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It has been quite a week for spring sightings of the natural kind. While the maples are budding (and making sap) and the daffodils are poking out of the ground, I was amazed at the amount of animal activity I noticed just in the last few days.
Topping the list was the appearance of a mature bobcat, which strolled across the field at 8 a.m. as if it were deep in the forest instead of near a busy road between two houses. It amazed me even more by picking a sunny spot at the corner of a stone wall and spent over two hours lazing in the sunlight, at one point rolling over on his back like any common house cat, feet waggling in the air as if he hadn’t a care in the world. It is a rare event to get even a glimpse of a bobcat, but to have one sitting in plain sight for hours at midday is unheard of. Of course, I wore my camera out taking pictures, and even though I had to crack the front door open a few inches to clear the lens, the cat just stared at me, yawned and literally went to sleep! Several of my images show him lying down with his eyes closed, suggesting that he was calm and relaxed, not at all worried about being so close to human habitation.
A couple of hours into his nap a flock of turkeys started filing down the hill behind him and I fully expected to see a segment right out of Wild America. The cat was hidden in the leaves at the corner of the wall, the birds could not see him and they were moving on a path that would put them just feet away from him. I fully expected him to pounce on one of the birds when they passed by, but instead the turkeys suddenly started clucking loudly, and the entire flock began chasing the cat out of the field! I was amazed to see this big predator being man-handled by a flock of birds, but he did not put up a fight; he just walked back the way he came and disappeared into the woods. He must have been well fed and so had no interest in the turkeys, for I’m sure he could have had any one of them. Instead, he accepted the humiliation and exited the field looking almost embarrassed to have been caught napping.
The very next day I woke before sunrise and spotted a coyote running across the same back field. I was so engrossed in the observation that I never even noticed a second coyote slinking along the stone wall just inches where the bobcat had been sleeping the day before.
It seemed amazing to me to have seen two major predators in my back yard less than 24 hours apart, and I was glad that I had taken pictures of them. I know that they coyotes were likely cruising around looking for food, but the bobcat was obviously done hunting and just wanted a place to rest for a while. Great vignettes in any case, and extremely rare, especially for a back yard observer.
The fun was just beginning, however. The sun and warmth apparently stirred all sorts of wildlife, starting with a flock of geese that flew over as I was sorting through the wood pile. Walking around the house, I noticed a red-tailed hawk as it sailed over the field and perched on a large oak above the driveway. We usually have a few hawks in the yard over the summer but this is the earliest I’ve ever seen them.
As if to punctuate the hawk’s appearance, a turkey vulture swooped low over the tree tops, which seemed strange to me because there was still snow on the ground in many places. We also have several buzzards floating around the place during hot weather, but once again I was surprised to see one show up with signs of winter still dominating the landscape.
All of this is well and good – I suppose predators, hawks, geese and vultures might be seen a little earlier than usual, but right behind them came robins and bluebirds, which normally wait at least till there is more grass than snow showing in the field – but not this time. Perhaps all these creatures have a timetable that supersedes snow, cold, sleet and the 10-minute hailstorm that struck just a few days ago. They know it’s time to get moving and, by heck, they aren’t going to wait much longer!
Still, I thought that there were plenty of other signs of the approaching spring that were yet to occur, and just as I was pondering the options over a cup of tea on the deck, a small flock of grackles flew in and landed beneath the feeder! I love their “rusty hinge” call – it’s as good a sign of spring as you’re likely to find, topped only by the call of the red-winged blackbird, which has a little more controlled melody to it.
“Aha!” I thought. “There are no redwings yet!”
Because I live close to several swampy areas where red-winged blackbirds prefer to nest in spring, I decided that it could not yet be “official” until those colorful little birds showed up. Also, I’m keeping an eye out for swallows and flycatchers, and the spring peepers and woodcock have yet to make an appearance.
Our wild friends are definitely pushing the envelope when it comes to the changing of the seasons. We humans arbitrarily decide that March 21 is the beginning of spring but I put my money on the furred and feathered masters of events. When the cold winds end, the snow is all gone and the greenery returns we can all rejoice, but that will mean the coming of black flies, mosquitoes and no-see-ums. The swallows, bats, frogs and dragonflies will follow, and then we’ll all be where we want to be – for now.
I’d like to think spring would stay this way indefinitely, but I’m going to start cutting next year’s firewood just in case!
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