We’ve finally passed the halfway mark in the year, that critical “Day 21” that keeps us all going from season to season. Now it is “officially” summer; recent temperatures in or near the 90s leave little doubt about that.
Mainers are fortunate in having cooler nights despite the daytime’s heat and humidity. I’ve noticed that if I plan things properly (open the windows and get some cross-ventilation going) I can avoid running the power-sucking air conditioner, which, at peak times, can double my monthly electric bill. There will be days when the raging dew points give me no other choice, but I try to avoid turning on “The Beast” until the sweat is running down between my shoulder blades.
There are, luckily, other signs of summer that are more appealing and certainly more interesting. My small collection of climbing roses are in full bloom now, giving me a nice selection of red, pink, yellow and bright orange flowers to admire as I have my morning tea on the deck. I had heard that raising roses could be a chore but so far all I do is water them daily and cut them back once a year (usually in the fall) to keep the budless suckers at bay. I give the plants a good dose of Miracle Grow two or three times during the summer and that’s about it. They grow, I watch – it’s a great partnership.
I normally have a dozen or so wild turkeys in the yard visiting my feeders at dawn and near dusk every day, the majority of them being hens. It wasn’t till a week ago that I spotted the first poults of the year, only four little ones chasing their mother through the just-mown field. Turkeys generally lay a dozen eggs and most chicks survive at least the first week, so this hen was not having much luck raising her brood. There are predators galore out there ranging from hawks and owls to foxes, bobcats, raccoons, weasels and even shrews, which can kill a turkey chick just days out of the nest.
I have seen other hens with chicks elsewhere in my travels and most have anywhere from eight to 10 poults in tow, so I think “my” hen is a new mother and hasn’t yet how to avoid excessive nestling mortality. She will get better at it in time.
On a recent woods walk I found several broods of grouse over a three-mile span, which is fantastic news considering that in the past several years I’ve found few, or none, in my travels. About 10 years ago a neighboring landowner clear-cut his property when the trees were at maximum growth and there were no partridges to be found. After the third year of regeneration I began to notice evidence of grouse here and there, and just this week I saw four broods containing at least eight chicks each in the first mile. The key and the difference is in improved habitat – grouse thrive in early-successional growth, roughly 10 to 15 years after a parcel is cleared. For now the birds will continue to increase in numbers until the climax forest gradually shades out the undergrowth leaving the birds nothing to eat and nowhere to hide. ‘Round and ‘round it goes!
At this time of year most of the wildlife activity takes place near water sources. I am fortunate to have several vernal pools in my area that are filled with water year-round, providing birds and animals with a comfortable sanctuary no matter how hot or humid it may get.
I checked on several of the pools this week and found mallard ducks, blue herons, assorted frogs and turtles, evidence of muskrats, mink and raccoons, deer and fox tracks and what looked to be coyote tracks as well. One pool had a set of moose tracks in the shoreline mud, which is the first moose sign I’ve seen nearby in quite a while.
Songbirds, of course, are always more plentiful around wetland areas. There is water enough in these vernal pools to keep kingfishers happy; there always seems to be a pair of these noisy chatterboxes at every pool. I planned my hike for early in the day so I was able to view wrens, chickadees, nuthatches, cardinals, blackbirds, grackles and several species of warblers in the brushy saplings surrounding the pool. Doves, of course, cooed contentedly from the tree tops and of course there had to be a lone red-tailed hawk sailing overhead letting his presence be known.
I checked closely for deer tracks in the mud, hoping to spot the tiny indentations made by one of this spring’s fawns but so far the sign is all the result of adult and yearling activity. Soon this year’s crop of fawns will be out and about but, as we discussed last week, don’t approach, touch or attempt to “rescue” them. The doe is nearby and may not return for several hours. She must eat 10 pounds of browse per day to keep herself fed and all that nibbling takes time. Few healthy wild mothers will abandon their young. They have a job to do and they know how to do it. Don’t interfere!
Because it has been so cool and dry of late I decided to paddle along a local beaver flowage to see what new developments I could find. For one thing, the flowage was blocked in several places by trees the beavers had gnawed, which bodes well for the future of beavers. While struggling across one huge oak I jumped a family of wood ducks, which swam rather then flew into the flooded brush.
In one familiar spot I stopped for a water break and waited for the “morning show” to begin. Sure enough, just around 8 a.m. a group of otters appeared and spent about 20 minutes slipping, sliding, dipping and diving along the muddy bank. I’ve seen this bunch before and always try to meet up with them for a quick visit. I don’t see them every time I go out but when I do it’s quite entertaining. I think if the Buddhists are right and reincarnation is “a thing” I’d like to come back as an otter. No other animal seems to have as much fun!