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Another month gone by already and a cool one at that. I’m not a big fan of humidity so I always put my air conditioner in early, but so far this month I’ve used it only twice. When temperatures are in the 50s and dew points are below 40 there’s not much sense in running the AC. One has to assume that the electric bill will go sky high in July and August when “real” summer conditions prevail, but it’s anyone’s guess as to how warm and humid it may get in the next several weeks. It’s hard to predict “unusual.”
Fortunately, there is some semblance of order out there in the wild world, which is where I do most of my observing and where I draw most of my conclusions. Several whitetail fawns had been spotted toward the end of June and turkey broods seemed to be doing well, though there are noticeably fewer of them this year. In my area the brutal Avian pox decimated local flocks to the point where all I see are individual hens or small groups of three or four adult birds where I used to see 25 or more. Turkeys can rebound from such events but it will take a while.
Song birds are doing quite well, too, if the volume of hungry hatchlings begging for food is any indication. The tree-tops resound with the voices of baby birds demanding attention, and the traffic from field to nest is non-stop for adult phoebes, bluebirds, swallows, robins and the rest. Just recently the local nuthatch population quadrupled as young birds began to learn how to fly and walk vertically on the maples outside my window. There has to be a trick to moving up and down a tree along its bark without falling off. A few of the young nuthatches came close to taking a nosedive but, fortunately (and apparently) they learned to fly before they learned to walk – the reverse of what humans keep telling themselves.
I recently spotted a gray fox feeding on wild strawberries on the slope across the field, along with a pair of pups that seemed to have no interest in wild fruit salad. They stalked and pounced on butterflies, moths and other insects while the adult filled up on berries. I watched the group for 30 minutes before they wandered off into the tall grass.
All of this took place in broad daylight, unusual for gray foxes, which are notoriously nocturnal. My nighttime trail cam pictures taken off the back deck reveal gray foxes coming in for a meal of sunflower seeds every night but never during the day. They are very shy, reclusive creatures and surprisingly non-aggressive, at least when it comes to raccoons, opossums and other night visitors. They sneak in, eat and sneak back out again, rarely interacting with other species.
Summertime living does seem to be easier for the local rodent population. It’s rare to see gray squirrels, red squirrels and chipmunks getting along but lately I’ve seen several individuals of all three species sitting shoulder-to-shoulder in the seed pile having a great time filling their cheeks with little or no discord. I’m not sure if it’s because they are young-of-the-year and unfamiliar with the rules of species integration, or if there’s so much food available right now there’s no need to fight over it, but it is odd to see so many of them getting along so well. I’m sure the camaraderie will crumble when cold weather returns and sharing is no longer an option, but for now all seems to be bliss among those with sharp incisors and bushy tails.
Such is not the case with the nighttime contingent of raccoons, which arrive just after sunset and immediately set up a pecking order, with all opportunities falling to whoever is largest. The top ‘coon reclines in the food pile and eats till he’s sated, and then the next-biggest comes in for his share. On and on it goes. At any given time there are three or four raccoons in sight and they all seem to know their place. What’s most amusing is that the lesser-ranked animals linger in the shadows or pretend to drink out of the bird bath as they wait their turn, all carefully ignored by the dominant raccoon. Should any subordinate animal cross that invisible line (and I’m not sure where that line is), a fight ensues and invariably the biggest raccoon wins.
Of course, dominance over the seed pile changes between species. The flying squirrels give way to the opossums, who give way to the gray foxes, who step aside for the raccoons who grudgingly kowtow to the deer. Bigger is apparently badder in the wild world and the hierarchy is pretty clear, at least to them. I keep enough food out so that all will have a fair share but I don’t make the rules about who eats first. The gluttons barge right in and the less dominant ones wait patiently in the shadows for their turn. Nature is not quite the democracy that Disney portrays.
Heading into July there will be more changes in store as field grasses mature, small streams dry up and young birds and animals continue to mature. Already I’ve seen lightning bugs hovering over the field, loons hollering as they pass overhead in the night and peepers giving way to bull frogs in the vernal pool across the way.
It’s important to observe and note the everyday changes in our wild world because even the smallest things are trying to tell us something. Enjoy the now but always prepare for what’s next, just as our wild neighbors are doing. I’m sure that half of the sunflower seeds I dole out each day is being stored in hollow logs nearby; no doubt even in my winter boots on the front porch.
Of course, it’s much easier to lie in the hammock and enjoy these precious, balmy days of summer. You’ll know when it’s time to get busy again!
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