As is normally the case at this time of year it seems as if everything is happening at once. “Back to school” festivities are the name of the game for most families this week, and I’m thankful that I can now laugh about it having spent 18 years in that barrel. Have fun with that, one and all!
Meanwhile, back in the woods, the black bear and Canada goose hunting seasons are open now, and on Saturday the Expanded Archery Deer Season will open generally east of Interstate Route 95. There will be increasing numbers of camo-clad sports invading local eateries and convenience stores for the next couple of months, many with trophies to show off at tagging stations throughout the area.
Fishing is still legal this month and even into October on certain waters, primarily catch-and-release angling with artificial lures only. Fishermen are advised to check current regulations before wetting a line in any of our local lakes and ponds but then, armed with the proper license and rules in mind, they may wade, paddle or troll to their heart’s content at least through the month of September.
Caution is advised for anyone entering the woods and fields this month because drought conditions prevail – it is super dry out there and we are just one cigarette, match or glowing campfire ember from disaster. Central and northern Maine are particularly crispy of late, and unless we get inches of rain soon we will be as close to Fire of ’47 conditions as we’ve ever been.
It has been a busy time for local wildlife, too. In just the last week I’ve have several interesting encounters with my backyard critters that deserve mention.
I have often talked about feeding birds here and occasionally note that a hawk or owl will swoop in and grab a hapless dove, chickadee or chipmunk. It seems reasonable to me to allow nature to run its course even on my porch, and though I lament the loss of the smaller seed eaters I have to give the raptors credit for taking advantage of the situation. I’m sure they hate to expose themselves so close to the house and barn but the need to eat, too.
Anyway, last week while I was sipping my morning coffee at the picture window I glimpsed a nuthatch headed straight for me. For a moment I thought he was going to crash into the glass (as they often do) but at the last instant he swerved to the right and flew off. Almost instantly I noticed a merlin (a small hawk) swooping in behind him. Apparently the hawk was going for the reflection of his quarry in the glass. Just inches from my nose he smacked into the window and dropped dead on the deck! These small hawks are usually quite adroit when it comes to flying and rarely (though occasionally) run into buildings, but this was the first time I ever saw such an event up close and personal.
I was hoping I could revive the hawk but his wing and neck were broken – he would bother the bird feeders no more.
Because it’s illegal to possess birds of prey I laid his body in the yard and left him to the night raiders. Next morning he was gone, no doubt scavenged by a raccoon or fox, just as nature would have it.
I’m not sure why this keeps happening but this is the second year in a row that I have had bald-headed blue jays at the feeders. I’m thinking it has something to do with their annual molt, but it does seem odd that it’s only the blue jays and it’s only their heads that are featherless. I’ve kept a close eye on them (they visit the feeder every morning and evening) and it doesn’t look as if they are suffering from a disease of any sort. Over time their feathers grow back and, by mid-September they’ll be back to their beautiful, noisy selves again; just another wildlife oddity that is worth noting.
The most interesting event I observed this week had to do with my local flock of goldfinches. They are always around the feeders and seem content to pick sunflower seeds off the ground, from the porch railing or at the feeders themselves, but I noticed a distinct lack of activity of late and wondered if they had gone off to find better forage.
During one of my late afternoon tea breaks, however, I figured out what was going on. It actually took me a while to make the connection but eventually the birds gave themselves away.
I like to plant a couple of rows of sunflowers around the edge of my garden just because I like to see their big, happy flowers bobbing in the breeze. The blooms are at their peak right now so the garden seems to be alive with yellow-rimmed flowers, all facing the sun and floating gracefully on the wind.
Gazing as I often do into the middle distance, I noticed an awful lot of yellow petals falling to the ground. “Too early for that,” I thought, and brought out the binoculars for a closer look. I was amazed to see dozens of goldfinches in the sunflowers, each one perched atop a bloom and carefully plucking the bright-colored ray flowers from the bloom. Next, the bird would reach down and pull the center of the flower apart, apparently eating the disk flowers but ignoring the immature seeds. By mid-evening the birds are plucked clean over a dozen flowers; nothing left but the flower head and its burden of seeds, which are not quite ripe enough for the birds to eat.
Working silently and diligently, the birds had picked several dozen sunflowers apart in this manner by the end of the week.
Apparently the disk flowers (the brown part) were the birds’ preferred target. I’m sure that when the seeds ripen they’ll be back to finish them off, which may explain why the goldfinches have been spending less time at the feeders. That’s what I love about nature - there’s something new to learn every day!