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As the saying goes, “Who’d a thunk” we’d be a week into October? Seems like just a few weeks ago we were struggling with heat, humidity and the high cost of running the air conditioner. Now it’s cold enough for an extra blanket at night; the leaves are changing and falling already, it’s apple, pumpkin and fair time . . . sheesh!
The first week of October was the usual, hectic one for me. Try as I might I can’t will myself to hunt just one critter, not when the season is open on everything from squirrels to moose. Before this month is out I’ll have hunted or participated in hunts for grouse, pheasants, geese, ducks, squirrels, rabbits, deer, bear and moose – and that doesn’t include getting ready for trapping season. What I love about hunting season is that Sundays are reserved for chores, being that Maine is one of only a few states that does not allow Sunday hunting. So, whatever there is that needs to be done around the homestead will have to wait. If it rains on Sunday . . . well, lucky me!
While I’m outdoors chasing wild game in season my trail camera remains stoically on the job, recording the comings and goings of all the birds and animals that visit the back yard feeder throughout the day (and night). I had a couple of unique visits this past week, including something I’ve never seen before, plus one I wish I hadn’t seen. I had just received an update on the “turkey virus” that’s going around in Maine, a nasty disease that covers the bird’s head with big, ugly warts. Not a day later I noticed one gangly-looking jake (immature male) wandering around the pasture clucking softly to himself but in a tone that suggested he was not feeling well. As he drew closer I noticed that his head was oddly shaped and covered with stray feathers, not the normal “look” for a healthy wild turkey. And then things got really dicey from there.
To get to the seed pile the turkeys must hop, jump or pass through a split rail fence. Most of the birds just flutter up to the top rail and leap across, but this guy kept running into the fence! Right away I knew something was wrong here. When he finally made it around the fence, bumping and stumbling the whole way, he arrived at a rock pile we’ve set aside for a future rock garden project. He ran right into the biggest rock, worked his way around that and then ran into the chicken coop! This continued all the way into the yard, where he staggered across the fire pit, ran headlong into the deck and then, by luck or memory, made it to the sunflower seeds.
With my binoculars I could see that his entire head was covered with ugly warts, so many in fact that I could not see his eyes – he was literally blinded by them. Also, the area around his beak was also clogged with warts, so he was having a hard time picking up seeds and swallowing them. His head was bloody from scratching at the warts with his long toenails, and even his ear holes were covered. I opened the back door, came out on the deck and sat on the steps not 5 feet away and he appeared not to notice – definitely not a turkey-like reaction!
According to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife the virus is “harmless” to the birds and to humans, but I have my doubts about that. This bird was obviously suffering from the effects of the warts, he was emaciated and shabby-looking, and being blinded and deaf he would be easy pickings for a raccoon, fox, coyote or other predator. My (and most other hunters’) instinct was to put him out of his misery but mercy killings are no longer in vogue – the paperwork alone would be staggering should the game warden find out. So, I left the unfortunate jake to his struggles.
The bird remained in the yard most of the day, and then just before sunset he bumped and banged his way back across the field where, last I knew, he was fluttering and flopping around in the brush trying to find a suitable roost for the night. I haven’t seen him for a few days so I’m guessing “nature” took its course. The event was educational but not fun, that’s for sure!
On a good day nature can be quite enjoyable; however, such as the night that my trail camera caught a raccoon and opossum sitting shoulder-to-shoulder as they stuffed themselves with wildlife grain and sunflower seeds. It’s rare to see same-species mammals tolerate each other while sharing the bounty, but when a 20-pound coon and a 3-pound ‘possum rub elbows at the dinner table it’s an event worth noting. To cap it off, the nighttime image shows a 6-point buck wandering around in the background. Some nights it’s like Zoorama out there, and all this goes on just a few steps off the back deck.
Finally, if you haven’t had the chance to step outside around 2 a.m. you’re missing one of the finest light shows the universe can present. For some reason lately the stars seem bigger, brighter and closer than ever. The constellations are bright and well defined and the Milky Way looks like a highway paved with diamonds. There are any number of reasons not to be staring up at the sky in the middle of the night but if it’s clear and cloudless, take a minute to soak it all in. Light shows of this intensity don’t happen every day.
Obviously, there is plenty going on outdoors in October and you don’t have to tramp through mud, swamps and tangled saplings to enjoy it. Hunt, fish, bird watch or simply take a hike but find a way to get out there this month. It’s likely to be the last pleasant, invigorating weather we’re going to have till spring so don’t miss a minute of it!
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