It’s interesting how we have decided upon the 21st day of April to be the first day of spring; the 21st of June to be the first day of summer and the 21st of December to be the first day of winter, but there is no applause for the 21st day of May, which may well be the day all of us look forward to each year. While April 21 wins spring honors based on the rules of meteorology, it seems to me that real spring strikes a month later, when all is suddenly green, warm and balmy, and there is no longer any threats of snow, frost or other winter discomforts.
All of this struck me recently while I was balancing precariously on a floating log across a trout stream that, at last, was not only producing trout on every cast but fiddleheads enough to make a satisfying shore lunch. Leaves were popping out everywhere, the dreaded black flies were making their presence known and the woods were filled with the sights and sounds of song birds.
By 10 a.m. I no longer needed my flannel shirt, it was that warm even in the woods, and by noontime I was ready for a water break. I’d been fishing downstream behind a pair of mallards that did not seem to mind my presence as long as I kept my distance, and their gentle paddling didn’t seem to bother the trout, either. In less than two hours I’d caught my limit of five brookies and had carefully released a dozen more under-sized fish, hoping they would be on hand next time I decided to have a feed of trout and fiddleheads.
I guess the feeling was that we’re no longer waiting for something because that something we were waiting for had arrived. By May 21 the grass is green, the water is warm and the bugs are out; it’s as official as it can get without a government decree.
En route to my favorite trout stream I saw ground hogs sitting up on distant knolls, wild turkeys strutting in the open fields and a variety of soaring birds on every new vista. Turkey vultures, hawks, eagles, ravens, crows and many others are common sights by mid-May, as are blue herons and ospreys. Small ponds in the area feature green herons, mergansers and cormorants, all busily feeding on abundant fish population, and each morning now I hear the calls of loons flying by just before sunrise. These big birds are easy to see as they labor across the sky just above the tree tops yodeling loudly as they go by. I’m not sure what makes the loons take wing at nearly the same hour every day but it goes on all summer long and doesn’t end till September, when the loons head back south to wherever they spend their winters. They’re here now, however, and that’s all that matters.
I don’t know why but it seems that by May 21 all of the usual players have made their presence known. In the last few days my hummingbird feeders have been buzzing with activity (mostly fighting over territorial rights), and only recently have I seen Baltimore orioles, indigo buntings, rose-breasted grosbeaks and killdeer in and around the homestead. Ducks and geese in great numbers have arrived as well, and warblers large and small have been seen in the oaks and maples, showing up almost to the day when the leaves began to appear on those same trees.
This year all of my bird houses are full. Nuthatches moved in first followed by phoebes and then bluebirds and swallows. The cowbirds have done their best to the cozy homes of the more preferred species but so far the smaller birds have prevailed. I won’t disturb the nest boxes to see whose eggs are most prevalent, but I’m sure a few cowbirds will be “adopted” by unsuspecting parents. When it’s nature’s way I try not to intervene, and cowbirds do have their ecological niche, so its winner take all at this point.
The turkeys, it seems, have finished their mating process and the hens are now busy tending their nests. I do hear the occasional gobble at dawn and throughout the day but the most hectic period ended sometime back in March. As early as February I saw toms strutting and gobbling while hens sat for them in the knee-deep snow, and this behavior continued through most of March and early April. Now all is quiet on the ridge and the only turkeys I see are the lone hens and toms that come in, one by one, in late afternoon to feed before they head for their evening roosts.
I doubt that calendar days matter as much to deer but, by May 21 I begin seeing the first velvety nubs on the bucks’ foreheads, as sure a sign of summer as any. I know and recognize some of the local whitetails and am encouraged by their on-time antler growth. There are two of last year’s 10-pointers that should be serious trophies in 2018, plus there’s a good population of younger bucks that won’t be considered trophy class for three or four years. For now, however, it’s good to see them running around the pasture healthy, fat and frisky, without a care in the world.
Still missing in action are the woodcock, which I fear have sought greener pastures in the last two years because I have not seen or heard one in all that time. Years ago I’d have anywhere from two to five woodcock in the yard but for some reason they’ve stopped coming.
My backyard mammal population is booming now as well. In early May I had raccoons, skunks, opossums, flying squirrels and chipmunks galore showing up on my night cameras, and visits from gray foxes, porcupines and weasels have also increased dramatically in the past few weeks.
From the looks of things I’ll be mowing and weed-whacking by May 21 as well, leaving little doubt that summer is finally upon us!