| I am not a great fan of heat or humidity, and the recent spate of both has made me change my woodland rambling schedule to make the most of the relatively cooler hours near dawn and sunset. I find the critters most active during those periods. Other than the forlorn chirps of a few songbirds and the occasional turkey hen “bugging” in a mown field with her brood, there’s not much going on out there when the temperatures soar above 80 degrees.
Surprisingly, temperatures can be much lower in the shaded woods, and if a decent breeze is blowing it can be downright comfortable as long as you don’t move around too much. Knowing this, I have picked out a few good viewing places where I can sit on a rock or stump, brew up some tea and just watch the woods around me. One favorite spot is a stream bottom that passes through an imposing rocky ledge where, in winter, porcupines like to gather between storms. The ledges are formed such that any bird or animal following the stream has to pass between them to reach the other side, and it’s surprising how much critter traffic there is at this natural little pinch point.
If I get there early enough I’ll see a mink or weasel scurrying in and around the rocks in hopes of finding something good to eat. Not long ago I watched a tiny, spotted fawn walk right up into the rocks, no doubt intrigued by the leftover scent of porcupines. More curious than afraid, the little deer kept poking around in the crevices and holes until a quick snort from its mother put an end to the search.
One morning I had barely sat down with my binoculars, tea cup and notebook set up around me when a big fisher ran up into the rocks and curled up on a granite point just 30 yards from me. One of Maine’s most interesting creatures, a fisher is usually seen moving quickly through the woods, climbing trees and digging here and there among the leaves, sometimes traveling through uttering a loud, screeching sound that clearly announces his presence and dares anyone (or anything) to get in his way.
It’s a rare event to see a fisher curled up in a ball taking a nap, and I was able to watch “my” fisher for about 30 minutes (a typical mustelid-style coffee break) before he woke up, stretched and took off for parts unknown.
Another favorite watching spot I’ve come to depend on for wildlife sightings is a break in a 1700s-era stone wall where a spring seep flows slowly down into a larger swamp. This was sheep country 300 years ago, cleared and mowed with stone walls zigzagging over the countryside. Now it’s grown up to where pines 7 feet around stand in the cellar holes where the colonists once lived, and the ever-running spring seep has become a highway for a wide variety of birds and animals whose ancestors did not even exist in the well-tended, treeless terrain of the pre-Revolution era.
My favorite watching spot here is a wide, flat rock that marks the end of the former sheep pasture, just a few yards from the seep but far enough away and covered with saplings enough to obscure me from passing critters. On a good day (such as occurred last week) I’ll see a flock of turkeys come down for a drink, a bustle of feathers, feet and beaks that never sits still and continues following the hen no matter where she goes or how difficult the terrain. There are always a few stragglers and I can’t help but think that it’s you slowpokes who are going to feed that curious crow overhead or that napping fisher I saw near here a few days ago. Catch up, kids, catch up!
When I visit this spot in the evening I often see deer come down along the same path, sometimes to drink in the tiny pools along the seep or mostly just to pass through on the way to visit someone’s bean patch (including mine!). I am invariably spotted by any doe that wanders by, but bucks and spotted fawns seem oblivious to me. There’s something about summer that makes wild animals seem more trusting or tame, and I’m not sure which. They seem to allow an extra second or two of delay before they go into their escape mode, which hunters know doesn’t happen very often in November.
If the bugs aren’t bad and the heat isn’t unbearable, I’ll follow the seep down to the main brook and then into the alders where, on a good day, I might find a cow moose and her calf wading around in the weedy swamp. Just at sunset I might glimpse a wood duck and her handful of ducklings, perhaps a beaver or muskrat swimming up the stream, and maybe a grouse or two working their way toward and island of tall pines where they plan to roost for the night.
It’s good to know that the wild things are out there despite the debilitating heat. Oven birds, veerys, thrashers and thrushes entertain with their unique and comforting calls, and once in a while a squirrel will sound off just to let everyone know he’s still around. Crows and ravens chime in from time to time, and it’s a rare trek when I don’t hear at least one chickadee or nuthatch along the way.
Every woodland visit produces some kind of interesting or unusual encounter, even if it’s nothing more than a deer track in the mud or the calls of blue jays as they pass through the treetops. Find a comfortable spot and then sit and watch what goes on around you. If you sit still long enough you’ll observe something unusual or interesting that you can tell your friends about. It sure beats talking about TV’s summer re-runs, that’s for sure!