Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Wildlife, Good, Bad and Imagined

My impression is that our local deer herd had an excellent breeding season this year. I see small, medium and large does every time I walk or drive down the driveway and the road, and at night, when the windows are open, we hear them making that weird wheezy coughing sound as they're laying waste to the edible plants on our property.

The town Conservation Board sent out a flyer the other day reminding us all that the town encourages hunting. Last year was the first year the town took an active role, opening 99 acres of town land and matching hunters with landowners. One hundred and seven deer were killed in town last year, up from 78 in 2005. The flyer says this:

33 deer -- six bucks, 27 does -- were taken from Pound Ridge Town land during the 2006 hunting season. This means that approximately 87 deer will not be eating our woodlands this year.

I'm not sure how they came up with that calculation, but whatever. White-tailed deer are a scourge around here, and the fewer, the better

A sharp-shinned hawk flapped out of the woods late yesterday afternoon, while Gina and I were out on the back deck. It was small and beautiful in silhouette above the trees. My active birdwatching days are over apparently -- I rarely take my binoculars out of their case anymore -- and I haven't gone to a fall hawk watch in years. But I like it that I know most of the birds I hear and see around my house and town. Being benignly surrounded by the natural world is more satisfying than actively searching for birds these days.

But it's still great fun to happen upon upon animals without much unusual effort on my part. I like being able to identify some of the shorebirds that feed on the mudflats in late summer when I'm up to my knees in warm salty water digging for clams on BI's Great Salt Pond and tiny fish are swimming through my fingertips, feeding among the clouds of mud I've stirred up. I recognize semipalmated plovers, and willets, and the call -- a wild call -- of the greater yellowlegs, and I stop and watch when flocks of peeps pass by, flashing in the sunlight as they turn.

Cormorants nest here and there on the reservoirs in our town but the other day I saw a flotilla of more than two dozen on the reservoir up the road, a number that was unusual enough to prompt me to stop the car and point it out to my 14-year-old daughter who was exactly as interested as you'd expect a 14-year-old daughter to be. The water level in the reservoir is so low from the drought that it made me wonder if the lake's fish had been crowded into a smaller area, making them easier for the cormorants to find and feed on.

I wish I had been in Groton yesterday morning, where birdwatchers saw "about 1600 birds of 62 species." They reported it here:

1 COMMON LOON, 1 YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO, 3 YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKERS, 20 DOWNY WOODPECKERS, 400 NORTHERN FLICKERS, 15 RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES, 40+ RED-EYED VIREOS, 350 BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEES, 1 GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSH (photos), 700 warblers of at least 10 species (most were in flight overhead, and thus not identified) including 30+ BLACKPOLLS, 45 SCARLET TANAGERS, 25 WHITE-THROATED SPARROWS, 15 DARK-EYED JUNCOS, both kinglets (1 of each).

Now that's a day of birdwatching that even I could get into.

Have you noticed, by the way, all the hubbub about a "sighting" of a mountain lion in Oxford? State environmental officials think it was merely a large pit bull mistaken for a mountain lion, and I can't figure out which is less likely -- seeing a mountain lion or mistaking a pit bull for a mountain lion. And a driver whizzing past at 65 miles an hour swears he saw a mountain lion carcass on I 95 out near Waterford (here). By the time the DOT got there, it was gone and they speculate that the cougar was really a deer and that someone took it home for the meat. I'll leave it to the press critics to judge whether an unsubstantiated report of a carcass viewed while driving on an Interstate highway is newsworthy.



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