Spring continues to drag its feet here in the sunny Northeast. Thanks to weeks of rain the grass is certainly nice and green but the leaves have been slow in coming. I had occasion to travel to New Jersey recently and was amazed at the differences. The grass there is knee high and the woods are in full foliage, with temperatures well above 60 with enough humidity to make it feel even warmer than that. Driving back home it seemed as though I was going back in time because the trees and brush here are just now popping leaves and the flowers on my fruit trees are just beginning to open.
Despite the lingering coolness in Maine there is one undeniable sign that summer is soon to be upon us. Last year I put out my hummingbird feeders on May 5 and immediately had customers. This year I noticed the first hummer on May 13, more than a week later. The earliest I’ve had hummingbirds show up was May 1, which means they are nearly two weeks late this year.
It still looks “early” out there and the temperatures seem low for nesting purposes but its “game on” for all the critters that pass through my dooryard. Lately I’m seeing more pairs of everything including ducks, robins, chickadees, nuthatches, Baltimore orioles, indigo buntings (so bright, so blue!) and the usual contingent of crows, sparrows, blue jays and cowbirds. All of my outside bird houses have occupants, and two decrepit boxes that I keep in the wood shed have also been turned into homes for white-throated sparrows. We pass each other from time to time as I go inside for tools, wood, seed or fertilizer, but for the most part they are left alone and seem to be content with the arrangement.
Now that the wild turkey hunting season is in full swing I’m seeing fewer birds than I had during the winter. Some days I won’t see a single turkey, not even a hen. A couple of lucky hunters filled their tags nearby which, apparently, alerted the home flock to the dangers of visiting my back yard. All winter I had dozens of turkeys in the yard including several big longbeards, but now only blue jays, doves and juncos come to the feeders.
This pattern has been the same for years, so I’m not worried that the local turkey population has been wiped out or displaced. “Dispersed” might be the better word for it because once the shooting stops (June 3 at the latest) they’ll all be back to feed and frolic in the pasture. The hens will likely have several poults with them and the weary toms will gather in elusive bachelor flocks, no longer strutting and gobbling. One particular old gobbler has been coming in solo for several years. His beard drags on the ground now, but he’s always alone and never puts on a display for the hens. He usually waits till near dark, comes in and fills his crop, and then he fades away into the woods. Trophy turkey hunters would love to turn him into a wall mount but so far he’s survived several hunting seasons (spring and fall) and has been able to avoid the usual gang of predators (foxes, coyotes and bobcats) that roam the woods nearby. He’s doing what most elderly creatures do – live alone, stay out of sight and mind his own business. With luck and good weather he should survive another year.
While it’s still just a tad early to begin planting in earnest, my raised beds and garden plots are ready for action. A couple of yards of composted cow manure have been spread thinly across the flower and vegetable gardens, but I’ve delayed transplanting and direct seeding till temperatures get a little bit higher. I have tried planting early during cold spells but nothing wants to grow when temperatures are below 60. So far this spring we’ve had (I think) maybe two days that were near or over 70 and that’s not quite enough to call “warm.” I’m anxious to get my morning glories and marigolds in but I’ve learned to wait till conditions are more favorable. Cool, dark, rainy weather does not bother some plants (hyssop, turnips and peas are a few) but most vegetables and flowers require somewhat warmer conditions. Gardening will be a late exercise this year but then we’ll have all summer to reap what we’ve sown.
One thing I noticed about this past winter is that the trees took a beating from all the snow and wind. I lost count of how many loads of limbs and branches I’ve hauled to the brush pile, and every day there seems to be more. There also seems to be a steady influx of oak leaves as the old ones (finally) drop off and swirl around the yard on any hint of a breeze. I have a couple of corners where, it seems, there’s a fresh pile of leaves every day and it never seems to end. All day long I watch leaves here and there blowing across the yard on the persistent breeze, and somehow they all end up in the same secluded corners.
Another common gathering place is at the base of my fruit trees and rose bushes. Why the leaves choose to stop there and go no farther is beyond me but clearing them away is part of my daily routine.
As we wait for summer to arrive there’s no other logical thing to do but go fishing. Rivers and streams are still quite high and murky, and last week’s two-inch rain storm didn’t help in that regard. Rain is and has been good for the grass, trees and perennials but nothing ruins a trout stream for fishing like a sudden torrent of rain. So far my local brooks are still running deep and fast, but the lakes and ponds have cleared and fishing for pickerel, perch, calico bass and sunfish has been good. Very shortly bass will begin their spawning activities and the shoreline action should be tremendous. If it’s too early for gardening, go fishing!