Nesting season

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Sunday morning, after 8, sunny, air still. I’m driving between fields to a fork in the road south of my Greenfield Meadows home.  There, in a calm, waist-high hayfield, stands a thin, healthy, mature doe, tail slowly twitching from side to side as she feeds toward the woods less than 100 yards west.

It’s an unusual sight for that time of day. Deer typically reserve such open-field foraging for nighttime, enveloped in darkness, shiny eyes the only hint of their presence to passersby. I pass that field many times daily and rarely catch a deer feeding in broad daylight. So, yes, this blatant variable suggests to me that the deer may have fawns concealed nearby and is out replenishing nutrition to build her milk supply.

Don’t let May and early June’s April-like weather fool you. The smell of clover and wildflowers is in the air. It’s nesting season. I’ve been on the lookout lately during my daily, mindful meanderings with the dogs, the animals so picturesque and graceful, bounding through tall hayfields due to be harvested when they dry. Which reminds me. Six-year-old Chub-Chub -- my male English springer spaniel, registered as Old Tavern Farm’s Rabble Rouser – has his first litter on the ground. Yes, five beautiful white and silver pups of aristocratic field-trial pedigree will be three weeks old Friday, secure in their Florence kitchen whelping pen with nursing mother Cinda.

Last week, I wrote about spry, geriatric Lily flushing a woodcock hen from a marshy nest. Days before, the same 13-year-old bitch I had written off a year ago was lagging behind as she always does, scouring the meadows for scent when I whistled her in. She soon appeared, racing gleefully around the one-acre, upper Christmas-tree farm’s northeast corner some 50 yards east of me. Maybe 50 feet shy of me, she stopped on a dime, lifted her head into the breeze and lunged into the edge before I could react. She dug her head into the brush and I heard the telltale sound of a distressed baby robin, which she killed instantly, intending to devour it.

“Leave it,” I ordered.

Lily just stood there looking at me, a few feathers protruding from one side of her mouth, the bird beyond saving. She dropped it. I picked up the wet, limp creature, snapped off its head in case it had not yet expired, and tossed it over the escarpment edge. I was not happy, but accepted what had unfolded before my eyes as an unfortunate act of nature that prematurely ends many young critters’ lives. I called off the dogs and proceeded along our daily path. I regretted the death of that young bird, which, to be honest, I poignantly thought of several times over the next few days.

Days later, at an adjacent site along the lower level I call “Sunken Meadow,” in fact, on the day after my tale of Lily flushing the nesting hen woodcock hit the street, I was turning the corner 50 yards south of that incident when the silence was broken by sudden commotion. I heard a sharp “Putt, putt, putt,” a rustling of brush and whooshing wings. Chub-Chub had flushed a hen turkey from her nest some 20 feet to my right. The big bird flew low toward the same oak knoll along the swampy tree line the woodcock had fled to, Chubby in aggressive pursuit. Gliding gracefully into the largest red oak rooted on the knoll’s western tip, it perched maybe 30 feet off the ground. Chubby raced through perimeter cattails to the base of the tree, tail wagging, looking around. I gave a whistle to call him and he raced back to the flush site. I called him away. Ever since, I have skirted that corner to avoid further conflict. Why disturb a fledgling nest? I’d hate to encounter the need to try and save a pathetic little nestling retrieved by Chubby or Lily. Once I know they can fly and get away, I don’t give them a second thought.

Actually, I’ve been hoping to pop a doe out of her brushy nest one of these days, knowing the dogs will be interested but would not harm little, spotted fawns. They’d just perk up their ears, excitedly wag their tails and attempt to play with the little critters in a manner not unlike the way fawns play with each other — prancing and hopping and running in snappy, little light-footed circles. I know I’ll soon be running into river ducklings and goslings, turtles and snakes and frogs along the edges, probably even dead little rabbits killed by my cat, Kiki, around the yard. I can’t say I enjoy the sight of what’s left of those pathetic little bunnies, but I guess I’m hardened to death and accept it as a distressing inevitability.

Although spring’s a time of birth and life and optimism, even nesting season is laced with death and destruction. Natural and manmade. What can you do to stop it? Nothing.

That’s life.

Given the rains and cool June temperatures that should keep the river temps in the mid-60s Fahrenheit into the predicted 80-degree weather headed our way, it’s likely the Connecticut River American shad count through Holyoke will pass 500,000 for the first time since 1991 (523,153). Prior to that, you must go back to 1983 (528,185). We can thank the cool, wet May for this development.

Thus far, 10 Atlantic salmon have been counted in the river, and one of them has passed Turners Falls and Vernon, Vt.

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.