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From what I’ve seen around the cabin this spring it’s been a rough year for wildlife. The heavy rains could not have come at a worse time – right in the middle of nesting season – and my backdoor observations suggest that things did not go well in the reproduction department for most species.
For example, I have five wild turkey hens that hang around the yard (due entirely to the free sunflower seeds I provide) and not one of them has a chick in tow. Just before the heaviest rains hit us I did see a few golf ball-sized chicks in the tall grass, but since then there hasn’t been a single one.
Turkeys will re-nest if cold, wet weather ruins their first nesting attempt, and the gobbling I heard in early June suggests that they tried, but it appears that even the second try was unsuccessful.
The local conglomerate of songbirds seems to have been thwarted by the rains as well. None of the bluebird boxes have been active and the phoebes, which often boot the bluebirds out and take over the boxes have not been seen.
I have several eave corner platforms set up that normally contain swallow, flycatcher or robin’s nests but this year they are still empty and I have the feeling they are going to stay that way for the remainder of the summer.
The chipmunks and squirrels have been quite busy stealing the sunflower seeds I put out for the turkeys but all I’ve seen are adults – no youngsters anyway, not even in the rock piles or this winter’s wood pile that (thankfully) was cut, split and stacked weeks ago. I normally find two or three nests per cord as I gather wood for the stove but there has been no rodent activity near the stacked wood as of yet, which is very unusual.
Probably most telling as to the effects of rainy weather is that the two bee hives in the field have been unproductive and likely will not produce any honey this year. Twice so far an entire hive has been wiped out by excess water, with fistfuls of dead bees floating in the bottom of the hive. We’ve also lost half-dozen queens (worth $90 or so – each – on the local apiary market!).
My daily walks in the woods have been rather quiet as well. There is a bend in the trail, a thicket between two major swamps, where I invariably flush a grouse (and sometimes two) whenever I pass by, and at this time of year I’ll get the “injured wing” routine of a hen grouse protecting her brood. This year the birds are there, but they simply walk away or flush normally, which suggests that there are no chicks hiding under the leaves.
The existence of swamps usually means there will be waterfowl nearby, and at least the web-footed birds have something to cheer about. I purposely divert from the trail to check out a couple of old beaver ponds where, even in dry years, I will spot a pair of mallards or wood ducks and their duckling parades. This spring the ponds are full and overflowing, and just a few days ago I counted five adult mallards and six wood ducks, plus a pair of hooded mergansers. One set of woodies paddled across a patch of open water followed by six fluttering ducklings, so things are looking good at least in this part of the Atlantic Flyway.
Geese, of course, are everywhere and their numbers are growing exponentially. One pair of Canadas I saw recently had 15 goslings with them. Of the dozen pairs that inhabit the nearby lake only one had fewer than 10 young to take care of. Mortality rates being what they are it’s likely that predators (from turtles to raccoons) will cut those numbers in half by fall, but even so those 24 adult geese should double or even triple their numbers annually. These “resident” geese (which do not migrate to nest in the far north and only fly south in winter as far as necessary to find food – quite often only as far as New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania) may be hunted in September, an effort to control their population growth before people start complaining about them or some epizootic disease decimates their numbers. If we don’t take care of things nature surely will!
I am sure most of us will lament the loss of wild birds and animals due to the weather but I am sure no one will miss the black flies that, at least in my area, were minimal pests this spring. I spent most of May and early June cutting, splitting and stacking 10 cords of firewood and may have suffered one black fly bite! I’m not sure if the heavy rains interfered with their life cycle but I certainly hope so!
Mosquitoes have not been as annoying as they could be and thus far I’ve seen one deer fly in the last several weeks. One would think that excess water would translate to in increase in these and other biting bugs, but I’m not seeing it – at least not in my neck of the woods.
As might be expected, the larger animals have not been affected by the rains. I have seen foxes, raccoons, coyotes, deer, bear and moose as recently as last week and all seem to be in good shape. The smaller predators seem to be fat and well-furred; no mange or signs of malnutrition (could they be eating all the baby birds?), and the bigger animals seem to be coping well with the rainy weather, no doubt because they have spent the nights feasting on the raspberry, blackberry and kiwi sprouts that I so generously provide for them!
There’s no doubt that the observations I’ve made in my little corner of the world are entirely local and that the situation may be different where you live. Nature is forever in a state of flux and even the casual observer will notice subtle changes.
One thing about the wild things is that they never give up. Like the Red Sox, they will be back next year!
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