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This is the time of year when everything seems to be happening at once. The turkey hunting and trout fishing seasons are well underway, and an ambitious sportsman can stay busy from dawn till dark trying to temp a turkey off the roost or a fat trout from under a fallen log.
Though I do my best to focus on both time-consuming sports, I’m always distracted by the other stuff that goes on in the woods in May. Leaves are popping out everywhere, wildlflowers are blooming and skunk cabbage provides some brilliant green in the swampy places where the ground is still covered the snow-flattened, brown leaves that fell last fall.
While sitting on a high ridge calling a flock of turkeys into range just a few days ago, I was constantly interrupted by the call of loons flying low over the woods and restless flocks of geese that seemed to be unsure of where they should spend their day. Meanwhile, the brush was alive with the calls of chickadees, sparrows, tufted titmice and robins, all trying to outdo and drown out each other in an effort to control of their little corner of the forest.
Being in the woods at 4:30 a.m. is a treat because just about every creature alive is either coming in for the night or going out for the day. When I start yelping at the turkeys on the ridge a barred owl, red-tailed hawk or some other winged predator will come in to join me, perhaps thinking that I’m a wounded turkey that they’d love to sink their beaks into.
If I sit long enough and keep calling, a fox or coyote may come in with the same idea. So far this season (which is just two weeks old today) I’ve seen mink, fishers and a raccoon that had high hopes for a turkey dinner. Some birds will come in just to check out the ruckus, and I might have a flock of crows, blue jays, Canada jays or chickadees stop by to see what the commotion is all about. It’s easy to forget about the serious business of turkey hunting when so much other activity is going on.
One morning last week I set my turkey decoy on the edge of a pasture and spent the morning calling to a distant gobbler that, alas, turned out to be a jake (and immature bird that’s the trophy equivalent of a spike buck whitetail). Once he showed up I let myself become distracted by a flock of at least 50 barn swallows that had found the field and its low-lying cloud of mosquitoes and black flies. What fun it must be to be able to swoop around at high speed like that and eat your fill of bugs at the same time! Along with the swallows were several phoebes, bluebirds and oven birds that were joining in the sudden bounty of food after the long winter. I was close enough to some of these birds that I could actually see (with my binoculars) the bug they were targeting. I learned enough to know that if there is such a thing as reincarnation I want to be back as the swallow, not the bug!
It’s amazing, too, how quickly the players change. A few days ago the woods were quiet at dawn other than the turkeys, loons and geese, but since then there have been several whippoorwills added to the mix. Also called “nightjars,” these boomerang-shaped birds are the best of the nighttime insect eaters. Not only are they experts at catching moths, June bugs and other assorted big things that fly, they also have one of the loudest repetitive calls in Maine. You can hear loons a long way off, granted, but get a whippoorwill going around dusk and he will saw a hole in your house by morning! Last year I had one that liked to sit directly in front of my back door. He sounded like he was under my pillow, and he kept it up all night for several weeks.
Just recently I heard four of them calling from different places around the house, which means that whatever whippoorwills do to multiply, they are doing it well! Loud and repetitive as it may be, I enjoy listening to their patented, three-note “whip-poor-will!” call.
After noon, when turkey hunting must cease, I pull my little pack rod out of my vest and concentrate on trout fishing in the streams and beaver ponds I’ve encountered during my hunt.
When fisheries biologists render their estimates of Maine’s native trout populations I have to disagree because I know they are not counting the fish in the streams I like to target in spring. Always small, difficult to approach but full of trout, these little streams provide a haven for native brookies that only a few intrepid souls ever invade with hook and line. As I’ve often said, I’m fond of catching three or four of these speckled jewels, frying them up with potatoes and fiddleheads and enjoying a miniature shore dinner on the banks of a stream I can easily hop across.
While I’m enjoying my midday meal of fresh-caught trout, I like to sit back with a cup of tea and observe what’s going on way out there where the sun rarely shines. My lunchtime company invariably includes nuthatches and creepers, thrushes and catbirds, and sometimes I’ll see a mink or otter that has the same game plan as mine. On the best of days I might see are deer, bear or moose, and if I haven’t flushed a couple of grouse on the way out I wonder where they might have gone.
It’s a rare May day when I don’t see a few salamanders, frogs or red squirrels along the brook. In rocky places I can tip over a few stones and find enough crayfish tails to add to my lunch. These mini lobsters are delicious when sautéed in a little bit of butter, and they make a perfect frypan companion for trout and potatoes.
After a nice, long day in the woods, I end up on the porch with a cup of hot tea in hand while I watch the sunset as the robins sing and the crows head back to their roost. I find a good day in the woods to be as entertaining as any TV show, and best of all – it’s free!
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