If there has been a common thread to the lingering spring of 2017 it is that everything seems to be late. The hummingbirds were late in arriving, the mallards have been late in nesting, the ospreys were late in building their nests and even the robins were late in incubating their sky-blue eggs. The only noticeable early event that I noticed was the invasion of blue herons that occurred on the pond. These long-legged wading birds showed up in early April, weeks before the ice went out. There were pockets of open water near shore all around the pond and nearly every opening had a stoic heron standing by hoping to find a fish, frog or salamander to snack on. I stopped and watched a trio of herons one cold morning and, after an hour with no movement I drove on. Two months later their nests are filled with fledgling herons, so apparently their decision to show up early was a good one.
This cold, dreary spring has been a rough one the garden plants. It’s as if every seed I planted went into immediate dormancy because only now, nearly mid-June, am I seeing the first marigolds, morning glories, sunflowers and corn that I planted early in May. I thought for a while that I was going to have to reseed everything but now that we are actually seeing some sun every day the garden is finally beginning to take off.
Word must have gotten out that Maine’s spring turkey-hunting season ended June 3 because the very next day I had a mixed flock of birds in the yard that included some very big, mature gobblers. For over a month only a trio of jakes and a few hens came through to sample the cracked corn and sunflower seeds, and every so often a big, old lone tom would sneak in for a bite. Now, for some reason, the entire local flock is showing up every day, sometimes twice, to get their fill of free food.
Summer must be a time of trust for the wild things because in the last few weeks I’ve noticed that the birds seem to tolerate my presence outdoors much better than they did all winter. In fact, the other day I was mowing the lawn and came to within touching distance of a mallard drake and hen. These birds normally don’t even like it when I look out the window at them, but this time they let me mow all around them without skipping a beat. They kept right on shoveling seeds into their beaks as if I wasn’t even there.
I’m getting the same treatment from turkeys, robins, cowbirds, blue jays and all the other regulars. Doves are usually very shy but lately they have been sitting tight while I walk past them, sometimes just feet away.
This, of course, is what the backyard wildlife fan lives for. We want the critters to come close and trust us even though that is a complete violation of their survival instincts. Small birds like chickadees, finches and nuthatches always seem able to ignore the intrusion of humans but when the larger birds pay me no heed I feel as though we are now one big, happy family.
In the evenings I’ll have my last cup of tea for the day while sitting on the back deck and lately I’ll be joined by gray foxes, raccoons and even deer. That old tom turkey comes in just before sunset and seems well able to tolerate my presence, although he keeps a wary eye on me in case I stand up or move too quickly.
Even the normally suspicious blue jays don’t seem to mind me sitting outside while they fill their crops. I think they’ve finally come to realize that I am not only the one who provides the food but that I am not a threat to them. In fact, when the seed pile gets low they are not above sitting in the overhead branches squawking about the scarcity of food. The turkeys and red squirrels also give me a hard time when I start slacking, and if I ignore them the strident cacophony only increases, which proves that the “nag factor” works for all species, not just humans.
There is one bird that wakes me every morning just before sunrise yet it never lands in the yard or in the tree tops nor does it stop to sample the suet, seeds or corn. It flies by treetop high yodeling for all it is worth as it circles between the three ponds that are two miles distant. Of course I’m talking about a loon; in fact one of three loons that make their existence known with their loud, echoing calls just as the sun begins to rise over the horizon. This happens every morning at precisely the same time and occurs only once per day, but before they are out of hearing I am up and ready for the day. I’m not particularly thrilled to start my day at 4:30 a.m. but between the phoebes, the loons and the crows there’s not much choice. As soon as I hear them and try to ignore them they seem to get louder and more persistent, like trying to ignore a barking dog at 2 a.m. Once it’s light enough to see inside the house I figure that time’s a’wastin’ and I may as well get busy. When I open the front door to put the suet feeders out (I bring them in to keep the raccoons from cleaning them out) the chickadees, nuthatches, finches and woodpeckers show up and a new day officially begins. I carry my first cup of tea out to the porch and greet the sunrise just after the loons have made their first circle. Spring may have been late but June starts bright and early for me!