inch gash on Shigee’s forehead. Actually it didn’t matter. He had lost attunement with a very dangerous ocean wave that day. Big wave surfing can become addictive: that feeling of fear and the reward when you control the fear and come out safely, definition “attunement.” Sadly, this one ended up being fatal for Shigee.

Field Notes: On a cold, sunny day midwinter with seven inches of fresh overnight snow, I was keenly observing the antics of my avian and squirrely friends vying for fodder below the birdfeeder. The usual suspects were doing what they always do. Off in the distance I saw a little head pop up through the snow and almost instantly disappear back down. It was a very wary red squirrel. Within ten seconds he reappeared approximately ten feet closer, a foot per second, and this act of tunnel-popup-tunnel continued until he was close to the feeder. He covered the last distance on top at a very fast clip. Such tunneling is a safe way for this little creature to cover ground. A few minutes later a mink, normally a nocturnal predator, made a run in broad daylight right past the assorted critters without causing any alarm whatsoever. They were not paying attention nor was he, a very unusual occurrence.

Last month I wrote about critters that did bad things. One was about an eagle that lifted a small dog that was later dropped and found relatively unscathed. The dog was of a breed called Bichon Frise, a tiny poodle-type dog, one of which made “Best in Show” at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show. It was not the winning individual that was targeted by the eagle. Had it been, I suspect, there would have been more of a celebratory fuss about him.

Signs of Spring come on slowly, but they do come. On February 27th I saw my first black bird, a large male grackle under the feeder. Later on the same day I heard a redwing blackbird. Their Spring call is very difficult to spell out, but here is a try: “Ik-qwehh” or maybe “Ik-gweah.” Make it very throaty and stretch

out the last part. Last year there were four redwings spotted on February 23rd. This year they are a bit late. (Yes, I do keep some notes.) On February 28th I thought I saw a male bluebird. I say “I thought” because it was quick and the color not quite clear, but it was in the vicinity of a bluebird house and seemed to be checking it out. This gave me the incentive to clean it up as none of my birdhouses had been spring-cleaned. I opened and emptied this one, which entailed removing a single mouse and its nest. I felt badly for the little guy as he scampered away since there was snow in the forecast.

Something above us caught the eye of the EDG, as he was eating out of my hand in a relatively open place. He soon abandoned me and the handout and made a hasty retreat, while constantly looking up to the cover of the nearby Norway spruces. I looked above to spy a bald eagle making a loop. This reminded me of Diane Lockspeiser’s article in last month’s Gazette about her chicken loss to bald eagles. Some in the DEC now consider chicken loss to be in the nuisance category. I diagnose this grouse, perhaps, to be emotionally disturbed, with no natural fear of me. He retains his wild self-preservation instinct, something lost in our domesticated chickesn. Speaking of this nutty grouse which I am always referring to as “he” or “him” I am now hoping that maybe, just maybe, he is actually a “she” and might have chicks this Spring. Will she introduce them to me?

Sure signs of Spring: the pungent smell of a skunk, cottontail rabbits chasing each other around, and that lone hen turkey under the feeder. Bring it on!~