And just like that April is behind us. No longer any need to look for subtle signs of spring – the evidence is all around us. While having my pre-dawn cup of tea on the back deck I watched as phoebes, robins and swallows worked on their nest-building projects, and just after sunrise the first loon of the season flew over, yodeling its way between ponds that are now, thankfully, free of ice.
My strawberries, roses and fruit trees are hard at work budding and leafing, and all is glowing green in the fields and pastures. I have heard rumors of black flies already swarming around camps on local lakes and ponds but back here in the woods I’ve yet to see the first insect of any sort. There are a few leftover stink bugs and moths hiding in the wood shed but they are no cause for alarm. They’ll spend the rest of the growing year right there with little impact on my daily comings and goings.
I did see what looked like the start of a tent caterpillar community in one of the cherry trees in the yard but a few squirts of hornet spray usually eliminates them with little fanfare. I’m sure I’ll have to reapply the treatment over the summer but at least I know there’s a cure for these gluttonous pests. Not many folks know that hornet spray works on tent caterpillars, and I was one of them till one very slow day when I actually read the product label. This stuff will send a stream of foam 20 feet in the air, which is good enough to reach most of the striped offenders. I avoid using chemicals as repellents as much as possible but sometimes it’s necessary to bring out the big guns, especially where tent caterpillars and hornets are concerned.
I am quite saddened to report that I have not heard even one woodcock this spring. Normally the field and hillside harbors four or five of the twittering longbeaks, but not one showed up this year. I certainly hope that this is a localized event and not a regional trend. Woodcock have been on the decline for decades but this is the only spring since the 1950s that I have not heard their peculiar “peent” call on a spring evening.
The regular crowd of critters has been seen, heard or left evidence of their presence including deer, raccoons, foxes, skunks, squirrels, chipmunks, turkeys and the usual gang of songbirds. The suet and seed feeders have been under attack all winter and there’s no sign of a slowdown among the furred and feathers visitors that begin showing up at dawn for their share of the provender. The mourning doves begin the day before dawn and close the curtain at dusk, with a great variety of birds large and small making their appearance throughout the day.
Each year I have upwards of 50 wild turkeys come and go during the day, and lately the big toms and gurgling jakes have been quite vocal even during the hours of darkness. The surprising thing about all this is that when the spring turkey-hunting season opens (today, in fact), the birds will not only disappear but they will not come back to the sunflower pile till late summer. How they know that it is turkey season is beyond me, but every year the game is the same. They literally crowd into my back yard every day all winter and spring, but come opening day there is not a bird to be seen or heard.
I don’t bother the turkeys and have not shot one on this property for nearly 10 years, preferring to do my turkey hunting elsewhere, yet they shy away from open spaces and conduct their business in silence all through the hunting season, which runs at invervals before ending June 3. I don’t have any trouble finding my limit of two turkeys on “wild land” where I prefer to hunt them, but the local flock essentially vanishes from sight.
This is not the end of the world, of course, because running concurrently with the spring turkey season is the fishing season. Now that we can hunt turkeys from sunrise to sunset the sensible thing to do is carry a small pack rod and a few worms in my turkey vest. When “running and gunning” for turkeys it’s all but assured that the hunter will come across a small stream, beaver flowage or pond where trout can be caught from shore. I often come home with more trout in my pocket than turkey but I still consider it a productive day. On a few occasions over the years I’ve gotten my limit of turkey and trout in the same morning, which is a pretty good way to end the day. Certain zones in southern Maine allow the taking of two bearded turkeys, which only adds to the fun. Two big toms and a limit of trout can be a heavy load, especially when the hunt takes one miles back into the woods.
This being May I have to be careful not to spend all my time chasing turkeys and trout. Sometime during the month I’ll have to get to work on the marigolds and morning glories I like to scatter in pots around the house. Of course, there’s also the garden itself, where I try to plant as much “grazing” produce as I can find. I freeze some vegetables but mostly I like to wander around the garden and eat fruits and vegetables right off the vine. I plant varieties that grow fast and furiously. I do my best to glean the cream of the crop every day and keep watering and fertilizing till the season is over. If I time it right and plant according to schedule I’ll have a continuous supply of fresh vegetables right through September.
But, I’m getting way ahead of myself. It just turned May and there is much planning and work to do. I hope I find the time for industrious pursuits between turkey hunts and trout trips!