Click Here To Learn More About Steve Carpenteri
It’s truly amazing how quickly winter turns to spring once the climatic powers that be decide it’s time. Of course, nothing we humans say or do has any effect on the process but it’s safe to say that spring has the most enthusiastic cheering section of all the seasons. We can’t wait for balmier times to arrive and it’s obvious that we aren’t the only ones.
There is good and bad news about spring and I may as well get the bad news out of the way first. While sitting on my deck one evening, listening to the turkeys gobbling on their roost and the robins offering their last whistling notes for the day I heard the unmistakable, ominous drone of the year’s first mosquito. Great! This means the great spring black fly invasion is not far off as well. No one I know hopes and prays for an early biting insect season but they show up anyway, much earlier than necessary. We’ll be swatting and cursing at them till late September, even early October. There always has to be a “fly” in the ointment, as the saying goes.
On the positive side, I can find reason to be glad the bugs are out because that means the phoebes, bats, swallows, ovenbirds and assorted other insect eaters will be right behind them. Not everyone is fond of bats in the back yard but I love to see them diving and swooping in the twilight. For one thing, Maine’s bat population has been decimated by “white nose” disease, so anyone who has a few bats in the attic should feel fortunate. It’s said that bats eat their own weight in insects every day, which is a whole lot of bugs if you’ve ever taken the time to catch and weigh a handful of them. There’s not much to a mosquito, but apparently bats and birds find them appealing.
The same goes for frogs, trout and other water dwellers, including dragon flies, which love to zoom around over standing water all day and devour mosquitos and black flies. Oddly enough, bare gravel seems to attract dragon flies, too, or perhaps the moist gravel attracts biting insects which then attract winged predators, but the end game is the same. I take great joy in watching squadrons of dragon flies dip and dive through the air catching and eating their prey on the wing. When it’s quiet enough I can actually hear them munching away on their victims. It’s not easy to feel sorry for a mosquito – there’s not a lot to like about them and black flies are even worse. Alas, there are zillions more mosquitos out there than there are creatures that eat them, but they certainly give it a try.
Speaking of bug eaters, just a few days ago my local vernal pool lit up with the sound of spring peepers, tiny frogs that sing the joys of spring in what has to be the worst vocalizations known to nature. I wouldn’t necessarily call it “singing,” but they seem happy to be free of the mud and ice where they’ve spent the long, cold winter. I get a kick out of slamming a door or window in the middle of their evening serenade; they all stop singing for a moment to assess the level of danger (none), and then, one by one, they start back in again, a stereophonic cacophony of chirps, burps and cheeps that gradually build into a deafening celebration of spring.
There are more interesting noises one may hear only during the short springtime period. One morning I woke up to a peculiar purring sound that made me think one of the neighbors’ cats was resting on the porch. When I looked out the window I saw three gray squirrels sitting about a foot apart, each one purring a warning to the other. It’s not a loud sound, nor do they utter it repeatedly or frequently, but it’s definitely unique and interesting. I have observed and interacted with squirrels for decades and have rarely heard that sound, but it’s most common in spring.
Another interesting noise I’ve been hearing lately is a peculiar growl that’s made by blue jays as they come in to the feeding station. I hear it only when they swoop into the big maple in the yard and pause to look things over before nose-diving into the pile of sunflower seeds. It’s well known that blue jays are excellent mimics – I’ve mentioned here before about one jay I know that imitates the sound of a hawk to drive other birds and squirrels away from the feeders just so he can have all the seed to himself. I’ve seen him do this dozens of times – same routine, same results – and I have to believe he knows what he’s doing. So far that’s the only animal I’ve ever seen that imitates the sound of another to achieve a specific goal. Mimicry is common in the bird world but mimicry to gain power and control? That’s rare. Clever bird!
As proof that we’re not the only ones who are impatient to get our spring plans started it’s only been in the last few days that the ice has started to melt on lakes, ponds and rivers in our area. Just as quickly the birds that use these waterways for survival have appeared, practically the same day as the ice goes out. Just recently I’ve spotted mallard ducks, hooded mergansers, wood ducks, ospreys, goldeneyes and ruddy ducks on local waterways, and I saw a great blue heron fly by as well, croaking for all he was worth. I did not see him land in the water but being that herons are wetland predators there’s little doubt that he’s standing ankle-deep in frigid spring runoff somewhere out there.
I’ve also noticed ducks and geese resting near temporary ponds in open fields and pastures where, in a few weeks, those same wet spots will be bone dry. Migrating waterfowl will use these puddles as way stations between where they were and where they want to go, using them as safe and convenient loafing areas en route to their preferred nesting sites.
I hope they eat their fill of mosquitos and black flies in the meantime!
Would you like to read past issues of All Outdoors?
Click Here