| This is one of the best times of the year to go for a woodland ramble. Sure, there are a few bugs out there (you can prepare for that by tucking in and using insect repellent), but I wouldn’t let a few random mosquito bites keep me from seeing one of the greatest shows on earth.
It’s “wild baby” time out there in the wilds of Maine, and for a few short weeks you can walk the woods and expect to run into anything from mice to moose with their newborn offspring close at hand. In my own yard I’ve been watching fledgling phoebes, swallows, robins and, wonder of wonders, scarlet tanagers, which are among the most strikingly colorful birds in the state. The adult male is bright red with black wings, impossible to miss no matter where he lands. The female is much less colorful and the young tanagers could be mistaken for any other hatchling, but I suppose that’s nature’s way of keeping them alive till they reach adulthood.
Not often seen but easily heard are the young ravens and crows that were born in the tall pines up on the hill. These birds seem to nest in the same places year after year (at least “my” birds have!) and right now the fledgling scavengers are making their presence known with their endless, raspy cries that are loud enough to be heard over the drone of the lawn mower. They keep up the cacophony all day, quieting down only when their parents bring them something good to eat road kill, a mouse or a gullet full of seeds.
I also don’t have to go far to see baby squirrels, chipmunks and red squirrels; all daily visitors to my bird feeders. My deck-mounted trail camera lets me know that baby raccoons, gray foxes and opossums are coming in to fill up on wildlife grain while I sleep. I have a feeling that most of these critters are using my old chicken coop for a den site, but I don’t mind because the chickens are long gone (too expensive to feed and maintain them if price-per-pound is a matter of importance) and all I use the shed for now is to store firewood, which has been cut and split but still needs to be moved inside, and there’s plenty of time for that!
When the choice comes to piling firewood or going for a walk in the forest I’ll choose my hiking stick for work gloves any time. It’s fun to see my dooryard buddies raise their young (even if it is at my expense), but I also enjoy those random encounters with the more timid creatures that inhabit the nearby swamps and hillsides. Because the foliage is thick and the wild creatures are most active after dark in summer I don’t really expect to see many of them; instead, I check the sandy and muddy places where their tracks reveal their passing. One day recently I found a short, sandy stretch of logging road where there were bear, deer, coyote, raccoon, mink and moose tracks all in the same 20-foot stretch. The deer and mink tracks were perpendicular to the road while the others followed the open trail for some distance. I was happy to see that there were some small tracks mixed in with the larger ones obviously adults with young. It’s unusual to run into a sow bear and her cubs, and raccoons and mink are usually nighttime travelers, but the others could be out and about at any time of day.
I seem to have the best luck seeing wild animals and their young just before a major storm, and we’ve had plenty of those this spring. Just a few days ago I came around a corner of the trail and ran into a hen turkey, and (I counted them!) 11 poults. The little ones were the size of robins and could fly a short distance, but for just a moment we were face to face and no one reacted till the hen gave a sharp cluck and the entire troupe disappeared into the brush. I could hear them walking, slowly but continuously away, with the hen leading the way and chirping quietly at every step.
The same trail leads down into a swampy area where moose spend much of their day. I have seen a cow and a calf, but never together and never for more than a few seconds. I’m sure the cow is always nearby but I’ve yet to catch them side by side. They stare at me and I stare at them, no harm intended, and after a brief glimpse of each other we go our separate ways. They head for the safety of the dense swamp and I continue along the trail.
I try to make it a point to visit the local porcupine den tree whenever I go for a woods walk. It’s a rare day when the porcupines are not out sunning on a high limb or busily gnawing on a hemlock bough. At this time of year there’s likely to be a young porcupine among the elders, a perfect miniature version with working tail and tiny (but sharp) quills. By mid-June a young porcupine will be about a foot long and weigh a couple of pounds. For the next 10 years or so (the average life span for a porcupine) he’ll have nothing to do but eat. Because porcupines normally den close to the hemlocks they love to devour it’s not a difficult task to find them. I spot them by looking for tall hemlocks and the piles of nipped tips littering the ground below. Porcupines will work on a tree for months, chewing away the outer bark to get at the cambium layer beneath.
Now’s the time to see our wild neighbors and their youngsters. Remember: Look but don’t touch. Wild animals don’t “abandon” their young, even though it may look that way to us. Observe, photograph and enjoy but leave them alone!