Everyone has their own list of personal bests and records, and I have to say that I topped one of my own this week by simply sitting by the window and being on hand to see it for myself. While I feed the birds, deer and turkeys pretty much year-round I’ve noticed that most of these species tend to come in separately, being tolerant of but not particularly fond of each other. I’ve mentioned before that when the turkeys show up all the smaller birds and animals give way, and when the deer come out the turkeys want nothing to do with them.
It’s the same for most other critters, too. If you are “smaller than” you are not welcome, appreciated or even tolerated, and so the gray squirrels chase the red squirrels away, the blue jays chase the woodpeckers off and the rest of them sort through the hierarchy by size and demeanor. Only the chickadees seem to be able to share the bounty with any and all, but even they find it difficult to select a seed when there are hornets, wasps or other intruders around.
All of this background is to say that on cold, blustery, unpleasant day last week I had the luxury of observing the greatest blend of birds and animals at one place and one time than ever before. Along with the usual feeding stations, ground piles and suet feeders I also make it a habit to put out a line of sunflower seeds on the porch railing right outside my kitchen window. I’ve found that a great variety of birds and squirrels like the idea of sitting on a flat surface and devouring the seed of choice right then and there, with no fluttering or scurrying back and forth to nearby trees or bushes in order to dine in momentary peace.
On any given day there will be a line of goldfinches on the railing, or several squirrels, even doves and blue jays, but most often they come in matched pairs and stay only long enough to get their fill – if they aren’t driven off by critters bigger or more aggressive than they are.
It could have been the sudden, harsh weather but on this particular morning I saw a turkey, a blue jay, a dove, a goldfinch, a bluebird, a chickadee, a Baltimore oriole, a rose-breasted grosbeak, a downy woodpecker, a nuthatch and a sparrow all sitting on the railing – together – and acting as if this was a normal activity for them. Several squirrels, red and gray, fed patiently on the seeds the birds spilled onto the porch deck and cowbirds filled the feeders overhead. As odd as all this sounds, all of the birds were also males, which presented quite the colorful picture.
Ah – a picture! Of course I thought of that, but when I got up to grab my camera they all took off and, sadly, never returned in the same number or combination. They all spent the remainder of the day at or near the feeders but never again all together on the railing. I had to file that little event away in the back of my mind like so many other wildlife encounters I’ve had over the years, sudden, instant, remarkable events that rarely happen twice.
This reminded me of a couple of random events that happened last fall while I was deer hunting out of a tree stand during the archery season. One morning before sunrise I was sitting there enjoying a cup of hot tea when a wren flew up and landed on my bowstring. The perky little bird sat there, just inches away, and watched me drink while we waited for the sun to clear the eastern horizon. That was all the excitement I’d have for the day, as things turned out, but it was an event I’ll certainly never forget.
Another time while hunting from a different stand in a different area a big, fat gray squirrel came down “my” tree and paused mere inches from my ear. I was dressed in camouflage from head to toe so there was nothing showing that would alarm him. His head was about two inches from my nose, which was exciting enough, but at that distance I could actually hear him breathing! He didn’t seem alarmed, nervous or worried, just hanging there by his back legs and, again, waiting for the sun to rise as squirrels often do. After a few minutes of patient observation, he decided that the coast was clear and made his way to the ground. He bounced away in the leaves looking for acorns and hickory nuts, never to return again. I saw a dozen squirrels that day but none so close that I could hear their raspy breathing.
I think the greatest, most unusual sighting I have had in many years also occurred last fall when I got down from my tree stand and sat on the ground to have some lunch before heading off to my afternoon spot.
I picked a dry spot near the logging road crossing I’d been watching and set up my stove and tea cup as usual. The wind was in my face and quite brisk for that time of day, but I was in a sunny spot and quite comfortable considering that it was early November and most of the leaves were down.
I had just brewed a cup of tea and was slicing an apple into quarters when I looked up and saw a nice, little buck coming down the logging trail. He wasn’t a big one, in fact I would not have shot him anyway, so I just sat there sipping tea and watching as the lithe, graceful animal made his way toward me. I assumed that, any second, he would get my scent, snort and bound away, but he kept coming. He passed within three feet of my position and . . . he kept coming! He walked right past me, just inches from my outstretched legs, and while he did glance at me he never showed the least bit of fear, recognition, curiosity or surprise. I have been that close to running deer a few times but never one that was eye-to-eye at ground level.
That, my friends, is why I love to be in the woods!