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And just like that the leaves have popped out on the trees and temperatures are close to 70 during the day. Just a month ago we had nighttime lows that demanded a quick fire in the wood stove and more than a little patience as we waited to get our spring flowers, plants and seedlings started. After such a long, cold winter it seems almost unfair that spring has already come and gone. Truth be told, it was in the 30s on the last day of May and, according to the Farmer’s Almanac June 1 is the official last frost date, but when was the last time we had cut it so close?
Of course, we humans weren’t the only ones anxiously chomping at the bit. All of my bird houses quickly filled with new residents including phoebes, wrens, bluebirds, swallows and sparrows, and from the racket I hear up on the hill the ravens and crows got an early start as well.
My trail cam, set up on my deck a few feet from the seed pile, shows raccoons and gray foxes coming in every night, and twice I’ve seen their young in the periphery. A nice buck has been coming in as well, and already his velvet-covered antlers are wider than his ears. This year he may well develop a 12-point rack, which is surprising considering the number of hunters who cruise the woods nearby. How he survives is anyone’s guess but he’s getting better at it every year. I actually had a chance to tag him during the last archery deer season in October but he was partially obscured by brush and I decided against taking the chance. Wounding a deer gives me nightmares (it only happened once and I eventually found the animal, but what a miserable night that was!) so I avoid chancy shots, especially with a bow and arrow. Crossbows are no better, by the way. Just because the limbs are held horizontally doesn’t make them any more lethal or accurate.
Anyway, the big guy came back and is downing all the wildlife grain I put out every night. I can follow the growth of his antlers by the images I get off the camera, and in less than a month he’s gained mass, width and points. I’ve had a couple of does come in as well, fat as pigs and ready to drop their fawns.
The wild turkeys have been remarkably absent this spring. There were four tom turkeys strutting and gobbling almost non-stop in March and April, but come the opening of the hunting season April 28 they just disappeared. A couple of hens and a gobbler or two (silent and alone) came in to fill up on sunflower seeds but the best, most exciting activity was long over with. Maybe it would be a good idea to open the season two weeks earlier, even April 1, so hunters could practice their skills on receptive, responsive gobblers. Once the birds shut down it’s all but impossible to lure one into range even with great calling, decoys and blinds.
Now I’m looking for hens to appear with chicks in tow, but it may be a little early for that. The field grasses are already developing seed heads and there are bugs galore so the young turkeys should have plenty to eat when they finally leave the nest.
My friends on the lake are reporting plenty of nesting loons, geese and ducks, including much higher numbers of hooded mergansers than usual. These are among the most beautiful of waterfowl, not quite as colorful as the male wood duck but striking with their black heads and white crests. Earlier this spring, just before ice-out, I saw a flock of more than a dozen males cruising near the edge of the out-going ice, dipping and diving as they paddled their way through the frigid water. Once the breeding season begins the ducks separate into mated pairs and begin the process of raising their young, and it’s a rare to see them again till they gather in flocks again prior to their fall migration (which is only three months away!).
Also as suddenly as switching on a light the fishing season has opened with a bang. Trout streams that seemed empty and lifeless in late April are suddenly teeming with fat brookies, and warmwater species such as bass, pickerel, perch and crappies are more aggressive as well. There’s an old wooden dock where I stop and make a few casts just to test the water and for weeks nothing responded, but recently I stood there and caught all four species using the same lure. That’s the signal that it’s time to get serious. I’ll take the canoe out early or late in the day, working the shoreline in earnest for the big bass and pickerel that use the weeds and brush along the bank for their predatory purposes.
Of course, I’m not the only one with a fish dinner in mind. I’m likely to run into ospreys, herons, snapping turtles and even the occasional bald eagle, all of which know that abundant free meals reside in the warm, weedy grasses along shore. Already this year I’ve seen mink and otters getting in on the fun as well, and in recent days cormorants have been spotted dipping and diving into prime shoreline habitat. Once the spawn is over there will be kingfishers, green herons and egrets making their presence known. On a busy day at the pond I’ll encounter all these and more, including the ubiquitous black snakes that, for some reason, love to swallow huge horned pout and yellow perch that, from my viewpoint at least, seem way too big for their gullets. Each year I run into no less than dozen of these big, gluttonous reptiles as they roll around in the reeds doing their best to gulp down the other half of a fish they probably regret having targeted in the first place. I assume that these veteran fish-eaters know what they’re doing but it doesn’t always appear that way.
June is a busy month for our wild neighbors. Get out there for a while to observe and enjoy. Remember that in just two weeks the days start getting shorter!
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