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On the Trail: Swimming rooster, running fish



Recorder Staff
Thursday, June 21, 2018

Can roosters swim? Well, my brother-in-law would have answered that question with a firm no had he not witnessed it with his own eyes.

Let me set the scene at his secluded, landed, Montville, Maine, gentleman’s farm that’s chronicled in his recent book, “Retiring To, Not From,” which, in its third printing, has kept him busy on speaking engagements throughout New England. His is an efficient, self-sufficient Thoreauvian lifestyle. He grows his own food, cuts his own fuel and, always the naturalist and former hunter, has built himself a veritable wildlife refuge. There he gardens, harvests and maintains low-bush blueberries, manages orchards and trout ponds, cans foods for winter storage, and hays the mowings situated on some 125 mixed acres of woods and fields. He has also raised chickens for as long as I’ve known him, even at his previous, historic, shuttered Swansea Cape on Gardner’s Neck. I will never forget his beautiful, mature pheasants, ringnecks and goldens, at that Swansea home. They ran free, grew large and colorful, and would come cautiously prancing, heads high and alert, out of the bordering brambles when he shook his familiar Maxwell House coffee can full of feed pellets. That rattling sound was their dinner bell, and they had no fear of him and him alone.

Buzz can identify and has names for the deer and turkeys that he regularly observes while working outside or peering through his farmhouse windows. He also knows dominant whitetail bucks that occasionally pass through, then come with increased frequency during the fall rut.

It was from an interior observation post and breakfast nook overlooking his backyard orchard that he recently heard alarming commotion emanating from the chicken coop housing Golden Campines and Speckled Sussex in the barn. He sprang to his feet to investigate and rushed to the henhouse. Inside the door, he discovered a red fox running away toward one of his trout ponds, carrying between its locked jaws a nice Golden Campine rooster.

Buzzy took after the fox, pursuing it across the driveway to a brook-trout pond he had dug, when the predator panicked and dropped the rooster near the shore. Golden Campines are good fliers from Belgium’s Campine Region, so the panicked bird took flight away from the predator and wisely landed in safety out in the middle of the pond.

Perplexed by what had unfolded before its very eyes, the fox circled the pond trying to ponder its strategy for recapturing its feathery feast. Buzzy was having none of it. He loves his chickens and moved toward the small beast to scared it off, sending it fleeing for the bordering woods. When finally confident the fox was gone for good, Buzz hurried back toward the barn to retrieve a long-handled net. He figured he was going to have to save the marooned rooster before it sank to the cold, murky depths. Well, it wasn’t necessary. He sold the bird’s capabilities short. To his utter amazement, the colorful cock paddled like a duck to shore, exited the water and followed Buzzy back to the coop.

“It was amazing,” he marveled. “Had I not seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t believe roosters were such good swimmers. I had never before seen a chicken swim. Now I know they’re capable, when necessary.”

End of story.

Who knows? There may be local folks who raise chicken and have seen their fowl swim. In fact, probably so. But that’s the first time I’ve ever heard such a tale, and it could, you know, also be the last.

After carefully following the migration numbers, which long ago peaked, and with the Connecticut River’s temperature above 70, it’s safe to say that productive shad fishing has passed and spawning ritual has begun.

It was a weird year. Water temperatures remained low well into May, then rapidly rose to levels signaling the end of migration and the start of spawning-lair construction.

I overestimated in my predictions a couple of weeks ago by speculating the run would wind up somewhere between 300,000 and 400,000. Not so. We’re looking at less than 300,000, and probably a figure representing less than half the 2017 total of 543,289. Through Monday, with the next report due Friday, 267,553 shad had been counted in the river. Don’t expect many more upstream migrators. The run is, for all intents and purposes, over.

Meanwhile, two measly Atlantic salmon have shown their scaly selves thus far, a tenth of last year’s total (20). Could there be a louder signal that the restoration experiment is dead? Plug pulled several years ago, stragglers kept coming until this year. It won’t be long before we’re looking at zero, not a far cry from the two that have shown up thus far this year.

Sad but true, the Connecticut is no longer the viable salmon river it was during the Little Ice Age (roughly 1300 to 1850), which greeted colonial settlers of our valley. The river is warmer than it was then, and sure to get even warmer in the coming decades. As it turns out, hope that salmon could be coaxed to return was fantasy. It’s over, fellas. And the possibility that Atlantic salmon will soon be extinct in all of New England is closer and closer to reality. Our warming planet has put salmon in peril.

Oh yeah. Please, forgive me. I forgot. Our president and his frothing rabble believes more research is necessary, that global warming is a hippie hoax floated by the Chinese. How silly they will look when unforgiving history passes judgment.

Recorder sports editor Gary Sanderson is a senior-active member of the outdoor-writers associations of America and New England. Blog: www.tavernfare.com. Email: gsand53@outlook.com.