Here we are halfway through the year and it seems as if spring has just gotten started. In a few days we’ll start losing minutes of daylight and in just a few weeks there will be talk (and advertising) about “back to school.” What happened?
My daily assessment of the natural world around me indicates that it’s “situation normal” in most instances. There are baby birds in almost every nest that I can find (robins, nuthatches, phoebes and sparrows) but so far there is no sign of this year’s crop of wild turkeys. I have seen a few lone hens and toms each day but the large winter flocks have long since dispersed. There is an occasional gobble on the ridge late in the evening or at dawn but the frenetic strutting and gobbling activity that marked most of March and April is long past. The turkeys are out there, and I see them from time to time as they forage through the tall pasture grass, but all is quiet now.
I see deer utilizing the same paths during the summer months, often catching a glimpse of a doe or small buck at dawn or dusk, but even the local whitetails are maintaining a low profile. Fawning season is just about over so we should start noticing the spotted cuties any time. I have seen only one fawn thus far, a newborn that decided to lean up against one of my turkey blinds. When I saw the little deer I thought it was someone’s rolled-up shirt, but when I reached down to pick it up the “shirt” got up and tottered off a few yards, and then lay down again. I have not been that close to a fawn in years so I forgot about turkey hunting and just watched the tiny critter till it put its head down and assumed the, “Ignore me, I’m hiding” position. I got into the blind and called turkeys for several hours, but when I came out the fawn was gone. A couple of does had slinked past the blind as I called and drank tea. Maybe one of them was the lucky mother and led the little fawn away. None of the deer had anything to fear from me but I’d prefer that they trust their instincts.
As usual the most activity takes place in my yard, where there is always a good supply of food for the birds and animals that enjoy filling up on cracked corn and sunflower seeds. The event of the week was when three gray foxes came in, well before dark, and began to gorge on the free seed I’d just put out, ostensibly for the doves, which like to come in just after sunset.
Gray foxes are not large by canine standards and are, I believe, the smallest of the four-footed dog-like predators in Maine. Two of the trio was about the size of a medium house cat, but No. 3 was comparatively huge with a long, brushy tail. The biggest fox was quite aggressive and had that dominant, “I’m the boss” air about him. The other two deferred but did not retreat, and over the next 30 minutes or so all three had eaten their fill of corn and seeds.
When I went to the porch to pull the suet feeders (to keep the raccoons from tearing them apart overnight) the two smallest foxes ran off down the logging path but the largest one barely hesitated as I climbed up on the porch railing to reach the suet baskets. He was still out there when I checked again just before dark, which probably explains why there is never any food left on the ground for the morning critters. I know raccoons and opossums come in at night for their share, so I’m not surprised to find only crumbs left by daylight.
In summer I spend less time in the woods and more time near the water simply because there is always more activity along the shoreline. The woods creatures are quite secretive in summer, and with all the foliage and greenery it’s difficult to see anything moving through on in the brush. There are many ground-nesting birds in the woods, too, and I’d rather not disturb them during the critical nesting-brooding period. It is fun to bump into a family flock of turkeys, grouse or woodcock but they are better off without me. Other critters (especially predators) will see my interaction with the newly-hatched birds and slink in for an opportunistic meal. The woods are full of eyes and not all of them are of the friendly type.
At this time of year there is plenty of action in and near the water, where a cautious observer can spot ducks, geese, kingfishers, herons, phoebes and the occasional osprey or bald eagle. Snakes and frogs abound in the shoreline grasses, and when evening falls on a secluded cove it’s not unusual to see a deer, fisher, mink or moose. Every so often I’ll spot a bobcat, coyote or fox, and it’s not unheard of to stumble across a big, lazy snapping turtle in the areas where water turns to mud.
When shallow water allows wading I bring along a fishing rod in hopes of catching a few pickerel, bass or perch for an evening fry. For the next several weeks the bass fishing will be red hot because smallmouths spawn close to shore in shallow water, making them easy targets for a small, flashy lure.
I’m not averse to taking a few fat pickerel home for the grill, too. Scale and fillet the fish and then make a few shallow cuts in the flesh down to but not through the skin. Bread and then bake, grill or fry the pieces and enjoy – those pesky Y-shaped bones dissolve in the cooking.
This is a busy time of year for all of Maine’s inhabitants but I can easily waste the better part of a day on my summertime nature tours. The chores can wait!