Early spring brought chipmunks popping their heads out of the ground, foxes emerging from dens, woodpeckers drilling out new homes -- and the black bears woke up. They are grumpy and hungry, and some of them discovered a surprise upon waking -- new cubs -- something they did not go to sleep with last fall, so be prepared! I had one in my yard the beginning of April, and it tore down my last remaining winter feeder, and crushed my new finch feeder, so Mother Nature was basically letting me know it was time to bring the feeders in at night. Let’s all do our part to keep the bears in the woods by securing refuse cans, recyclables, and compost piles. Fence in vegetable gardens if wildlife become a nuisance, and keep barbecue grills clean and covered. Do yell and scream, or bang some pots together (from the safety of your porch or house window) if one does show up, and maybe it will get the message to stay out of your yard this summer.
I don’t want to disappoint the returning finches though, so I will put out seed for a few hours during the day, as well as glass juice feeders. These sweet little birds showed up when the weather finally got warmer after Easter! The American goldfinch has brilliant yellow plumage with black markings, and there are purple and red finches, all of whom love to cling to thistle sock-feeders in masse. We also said hello to many other species of birds arriving this spring, and in my corner of New Marlborough there were phoebes repairing last year’s nest, as well as huge flocks of red-winged blackbirds, cow birds, and a variety of spring sparrows and crows by mid-March, along with a brief sighting of a rose-breasted grosbeak and two vivid bluebirds. At this writing, I am awaiting the first of the ruby-throated hummingbird “scouts” that will show up to check out the area, often hovering around the places where I usually hang up the hummingbird feeders. They should be settled in by the end of May. I usually have about fifteen to twenty all summer. Also arriving will be the flaming orange Baltimore oriole; its lovely trilling song will fill the late springtime air, and you will know if one is nearby, as it has an unmistakable melody.
Thanks to all of you who wrote to me regarding sightings of wolves or mountain lions. The response was terrific. I received more than three dozen reports of sightings of some type of wild dog, wolf dog, coy wolf, coyote, or wolf, as well as one report from a New Marlborough resident who spotted two mountain lions sitting high up on a hillside behind their home.
Many had no doubt that the animals they saw were wolves, others sent articles that focused on genetic studies of these large animals. Several of the articles provided by a fellow nature lover here in New Marlborough dealt with “coy wolves,” with the DNA of some of these canines being more than 50-percent wolf, and the rest being eastern coyote. It’s worth noting that none of the coyotes tested in New England in recent years have turned out to carry dog genes.
While we do not have a sufficiently large population to classify wolves as part of our wildlife inventory here in New Marlborough, random sightings over the years support the fact that they are around, or are at least passing through. Some may not be “pure wolf,” but they are not coyotes either. Keep an eye out and you might just see one of these impressive animals. I was happy to hear from a reader who has actually seen the white wolf I talked about in my March article in an area much higher, more sparsely inhabited, and more mountainous than my area, so maybe he/she moved on. This is a beautiful animal, and undoubtedly a wolf, as it is very large, and reminded me of my neighbor’s Great Pyrenees dog.
Another possibility is the wolf dog. An acquaintance of mine purchased two of these animals in Canada back in the 1970s. They were quite a pair, strong and large, but also overbearing, and unmanageable, and very frightening -- with those piercing yellow eyes. I’m not sure what finally happened to them; they had escaped several times and were impounded once. They could have been released in a remote wooded area -- who knows? Thus, there is the possibility of their DNA mixing with the wild canines.
This spring we had turkeys galore in my corner of New Marlborough, what about yours? The turkey population soared this year, and “The Great Backyard Bird Count,” held in February, resulted in record-breaking reports of many species of birds in Massachusetts, and in particular the wild turkey. The many flocks around my property were huge, plump, and healthy-looking. We had about fifty to sixty turkey visitors daily during the height of mating season -- late March through early April. By the time this article is in your hands, most of the turkeys will be hidden away, close by their nests, until their young are mature enough to venture out with them this summer.
To conclude, I thought I would step out of our immediate environment for a moment and offer you a few of the many wildlife stories making headlines across our country. There have been significant changes. The Yellowstone grizzly bear, the timber wolf, and the American crocodile are among several species that have been taken off the endangered list. The wolves in Minnesota made a major rebound, and the federal de-listing will make it easier for farmers, dog owners, and government trappers to kill wolves. For the first time in forty years, a farmer who sees a wolf threatening cattle can legally shoot it. (I’m not necessarily agreeing that this is a progressive move, but at least the wolf population has returned, and I do understand the plight of the farmer concerning his livestock.) Bald eagles are on their way to a strong recovery, with over 9,000 nesting pairs in the lower forty-eight states. It’s a bird you could see right here above New Marlborough, if you are lucky; in March a resident of Housatonic, Massachusetts, took photos of a nesting eagle in an area along the river in that town.
Enjoy the reawakening of life all around us in this springtime of the year, and remember that the hot, lazy, hazy days of summertime are just around the corner. Please respect, protect and care for Mother Earth throughout every season; she is the only one we’ve got!
Previously published in the New Marlborough 5 Village News, May 2007
Chipmunk photograph by Janice Stiles-Boults, copyright 2006