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Nothing lights up the neighborhood like a good wildlife sighting. All it took this week was for a big, dark-colored coyote to cross the road at the busiest place in town on the busiest day of the week (the dump on Saturday) and phones were ringing off the hook. The dump guy (transfer station manager in more politically correct terminology) saw the coyote first, picking around in a bag of trash left near the gate (illegally, of course) by someone who couldn’t wait for the 7 a.m. opening.
The first citizen to the cardboard bin got the news first-hand, and within 20 minutes pretty much everyone in town got the word. Several folks called me because I’d just written a column (or two) on coyote hunting and thought I should go after it to save the women, children and livestock from depredation.
Always up for a good coyote hunt, I got my gear and set out for the marauder’s last known location: the other side of the road. Even with short notice, lots of encouragement and a fool-proof plan I wasn’t able to find, see or call the coyote into range. Such is the way it usually goes when such events occur, but it was fun to try and even more fun to find that pretty much everyone in town heard or knew something about the Saturday morning coyote.
The last time we had this much excitement was when a mature bald eagle flew in and perched on an exposed limb near the town office. For some reason the glamorous bird (well decorated with colorful leg bands) decided to stay and show off for a few hours, allowing folks to come by and gawk at or even photograph him as he sat there with his regal stature and patented menacing gaze till the parking lot and roadside were choked with vehicles. About the time he had things bottled up and bogged down, he flew off and was never seen again. A vagabond from the coast (according to the biologist who banded him), the eagle was the talk of the town for weeks afterward.
The same result occurred years ago when a huge bull moose decided to take a walk through Newport near the Williams Road. Stepping over a 5-foot fence like it wasn’t even there, the moose kept his head down and plodded on, intent on whatever keeps a moose’s attention while dozens of vehicles and people swarmed both sides of the road in hopes of getting a glimpse or, better yet, a photo of him. This was just a tad before cell phones (with cameras) were common, so there was a lot of pointing and, “Did you see the size of that thing?” going on, but even without a picture the news quickly spread. In fact, the next day people were driving past looking for the moose that, in all likelihood, was halfway to Greenville by then.
With spring coming (Oh, yes, it’s coming!), sightings of familiar critters such as skunks, raccoons, deer and porcupines will become increasingly common. It’s been rather quiet this winter, come to think of it, largely because skiers, snowmobilers and snowshoers have not been able to cruise the hinterlands as they normally do. Those folks who have spent some time in the not-so-snowbound woods this year have seen a few interesting wild things including fishers, foxes, bobcats, turkeys and even a snowy owl (a common visitor to Maine when harsh weather in the north causes them to wander our way for a little tree-top respite).
What I look for as March moves muddily in is the changing of the guard at the back yard bird feeder. I’ve had a flock of about 15 wild turkeys greet me each morning with their demands for more sunflower seeds, but in the last few days that number has doubled. I’ve never seen some of these birds but somehow they found me! Watching them costs me two gallons of seed per day but the photos and observations they provide are well worth it.
Smaller birds are showing up as well. On one of the warmer recent days I saw a robin sitting on one of the fence posts, quiet and dull-colored, but a robin none the less. Above him in the old oak was a flock of goldfinches, equally drab in their winter plumage. Both had been surprisingly reluctant to show themselves over the winter, but with the warmer, longer days they seem more inclined to drop in for a free meal.
Though ice-fishermen may neither be amused or enthused about it, I saw several sea gulls sitting on the ice of the local pond just one webbed foot from a long, narrow strip of open water. Many a fishing derby has been cancelled due to such conditions but while one fish aficionado complains another rejoices.
From the looks of things it won’t be long till the spring migrants will be shoving their way back into the picture. Geese, woodcock, blue birds, doves and flycatchers will all be making their appearance in the next few weeks and no doubt we’ll all be hearing about them.
The consensus is that we have skated through the worst part of an easy winter and no matter what happens this month it can’t undo the process. Things will be warming, greening and growing quickly now. In fact, the neighbors and I just bottled our first gallon of maple syrup for the year (nearly a month early!) and the sugar maples are pumping sap like hydrants.
Just as everyone in town notices when a coyote crosses the road, they all seem to think that winter has collapsed and spring is sure to be right around the corner. It’s the talk of the town this week (the coyote has had his 15 minutes of fame) and is likely to rule the hometown diner conversation for a while. Everyone wonders if there is a price to pay for all this unusually balmy weather (a long, scorching summer perhaps), but for now it’s look, listen and repeat!
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