It’s fair time, bear time, a nip in the air time. There’s no question now that summer is all but over and it’s time to enjoy the fall and get ready for winter. There are certainly more warm days ahead but the mornings and evenings will be flannel-shirt cool and one by one the fans and air conditioners will find their way back into storage. I would not be so hasty as to put up the storm windows and stoke the wood stove just yet but cooler temperatures are knocking on our door and it’s only a matter of time before the shorts and tank tops need to be washed and put away.
I’m always on the lookout for seasonal changes and this week I think the most noticeable (and expensive!) sign was the arrival of several hundred black grackles. These big, noisy birds have stormed my feeding stations twice a day in continuous attacks that leave all the feeders and suet baskets empty. I know that the voracious cacklers will be on their way South soon so I don’t mind doubling down on sunflower seeds, cracked corn and suet but the other birds and animals are quite dismayed by their boisterous arrivals. The smaller birds, squirrels and even the turkeys hang back at the edge of the woods and let the grackles eat their fill. At about a tablespoon of seed per bird it’s no surprise that I’m going through several pounds of food per day keeping the flock happy and well-fortified for its migratory flight. As usual, they will be long gone just about the time I’m ready to get the inflatable owls out to scare them away – when birds turn into pigs it’s time to take action!
My garden is also telling me that change is in the wind. My cucumbers are nearly dried up and my corn crop is just about ready to pick. The tassels are brown and crispy of late, which means the ears should be ready for the table. My sunflower borders are already being targeted by goldfinches, which love to eat not only the tiny flowers in the “face” of the blooms but also seem fond of the unripened seeds below them. I have a flock of 20 or so bright yellow finches that peck away at the sunflower heads all day. Normally, by the time I’m ready to break the garden down and till it one last time the sunflowers have been devoured, which is fine with me. The flowers are pretty to look at, the stalks make a great windbreak for the corn and if the birds clean up all the seeds then I consider it a successful growing season.
The tomatoes are so far behind they are still thick and green. I wonder how many of them will make it till the first frost puts an end to production. I’m not so worried about my rutabaga patch, which holds about 50 plants this year. I’ve discovered that the turkeys and chipmunks tend to ravage rutabaga plants when I try to set them in early spring, but if I wait till mid-July to plant nearly every seed germinates and nothing, not even bugs, seem to bother them.
The back roads and by-ways will be extra busy starting today as Maine’s 2017 general bear hunting and baiting seasons begin. Most hunters opt to spend their time watching bait piles but it is also legal to still-hunt, sit by orchards, blueberry barrens, wheat fields and cornfields in hopes that a hungry bruin will step into view. There are plenty of bears in Maine and plenty of ways to hunt them. A $27 permit is required to hunt bears prior to the firearms season on deer, and an additional permit is required for those who plan to trap for bears. The season bag limit is two bears (one by hunting, one by trapping). Pages of additional information including legal hunting methods, season dates, equipment restrictions and permit fees may be found at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s Web site at www.mefishwildlife.com. Great recipes for bear can be found online as well. If you like pot roast you’ll love bear meat.
For those who prefer to hunt smaller game Maine’s 2017 Early Canada Goose season opens Sept. 1. The idea here is to whittle down the number of local geese (birds that do not migrate north to nest in spring). Bag limits are more than double that of the regular migratory goose season, with September limits ranging from 6 birds daily in the North Zone to 10 birds daily in the South and Coastal zones. The possession limit (number of geese you can legally store in your freezer) is three times the daily limit or 30 geese in the South and Coastal zones. At 5 pounds per bird that’s equivalent to having a whole deer in cold storage!
In the weeks to come there will be additional opportunities for deer, bear, waterfowl, upland game and birds, which is warning enough that those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer are just about over. To allow myself plenty of time to scout new areas, acquire the necessary gear, licenses, permits and other necessities required for a successful hunting season I plan to have my yard work and more demanding chores finished by Sept. 15. I usually leave the raking of leaves till early December when, most years, it’s bound to be cold and dry with no snow to impede the process. If I happen to wait too long or snow comes early I can always put it off till spring – the leaves won’t be going anywhere. A half day with a rake and tarp is usually all I need to take care of that little project. The most difficult part of the job is dredging up enough energy to get started. One thing is for certainly I won’t waste good hunting time raking leaves or doing chores – that’s what Sundays are for!