On The Trail

Candid camera

The sky was gray, swallows skimming the hayfield, flying low, their glee palpable — swooping, darting, looping, but mainly hugging the surface, devouring insects in midair. The lively activity had Chub-Chub all revved up, sprinting, bouncing, cutting left and right like a gifted NFL receiver adding to his yards-after-catch through the open field. What a beautiful sight to observe, the athletic 2-year-old Springer Spaniel doing what he’s bred to do: chasing birds. Even the birds, barn swallows I think, seem to enjoy the little game, staying just out of reach, teasing and tantalizing Chubby like that mechanical rabbit out in front of the field at greyhound tracks, never a chance of getting caught.

Actually, swallows aren’t the only attraction in the bottomland hayfields I frequent. There are also sparrow-like field-nesters that sit tight and flush only when the dogs get right in their kitchen. I find it curious how Chubby watches but really hasn’t shown much interest in those birds. Lily, on the other hand, aggressively seeks them out daily, has for months, loves to follow her nose to tight flushes. Then the chase begins, and all-out sprint, she once even caught one a month or so back, defective in some way, I would guess. Strong survive, weak perish: the golden rule of nature. Plus there’s always the scent of turkeys and Canada geese, especially on damp, gray, low-pressure mornings that keep scents close to the ground, even though the birds are long gone by the time we arrive, their lingering scent still worthy of investigation by tail-wiggling bird dogs. I think “the kids” know bird season is near. They’re not alone. I too am anticipating it. But we’re not there yet. No, bear season just opened Tuesday, and it just so happens that I’ve run into tidbits of information here and there. So, let’s start with a follow-up on that bear that deposited the scat pile I discovered and wrote about last week, then move on to an interesting little tale I bumped into during an impromptu chat with a farm hand who hunts and has trail-cameras in the woods on the east side of the Connecticut River. The young, sociable man had not only an interesting tale to tell but photos as well, a wonderful development for a man like me, always searching. I’ve learned that you never know what you’re going to run into if you just keep dropping one foot in front of the other, looking around, your mind traipsing off into dark, dusty, hidden chambers, the moods running the gamut from utter despair to titillating euphoria.

Anyway, back to that bear scat I discussed last week. It seems the neighbors have been aware of that bear’s presence awhile, have seen it coming in and out of the Greenfield Meadows cornfields between roads named Colrain, Plain and Meadow Lane. Although the black beast’s around, I can’t say I’ve seen any more sign of him since he left that humongous calling card for me last week. My guess is that I haven’t seen the last of this creature, though — just a hunch.

As for the farm hand’s tale, well, he stopped his small green tractor when we met in a short wooded lane between a vast hayfield and a secluded three-acre plot known for ages to the owners as Hideaway. He was on his way to mow clover, timothy and other grasses that have grown about knee-high between rows of Christmas trees. We often chat in passing, usually about wildlife developments in the area of Sunken Meadow. I most often find him down there in the lower level, but not this time. No sir. This meeting occurred up above, where I immediately noticed some sort of a rectangular, camouflage contraption that looked like a cell phone clipped to his belt. I could see he wanted to talk and allowed him preface his tale uninterrupted, me just standing, listening and waiting for the story to bloom. When he got to the meat and potatoes about a mysterious woodland pest, he reached for the cell phone, unclipped it from his belt and started sliding through the photos from a card out of his trail-cam.

First, though, some quick background, beginning with his trip into the woods over Labor Day Weekend to tidy up a couple of deer stands not far east from the sandy, tick-infested plain made famous by tower-toppling Sam Lovejoy in 1974. One of his setups was a tall ladder stand, the other a portable tree stand he was upgrading. It was near the tree stand that he had installed the trail-camera that captured the shots he shared with me. The camera was chained waist-high around a medium-sized oak to discourage theft. When he scanned the area looking for the camera from the tree his stand was fastened to, he couldn’t easily locate it and immediately suspected something wasn’t right. Then, when he finally pinpointed what he believed to be the right tree, he could not see the camera and went to investigate, suspecting mischief. As it turned out, he had the right tree, and upon closer inspection, the camera was still chained to the tree. The problem was that it had been pushed down to the base of the tree, the camera face-down on the ground. Hmmmmm? This really piqued his curiosity, knowing a small critter like a squirrel had zero chance of accomplishing the feat.

Hopefully, the camera would solve the mystery, and indeed it had captured the entire ordeal in vivid color. The culprit was a large, male bear, which must have been camera-shy; either that or oppositional to new territorial invaders. The scene made it clear that the beast wanted no part of the unusual, unidentified object chained to a tree on its turf and thus proceeded to do all in his power to remove it, possibly because it or the area was revealing human scent.

The photos showed several shots of the bruin so close to the lens that it was impossible to identify the dark, furry vandal. But finally appeared a clear shot of it peeking around a smaller oak tree facing the camera, then subsequent shots of it standing up and scratching its back on the rough red-oak trunk, a comical sight to behold. When the big fella had soothed its itch, it approached the camera, which showed a close-up of the animal’s ear, followed by a blurry paw, then a view of the stony earth and dirty darkness. The photos indicate that the big bear comes through the area every two or three weeks, which could change once the acorns in the trees mature. The young man hopes to get a crack at that large, territorial beast but would prefer it to arrive well before dark. The problem is that such a kill will create a difficult chore dragging its carcass out of woods, a chore that’s always complicated greatly by darkness.

Perhaps my buddy’s chances are slim because he’s dealing with a smart animal that’s grown large for good reason. Photographic evidence displays a beast that is intelligent and cautious, and definitely knows his terrain better than any man ever will.

But, hey, there’s room for optimism, given what my buddy knows. Sometimes even wise old creatures make silly mistakes, especially when chasing women. That’s what my buddy will be hoping for — one of those right-place, right-time scenarios we have all experienced or at least heard of.

Recorder sports editor Gary Sanderson is a longtime member of the outdoor-writers associations of America and New England. Blog: www.tavernfare.com. Email: gary@oldtavernfarm.com.

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