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It’s near the middle of the year already and the long, slow spring has turned into full summer just like that. I barely put my hummingbird feeders out in time for the first little buzzers to enjoy, and scads of goldfinches, chickadees and nuthatches have been daily visitors as well.
The turkey season that ended two weeks ago had plenty of survivors. One in particular, a big, old tom with a thick, heavy beard we call “Paintbrush” has been coming in every morning and in fact is outside my office window at this moment! He comes in alone, eats his fill of sunflower seeds and wanders off for the day. There are hens about but none with chicks, sadly – the cold, heavy rain a few weeks ago put an end to most of them before they had a chance to get started in life. There were a few hens that had chicks with them before the rains came but since then no young ones have been seen. Fortunately, turkeys are prone to re-nesting so maybe we’ll see some fat poults going into this fall.
One thing that astonished me this week was the sudden appearance of at least a dozen gray squirrels. I’ve often seen two or three at a time but for some reason this week they arrived en masse and have been raising the dickens with my feeders. I had to resort to hanging my feeders with wire because the rodents would easily chew through the ropes and cords and spill all the seed on the ground – and break the feeders in the process.
My dilemma is that I like squirrels (always have) and love to hunt them, too. Squirrel stew is a staple in my house and their tails make great trout flies. I like having squirrels around and I try to tolerate their destructive antics. I much prefer chipmunks, which are more subtle with their thievery and are even amusing when they pause on the porch railing with a face full of seeds. They seem so guilty when they get caught!
Perhaps most amusing is how industrious they can be. I’d say the average chipmunk can hold a teaspoonful of sunflower seeds in his cheeks, and over the summer they will fill up both of my knee-high hunting boots with seeds. Last year I went on a hunting trip and went to pull on my big, clunky leather boots and found them full of acorns! There must have been 200 nuts in my boots, which is a good indication of how busy these little critters can be. In fact, I’ve made a game of leaving a boot on the deck and then just dumping the seeds back into the feeder when it’s full.
‘Round and ‘round it goes all summer and when I finally bring my boot inside it’s full again! I’m sure the chipmunks are sensible enough to store some food elsewhere though I’m not sure why because northern chipmunks spend the winter in hibernation. Maybe it’s “money in the bank” for when they wake up again in spring.
I am surprised at how busy the wild things have been this month. I can look out any window and see hawks zooming by, vultures soaring overhead and any number of bluebirds flying down to the ground to pick off an errant moth or phoebes flitting skyward to get their share.
The ovenbirds sing all day (the first one starts at 4:15 a.m.) and the thrushes offer their opinions nonstop as well. It’s a slow day when I don’t hear crows and ravens overhead, and twice a day the blue jays stop by to rob the feeders. The most varied songs occur at dawn till about 9 a.m., and then things slow down till just before dark when the daytime birds head for their nighttime roosts.
It is hardly quiet at night, either. The frogs and toads are most vocal after dark and don’t quit singing unless something (a raccoon?) comes by and startles them into silence. The two most common night birds I hear are loons (always trilling on the lake) and whip-poor-wills, which sound great in the distance but can be ear-splitting when they decide to call their friends from the back lawn. Twice in a week I’ve had one of these “night hawks” in the yard, and their call is not one to be ignored.
When I turn on the porch light to shoo them off a squadron of bats comes in to take advantage of the plethora of insects that are drawn to the glow. In fact, one night there was a moth fluttering on the window just inches from my nose and a bat swooped down, hovered there a second and gulped the insect down right in front of me! I can’t imagine having hearing sharp enough to detect a moth’s wings flapping against a window but in that department the bats win!
One thing about summer nights I don’t like is that the raccoons and skunks are out in force. Skunks are not great climbers so they are content to feed on whatever they can find on the ground (or dig for grubs on well-manicured lawns!), but raccoons are as pesky as squirrels, only larger and more aggressive. I became tired of getting up every 30 minutes to scare them off the feeders so now I do the only sensible thing and bring the feeders in at night. So far nothing has bothered the hummingbird feeders but some of my neighbors tell me that squirrels will come along and drink all the nectar from them.
Though it is costing me time, money and a few vegetables I have been enjoying the pre-dawn visits of the deer that, for some reason, must eat out of my garden instead of the lush clover field right beside it! I always grow more than I can eat, preserve or give away so I don’t mind the losses, and it’s fun to go out and see fresh tracks in the dirt.
I find it immensely funny that I can have deer less than 20 feet from my kitchen door all summer, but come fall they are nowhere to be found. I have to work to get my deer just like anyone else, but I think a freezer full of venison is a fair trade for a few lost squash and cucumbers!
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