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What a difference a few days of rain makes! I’d spent the month of May watering the lawn, flowers and garden twice a day trying to keep ahead of a drought that had turned formerly rich soil into dust. The plants were hanging on but just barely. Then, when the rains finally came last week it’s as if the entire natural world woke up all at once. The grass is green, the peas are knee high and flowering, the marigolds and morning glories are standing tall and ready to bloom – quite the change after just a few days of warmth and water.
As if to prove the need for moisture is universal I have to report about an interesting encounter I had with a red squirrel in the back yard. This was at the end of the month with no rain in sight. I went out to water a patch of new grass that was barely responding to twice-a-day watering when a squirrel came down one of the big maples in the yard and watched me. I have a pretty good relationship with my back yard critters; most (except the turkeys) will tolerate my comings and goings without a glance, and the red squirrels are nearly tame in that regard. Every bird and animal has its comfort zone, but this particular red squirrel seemed to have no limit. I was so close to him I could hear his claws digging into the bark of the tree, and just for kicks I let the spray from the hose run across his back a few times. I expected him to get mad and run off but instead he actually sat up and tried to drink from the shower! We made a little game of it, me going back and forth with the hose while he waited for the spray to come back around so he could get another drink. He did not seem perturbed by the shower of water and actually seemed to appreciate the opportunity for a cool drink. This went on for several minutes until he’d had enough and ran off to raid the front porch feeder. Chalk up another wildlife first!
Because there is so much wild food available now the activity at the feeders is definitely slowing down. I have a few goldfinches, a chickadee or two and a pair of rose-breasted grosbeaks as daily visitors but consumption of sunflower seeds has dwindled by at least 90 percent in the last few weeks. The hummingbirds are the big attraction now, buzzing around, fighting with each other and perching on nearby oak leaves while guarding their cache of nectar. I have feeders set up all over the yard in hopes of cutting down on the combat but the hummers fuss and fight over every one. Even though there are several other options (fuchsias and petunias) these amusing little birds prefer the sugar water I provide them. I suppose it’s easier and a lot less stressful to pull up to a feeder and drink freely, but I’ve noticed that the dominant hummers will hog the nectar for long periods, so the interlopers must bide their time by probing the hanging flowers on the porch. It’s interesting to watch hummers interact with each other, but it just proves the point that nothing in nature gets along, not even the smallest, cutest ones.
Competition is the root reason why spring bass fishing is so productive. For the next month or so smallmouths will be spawning and guarding their shoreline nests, making them easy prey for fishermen. Wade or drift along shore and cast a small lure into the shallows, particularly where logs, rocks, brush or fallen trees may be found. Bass will strike at just about anything that comes near their nest, not so much because they are hungry but because they want to protect their young. Hit or miss, the bass will return to its nest-minding duties, often repeatedly chasing the same lure.
Largemouth bass and bluegills are also aggressive summer nesters, which makes fishing at this time of year such a joy. It’s all but impossible to toss a lure into or near a nesting fish and not get a lively response. On the best of days it’s not unusual to catch 100 or more bass and a few bluegills – even a calico bass or two. Be on the water at dawn and fish till dusk; you won’t be disappointed. Bass are among the few fish that bite with enthusiasm even at midday, and this goes for river bass, too. Now that the rains have raised the rivers and streams a bit the fishing will be even better because tons of insects will be washing downstream, putting bass in a more aggressive feeding mode. And, if the idea of night fishing appeals to you, be prepared some exciting action using noisy top-water lures because bass are among the few popular species that feed after dark.
Another observation I’ve made that concerns the effects of rain on the outdoor world is how well undesirable weeds respond to a little natural watering. I am just amazed at how determined dandelions, lambs quarter, sweet clover and various other garden invaders can be. I pull them, shake off the dirt and toss them aside and, the next day, they are growing straight and tall again! Somehow they manage to find shelter under the peas, tomatoes and other desirable plants and grow “like weeds” with no encouragement or help from me. What’s most surprising to me is that gardeners have been fighting with weeds since the Colonists first planted corn and pumpkins for the First Thanksgiving and yet, 300+ years later we have more weeds than ever. They grow wildly even when there is no rain and in many cases they are the first things to pop up in spring. Give them a few days of steady, serious rain and they all but swarm the flower beds and vegetable gardens.
My problem is that when it comes to weeding I’d rather go fishing. I’ll do something about the invasive undesirables next week!
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