While we humans have fussed and fretted over the inconvenient cold, wet spring, the critters whose lives depend on clear skies and mild temperatures have adapted and endured despite the disappointing conditions. Suddenly my yard is full of baby robins, phoebes, blue jays, swallows and wrens, and the woods are filled with the sounds of hungry fledglings. One would have thought that the continuous cold and rain would have put a damper on nesting success but the evidence clearly shows otherwise. In fact, just a few days ago I saw my first flock of young turkeys, a dozen feathered puff balls no bigger than a tangerine, each one hard at work gleaning seeds and insects from the mown paths in the pasture.
There have been young raccoons, opossums and gray foxes joining their parents for a midnight snack, and deer tracks smaller than a quarter suggest that at least a few fawns have managed to totter in for their share of the back-yard bounty.
I had my doubts about the garden and flower beds this spring but now that we have had a semblance of normal weather all of my favored plants and the usual contingent of weeds are blossoming, blooming and flourishing. I had to replant a few cucumber, tomato and squash seeds because the lingering cold, damp weather was not to their liking. Now, however, all is well in the garden and the surrounding yard. I’ve been eating fresh strawberries for two weeks and from the looks of things I’ll have plenty on hand for cereal and pancakes right through the summer. Strawberries are tough, resilient and aggressive plants but a month ago I was beginning to wonder if they’d make it. They were alive with some greenery to prove it but I wasn’t so sure about berry production – things did not look good there for a while.
The flowers have taken off as well after a very poor showing early in the season. My marigolds and morning glories germinated and grew well for a few days but then stalled for weeks as the cloudy, cold, rainy weather moved in. I start my flowers on the warmest, sunniest side of the house but because it was neither warm nor sunny the potted seedlings showed little interest in participating.
What a difference a week can make! Most of the plants are thick and bushy now with plenty of buds showing. I expect to have a good crop of colorful blooms before the end of July, a surprise that I truthfully did not expect considering the way spring and summer started out.
Even my rose bushes are beginning to bloom, with several flowers already open and dozens more buds waiting their turn to show off. I am always amazed to see what develops from what amounts to a bare stick being planted in the back yard. This year’s newest roses were planted back in April, nothing but bare root stock, and already they are four feet high and covered with bulging buds. There are reds, yellows and pinks taking shape and getting bigger every day – another surprise because I’ve often heard how difficult it is to grow roses. Mine are as aggressive and persistent as the weeds in the lawn, demanding only a little water and a bit of judicious pruning now and again. I may be doing it all wrong and have them planted in the wrong places but they keep giving me big, bright flowers and that’s all I care about.
It looks to be another great year for blueberries, too, if the high- and low-bush varieties my back yard are any indication. I don’t know if this year’s harvest will match last year’s but there should be plenty of berries for anyone ambitious enough to pick them. I end up using about four quarts of blueberries for things like cereal, oatmeal, muffins and pancakes over the winter, and last year I gleaned my yearly quota off one bush! I went out every few days and picked about a quart per trip till I had all I needed. I don’t know for sure if there will be quite as many blueberries this year (it doesn’t look like it at this point) but I’ll get my four quarts, which is good picking from unmanaged, wild-growing bushes.
I planned to go for a short walk in the woods but didn’t get far. I met a big garter snake as it crossed the logging road just inside the woods and not 50 feet farther on I ran into a hen grouse with her clutch of young ones – eight or nine was all I could see. The hen put on a great show with her wing-dragging, limping routine but I’d seen that display many times over the years and was not distracted by it.
I had mentioned earlier in the year that I had not heard a single grouse drumming this spring and wondered if that meant we were going to have a bad year for partridges, but apparently there’s more to the bird’s spring mating ritual than drumming! If even half of that clutch survives there will be more grouse in the woods this year than there has in many years past. I decided to avoid creating any more disturbances, turned around and walked home. I love to see wildlife of all kinds at all seasons of the year but early summer is already a difficult time for young critters and there’s no need to compound their troubles by stirring things up for them. The snake I’d seen was plenty large enough to dine on grouse hatchlings. He won’t be the last of the predators they’ll have to face between now and the time they can fight off their own enemies.
One easy way to monitor the comings and goings of the wild things in your area is to get out of bed at sunrise (around 4:30 a.m. these days!) and have your morning brew on the porch or deck. Songbirds near and far will greet the day with their unique voices and, for an hour or so, will gladly serenade anyone who’s out and about at that ghastly hour!