In anticipation of last week’s “inclement weather,” I took advantage of the previous few warm spring days to start getting my firewood in. I consider myself lazy nowadays compared to when I’d cut my own trees with a bucksaw, split it with an axe and pile it on the front porch. Granted, I was in my 20s and stronger than I was smarter, and I actually enjoyed spending part of my day as Daniel Boone or Davy Crockett might have two hundred years ago.
Now, I’m not quite as enamored with wearing myself out with saw and axe. Instead, I have my wood delivered, cut and split, so all I have to do is get it into the shed and under cover – a job in itself considering that I have to pick up five or six sticks and carry it 20 feet to the shed, take one step up and stack it about 10 feet from the door.
Thanks to my years of working in factories I try to calculate how many steps it takes to fill the shed, how many sticks of wood I bring in and how many armloads it takes to make a cord . . . the usual inane calculations that used to fascinate me as a worker, a foreman and as a quality control tech. None of this changes the fact that I have to pick up every stick of wood and pile it, and then next fall pick up every stick of wood and bring it into the house and over to the stove. One job at a time!
Anyway, bringing in the wood is a project of its own, but while I was moving the wood from outside to inside I had a feeling I was being watched. When I came back out the shed door there stood my two mallard ducks, a male and female, not 10 feet from me. These are wild birds that show up every spring to feed on the “free” cracked corn I put under the feeders for doves, blue jays and squirrels. But, the ducks were well away from the corn and all but standing on the wood, watching me go back and forth with great effort.
I took a seat on an upended quarter of oak and stared back at the ducks, which by this time were nearly close enough to touch. We had a short conversation (in duck, of course) and then they turned and waddled off to the seed pile, apparently satisfied that whatever I was doing was much less fun than stuffing their gizzards with cracked corn.
I’ve noticed, too, that a many of the spring birds have begun to tolerate my comings and goings. Putting in wood takes about a week if I don’t dawdle (fat chance of that!), and in that time I’ll be surrounded by 50 or more goldfinches, a few doves, some bluebirds, phoebes and chickadees, all of which seem curious but undisturbed at my presence.
The only birds that seem to distrust me are the crows and ravens, which are bigger and perhaps wiser because, in the end, all they have is their instincts. It is probably not good policy to trust humans because we are a fickle species, as inclined to feed as we are to kill, and I think the larger critters are well aware of our unpredictable nature.
Lately the deer have been coming in well before sunset, which is a major change from their winter habits. I was lucky to see a winter whitetail even though they came in every night and cleaned out the seed pile. My trail cam images show as many as 10 deer at a time in the yard but come morning all I’d see were their trails and tracks.
When the deer appear in the late evening they show up with all systems on high alert, standing on tip-toes with their ears and eyes focused on my back windows. If I move toward the glass they all go bounding away, returning well after darkness falls.
Since “spring” sprung a month or so ago I have not seen a single wild turkey and, sadly, another week has gone by in which I have not heard a woodcock singing. At this point in the game (late April) the odds are that these curious birds will not be coming back to their traditional home grounds. I have not seen a woodcock anywhere in the vicinity for two years in a row now, which is disheartening to me as I have observed these birds annually in spring for over 60 years.
Not to make up for the vacant woodcock but this week I have been inundated with flickers, literally flocks of them, a sight I have not seen in all my years of bird-watching. What’s even more interesting is that all those flickers have made it a habit to work my lawn, side by side, poking here and there for (I hope) grubs, ideally Japanese beetle larvae, as well as worms and other protein-rich prey. On one occasion I saw a group of six flickers, side by side, moving slowly across the lawn, pecking and poking for all they were worth while I sat on a raised bed admiring my sprouting strawberry plants.
Flickers are actually one of our most colorful birds with black spots all over plus a black breast, red stripe and “blue” neck. Its flight feathers feature a bright yellow shaft that is unique among birds. It is our only “brown” woodpecker and loves to bang out a happy tune on a select piece of rotten wood high in the canopy. Its song is an enthusiastically loud “Yuk, yuk, yuk,” which can be heard for over a mile on a quiet spring morning.
Who needs an alarm clock when there are flickers singing in the woods at dawn!