It’s just amazing to me how fast this summer of 2016 has gone by. No doubt the lack of rain has something to do with it because the hay fields and pastures seem to be prematurely gray, but more of my well-watered garden plants are rapidly fading as well. I’m down to late-planted corn and the last of the cucumbers; everything else has fizzled.
This was one of the best blueberry seasons in recent memory but tons of ripe berries ended up withering in the sun because I had already picked enough for two winters and there simply was no more room or need to store them. The turkeys, cedar waxwings and robins have been having a ball filling up on the desiccated fruit; in fact some bushes literally shake and shiver all day as the birds flock to them for an easy meal.
I’ve noticed that the red squirrels have a passion for blueberries but the gray squirrels show no interest. The reds will yell at the grays as they go by on the ground or overhead but so far I have not observed any great territorial battles between the two.
On cool mornings I have taken to roaming the woods again, and to say that conditions are dry is an understatement. The dirt in the logging trails is more akin to dust, and the wet holes and seeps that normally turn sections of my hiking trails to mud are dried up, caking and cracked like those Western lakes and reservoirs we see on TV. A friend who lives on a local pond told me that the water level is down over two feet from this time last year. His dock is on dry ground and his pontoon boat is only halfway in the water, which is a definite sign that we need rain.
I like to walk the woods on a daily basis when I can so I can measure the changes in foliage and growth. Already the leaves are shrinking, no doubt in response to the lack of water. I like to stop and make tea at various points along my route, usually at a convenient boulder or fallen log, and in just the last two weeks resting sites that were completely in the shade at a given hour are now speckled with sunshine. I enjoy the shade during the hot, humid days of summer but as the mornings and evenings start cooling down I’m not averse to brewing my tea in full sun.
We are also losing daylight by the minute in the mornings and evenings. In the last month we’ve lost about 30 minutes of sunshine in the mornings and slightly more near dusk, amounting to over an hour total since June 15. I am more a fan of fall than of summer so the gradual loss of daylight isn’t an issue for me, but some folks dread the death knell of summer’s end. Are retailers really trumpeting “Back to School” sales already?
I like to credit the cooling trend for my sudden uptake in woods walks, but the truth is that I have set out several bait sites for bears and want to keep a close eye on them as the hunting and trappings seasons approach. I put trail cameras at each bait site so I can monitor the activity and so far the results have been typical – mostly raccoons and foxes, even one opossum, but only two sites are being visited by bears and both are small yearlings and not what I’m looking for. As time goes on more, bigger bears will move in to claim the sites, and at any time a big, territorial boar will show up and chase the smaller bears away. That is the bruin I’m looking for, the one that comes in late, alone and with an attitude.
I know such bears are in the area because I keep tabs with my neighbors to see who is having issues with bears. It makes sense that those who are running bee hives or feeding the birds would have more encounters, and that’s always been the case. Oddly enough, one group of neighbors less than a mile away reported a nuisance bear that wardens removed with a culvert-style trap, but now they’re saying a bigger, more destructive bear has entered the neighborhood. Considering that there is a three-mile square swamp separating us there’s nothing surprising about us seeing more bears. The question becomes a simple one of whose offerings are more enticing to the bears – the baiters or the feeders? Only time will tell on that score.
There is a nice, old logging trail that traverses the length of the swamp, and I’ve made it a point to walk the trail at least once a week in search of bear sign, but because it has been so dry I have not found the first track, not even in the areas that have traditionally been muddy and wet all summer long. The last bear track I found in that area was wider than my hand, but that was two years ago when there was plenty of rain and lots of fresh mud. Now things are so dry even the wet spots are crunchy, which makes it tough to find the tracks of a wandering plantigrade bruin. I am certain there are bears enough in the area to make a hunt out of it. I just need to work a little harder to close the circle.
It did strike me as most peculiar that in all my recent woods travels I have yet to see a grouse, rabbit, woodcock or deer. There are some whitetail tracks here and there but small game seems to be scarce in the extreme. Of course, as the trees continue to grow and shade out the undergrowth the habitat becomes increasingly attractive to bears and less attractive to smaller creatures. Maybe that’s why Maine has so many bears lately while everything else is on the decline!