Although it won’t “officially” be summer for another two weeks (one of those magical 21st days of the month) it’s apparent that the wild things, plants and trees and local farmers are getting antsy about the whole thing. For example, I have noticed several farm fields where the year’s first cutting of hay has already been baled and stacked, weeks earlier than usual. Despite the noticeable lack of rain during the month of May (something like three inches below normal) the grass is tall and lush, so thick in fact that I had to suspend woodchuck hunting operations till the hay was cut. It’s not easy to pick out a feeding ground hog 200 yards away when the grass is three feet high.
It seems that every year there’s something significantly different going on among the wild critters and this year, for me at least, it’s been the noticeable increase in grouse broods that I have seen in my daily travels. While it is not uncommon to spot grouse families feeding along grassy logging trails or crossing busy highways, in the last two weeks that’s about all I have seen – grouse here, grouse there, grouse everywhere. One brood contained at least 10 chicks that were about half the size of a chickadee, yet they ran speedily across the road in front of me like miniature Leghorns. Other broods were significantly smaller, in one case just three young grouse was all I could see, nothing more than balls of fluff disappearing into the roadside ditch along with their watchful hen.
Following several years of reduced or zero grouse sightings this is great news. Decades ago it was nothing to see a dozen or more grouse per day in November, but in recent years I can recall seeing exactly one grouse while I was deer hunting. There has been some clear-cutting going on in various areas which may have some impact on local grouse numbers; like most of our other birds and animals grouse thrive in early-successional habitat. By the time a forest matures the underbrush is shaded out and disappears along with grouse, rabbits and other upland species. For more game anything in the forest over 3 inches in diameter at breast height should be cut. Good luck passing a law on that!
Another noticeable change this year is the number of Canada geese I have seen in grassy fields near lakes, ponds and rivers. I know that in recent years geese have been trapped and transferred in many places due to an over-population issue, especially on small ponds and lakes where, nowadays, humans outnumber geese by a wide margin. Biologists have been removing geese from some waters to reduce conflicts with landowners and the difference was easily discerned once the birds were taken away. Now, however, it appears that resident flocks are back in action on waters where they haven’t been seen in some time; filling a niche, as it were.
I have also seen more than a few whitetail fawns on my early-morning hikes. I don’t know how severe the past winter was but it’s evident that the healthiest does made it through in fine shape. Most of the fawns I spotted were individuals but a few days ago I got a glimpse of twin fawns that were hiding behind their mother in some tall grass beside the trail. We all stopped to observe and consider each other for a moment, and then the deer went their way and I went mine.
I’ve already heard about several “rescued” fawns that well-intentioned folks have mistaken as abandoned or lost. This sort of thing happens every year and it’s nearly always to the detriment of the young deer. The old mantra, “Leave Them Alone,” rings true in 2018. A doe may leave her fawn alone for several hours, even days, but never doubt that she is nearby and keeping an eye on her offspring. Sneak close for a quick look if you must but then back up, back off and leave the animal where you found it. Deer have been fending for themselves for thousands of years and will continue to do just fine without the help of misguided intruders. Whitetail mothers know what they are doing – leave them alone and let them do it as they have for countless generations.
This goes for baby birds, ducklings, turtles and pretty much anything that doesn’t wear a collar and have to be registered with the town. If I had a nickel for every baby bird, rabbit, squirrel or chipmunk that someone “rescued” I’d be able to fill a barrel with them. I have met many folks who have made some effort to rescue a young wild animal or bird and in nearly every case the poor critter ended up dead as a result. Humans make poor substitutes for wild parents, good intentions notwithstanding. Heed the warnings from wildlife experts and leave young wildlife alone.
When I get the urge to observe wildlife up close and personal I like to launch my canoe or kayak into a secluded pond and paddle slowly along the shore to see what I can see. By now there are baby loons, ducks, geese and various shorebirds to be found among the weeds in shallow water. Most of these will allow furtive paddlers to approach within a few feet before splashing away.
With summer fast approaching it’s possible to see a good variety of frogs, turtles, snakes and water animals such as beavers, muskrats, otters and mink. One of my favorite kayaking hotspots is nothing more than a series of small, floating islands in a vast quaking bog. In some spots there is barely room enough to squeeze my kayak through the vegetation but it’s worth the effort because the place is filled with water birds of all kinds, songbirds, eagles, ospreys, kingfishers and herons.
I paddle in and then sit quietly for a while, watching as the bog comes alive with wildlife in, on and above the water. They put on quite a show, one you don’t want to miss!