Following several days of rain, mist and otherwise cloudy, cool weather it appears that we are in for a spate of sunshine and warmer temperatures. This is good news on many fronts and is most noticeable in the greening of open fields and pastures. Already the leaves on the poplar trees are big (or bigger) than a mouse’s ear, which means it’s time to go brook fishing. In addition, the appearance of hornets, mosquitoes and black flies suggest that the busy time of year is close upon us.
I enjoyed some interesting wildlife sightings this week, highlighted by the arrival of a flock of mallard ducks that flew into the back yard every morning for several days. There is no water here, and other than separate piles of sunflower seeds and cracked corn there is nothing to attract ducks to this location, but there they were. The turkeys were just as amazed and curious as I was to see puddle ducks where there are no puddles. I was able to get several pictures of the ducks and turkeys feeding side by side, a “jakes and drakes” scenario that one does not see every day.
Also, earlier in the week I heard the first loon of the season fly over, yodeling for all he was worth. Most of the ponds in my area are free of ice and open for business, with blue herons, ospreys and kingfishers already settled in for the season.
In recent days I’ve seen Baltimore orioles, rose-breasted grosbeaks, cowbirds, red-tailed hawks and the usual complement of robins bobbing around on the lawn. This all seems somewhat premature because the leaves have not yet come out on the maples, oaks and birches. The background is still essentially a winter scene, all dull, brown and gray, but no one, it seems, is waiting any longer. In fact, I noticed that a robin had built a nest in the fork of a tall maple just outside my kitchen window, and already the blue jays are pestering the female in hopes of driving her off and eating her eggs. Those pretty blue scavengers are relentless and I have a feeling the robin will have to re-nest before long, but such is life outside our windows.
Meanwhile, the mini orchard is coming along surprisingly well (and early). The pear trees have blossomed and the plum trees are days ahead of them. I am hoping for a bumper crop of fruit this year, all in time for me to enjoy the harvest while I’m out deer hunting this fall.
It also looks like I’ll have plenty of strawberries to graze on this summer. All 100 of the new plants I put in have grown several inches already, and if this year is anything like 2016 I should be able to glean a quart of berries every day for several weeks. While mine are not necessarily ever-bearing they provide a continuous flow of berries well into September. I freeze some but eat most on site, which is a big part of the fun of gardening.
Because it’s been cold, rainy and overcast for much of the last month or so I’ve decided not to plant anything fragile until May 10 or so, when it’s all but assured that there will be no more frost. Last year I was too hasty with the cucumbers and none of the first planting came up. I expected the worst but hoped for the best. I ended up replanting several hills that, once warmer weather came in, grew very nicely. Patience is definitely a virtue for any backyard farmer.
This spring has been unique for me in one very noticeable way. I have been traveling the Maine Turnpike since it was built in 1965 and I always looked for deer on the side of the road and have never seen one! I have been on I-95 at all hours of the day from Kittery to Fort Kent and have never seen anything other than porcupines or road-killed raccoons. Well, all that changed this week when I made a trip to the VA hospital in Augusta. Along the way I saw four deer on the northbound side and three more on the southbound side – the very first time I’ve seen a deer on that highway in over 50 years. I don’t know why I have no luck spotting critters along the highway but hopefully the dry spell is over. I’d hate to estimate how many miles of empty interstate I’ve scanned over the decades but I’m sure it’s many thousands. Other people see deer, bears, moose and other wildlife but this was my first highway whitetail sighting ever.
They say that timing is everything and I think that may be true. I won’t be planting any garden seeds for another week, which means I can go trout fishing every day if I want to. I was raking leaves around the rose bushes the other day and found dozens of nice, fat garden worms underneath, which I put into a pot of peat moss in anticipation of my first trip to the local trout stream.
It may be a tad early to start brook fishing but, as I mentioned, the leaves on the poplars are big enough to signal the start of spring fishing and so far they’ve never been wrong. I’ve tried fishing earlier just because the season was open and the water seemed right, but I’ve found that the best trouting comes when those leaves pop out and the black flies begin to bite. You can stretch it, amend it, twist it or turn it but those fat brookies ultimately decide when they are going to start feeding in earnest and there’s nothing the angler can do but wait and hope.
Speaking of timing, if I head out at the right moment I should be able to combine fresh-caught trout with a steaming bowl of fiddleheads. That’s about as Maine as it gets in spring!