Following several more days of rainy, overcast weather (as I began my column last week), things are finally starting to shape up in the outdoor world. Birds are nesting in every box, crack and crevice they can find, busily building and laying eggs despite the pervasive wet weather. In the past week I’ve seen blue birds, swallows, phoebes, nuthatches and sparrows hard at work on their nesting chores. At this point all nests are done and the females are stoically sitting on their eggs. The back-door robin, whose nest was finished a week ago, is still patiently waiting for her brood to hatch. I can see her lying nearly flat in the nest, only her eyes and beak visible from the back door, and every time I look out she’s there, ignoring the pestering blue jays and allowing no wind or rain to reach her clutch of incubating eggs.
I also have two nests of phoebes inside the wood shed, one on each end, where the birds decided to set up housekeeping on top of conveniently-located light figures. We’re at the point now where they don’t even fly off when I go in to grab another armful of wood (it’s still cold enough for a fire in the evening).
The wild turkeys have been active thus far in May although the opening of the spring turkey season has caused them to change their behavior somewhat. I don’t hunt them on my property because I feed them all year, but other hunters are allowed to pursue them as long as they stay well away from the buildings and feeding areas. Thus far two birds have been taken, a big tom and a small jake, but already I’ve seen that the remaining birds are more suspicious and alert than usual. Now, they only come in at first light and again just before dark. It’s almost as if they are watching for the arrival of hunters in their trucks and 4-wheelers. As soon as the human activity ramps up the turkeys vamoose. I hunt turkeys elsewhere in the county simply because I don’t want to kill “my” birds, but it is hunting season and any bearded turkey is a potential dinner for hunters with the proper license and permits. There are plenty of turkeys around and they are very difficult to hunt, so I’m not worried about the overall population. There will be more big toms, jakes and hens running around next year. I had as many as 50 birds in my yard all winter and so far only two have been tagged – that’s probably less than normal mortality from predators, weather, disease and vehicle collisions. In fact, I know that at least three turkeys have been hit by cars in my area this spring, which means drivers are killing more birds than hunters!
The incessant rains have not bothered the turkeys overmuch but my several attempts at trout fishing have been a bust because of high, murky water. We’re long past the “leaves as big as a mouse’s ear” mantra and still I haven’t been able to get a trout to bite, not even in the brooks where, last year, I’d already taken several limits of brook trout by this time. In some places the water is so high it’s over the banks, and the streams are running so fast and dark that it’s impossible to get a hook-and-worm anywhere near the bottom. It’s only a matter of time, of course, but it seems that this year more than ever we’re all anxious to get the season going.
I had expected the fishing to be better this month because on the one or two days when it hit 70 the black flies came out in force albeit just swarming, not biting. I’ve noticed that the trout bite just as enthusiastically as the black flies right around the same time frame, so I’m almost hoping that the vicious little blood-suckers will get moving so I can put some fresh brookies in the pan.
I had mentioned earlier this spring that, for the first time in over 50 years, I have not heard any woodcock. Well, now we’re well into May and I have not heard the first ruffed grouse drumming in the woods, either. This, too, has been a common sign of spring and another element that has been noticeably absent this year. Grouse will “drum” periodically year-round but they are most active in spring, when the males hop up onto a log or rock and beat their wings to create that distinct drumming sound that bird hunters and biologists long to hear. In fact, “drumming counts” are an important part of the state’s management plan. In years where lots of drumming is heard and brood observations are high the hunting is usually good, too, but in most of the state grouse numbers are at their lowest point in decades, which is not good news for hunters or grouse. When the rains end I’ll resume my daily hikes and hope that I start hearing more drumming as warmer weather takes hold.
I’ve not heard as much fanfare over ice-out this year but as the lakes and ponds clear there should be some good fishing for trout, salmon, bass and pickerel. My usual routine is to fish for brook trout early, then go for salmon in late May and switch to bass in mid-June. These are the traditional peak times for these species but the way spring has dragged its feet we may be weeks off in timing. If the sun ever decides to come out and stay it may hit us all at once – trout, salmon and black flies will be biting, bass will be jumping and grouse will be drumming. At that point I’ll be able to get my garden planted and all will be bliss once more.
It’s a blessing that the cold and snow has finally ended but now the growing season needs to shift into high gear. Enough with the rain, already!