The majority of my human neighbors were taken aback by the onslaught of snow, wind and rain that pestered the state of Maine over the last week or so. However, my wild friends seemed undaunted by the unwelcome weather events. In fact, on the day of the biggest storm, when more than 15 inches of snow fell over most of the state, my back field had more than 50 robins in it, all bobbing along and having a great time looking for worms in the slowly thawing earth. For the heck of it I went out with my garden fork and turned over a few clumps where, lo and behold, I found several nice, fat garden worms in the muck. Granted, the worms were none too lively and made no effort to escape, but I’d think those were positive signs for a hungry March robin.
The local turkey population also seemed unfettered by the heavy, wet snow, although they showed a decided preference for flying over it rather than walking through it. I know it’s aggravating to me when I fall through the snow every three or four steps and I noticed that the biggest turkeys weren’t fond of doing so; the majority of birds flew rather than walked across the field but otherwise did not appear handicapped by the initial snowfall.
Within two days half of the snow was gone thanks to temperatures in the 40s and plenty of bright sunshine. In fact, my roof cleared itself through constant dripping, saving me a trip up the ladder with a shovel. By Day Three the roof and back deck were clear and once again my daffodils and crocuses were poking up out of the snow piled nearest the foundation.
I kept on feeding the birds during the stormy weather and noticed that the bluebirds, blackbirds and juncos seemed unfazed by all the fresh snow. I keep a spot cleared out for them year-round so they know there will be easy pickings and gleanings no matter what the weather. The blue jays will wait in the trees overhead, screaming their impatience, while the turkeys come in and peck on my porch steps till I show up with buckets full of corn and sunflower seeds. I either have them trained or it’s the opposite – I can’t really say. I respond to them and they respond to me although I’m not completely sure in which order.
We set the clocks ahead last week but I have not observed any great changes in critter behavior as a result. The deer and turkeys come in just before dark, no matter what time it is, and at dawn the doves and chickadees are already hard at work at the feeders. Dawn and dusk, I think, are more important to wildlife rather than what time it is; at least that’s how it seems in my back yard. It’s well known that birds and animals respond to changes in daylight rather than temperature and as far as I know none of them wear watches, so time is of little concern to them. Indeed, as an experiment in college years ago we took a snowshoe hare (in summer phase) and put him in a black box for several hours per day and, within a week or so, his fur had turned white. It was once thought that cold temperatures caused the change in hare coloration but that theory was debunked decades ago.
I suspect that my local flock of bluebirds has also been reacting to the increase in daylight. At the moment all of the six nesting boxes I have at the edge of the pasture show signs of nest building by bluebirds. Over the course of the day I’ll see them coming and going with strands of hay, string or twigs protruding from their beaks. A quick in-and-out and they are back to gleaning nesting materials from the surrounding area. I am not going to suggest that egg-laying has begun but I suspect that the mating process will begin shortly after the nests are completed. After all, April is only two weeks away.
In shoveling trails and paths around the house I’ve noticed that the mice and squirrels have been busy tunneling back and forth from the trees and stone walls to the seed supply. As the snow melts it is easy to see the spider’s-web of trails radiating away from the food piles.
I have to believe that much of this tunneling activity goes on at night because I have not seen any sign of these rodents moving about above the snow. With hawks and owls moving in and lingering longer of late it’s no wonder these small mammals want to make themselves scarce. Every so often while walking my winter trails I’ll see the tell-tale signs of an avian predator’s attack – wing marks in the snow and an abrupt end to a hapless rodent’s meandering path.
Perhaps one of the most telling signs of winter’s demise is that my mated pair of mallard ducks has returned once again to the seasonal wetland in the back yard. Each year a low spot in the field fills up with runoff and provides the ducks with a place to swim, loaf and dabble while they wait for more appealing nesting conditions to develop.
I’m guessing that these are “my” ducks because they flew in and landed while I was having tea on the back deck. I gave them my best muttering mallard impersonation and they waddled right over and began to fill up on the cracked corn I’ve been putting out for the deer. We’ve played this game for several years and now and apparently they remembered me from last spring. The ducks became so accustomed to me last year that I was able to run the power mower to within a few feet of them before they’d shuffle back to the pond.
If the mallards are back in town spring can’t be far off – spring blizzards notwithstanding!