April – May 2012

4/6    Full “Grass Moon”

4/7    Yellow-bellied sapsuckers returned today. I think this completes the return of the woodpecker “family” for our area, which includes downy, hairy, red-bellied, and pileated woodpeckers (all year-round residents) as well as flickers (which returned recently).

Last week I saw a red fox in our paddock. Unlike the coyotes, which have become quite casual about humans, the fox took off as soon as it saw me. I engendered much less fear in a red-shouldered hawk a few days later. I was leading my horse home on Whangtown Road to cool him off after a ride. We got within 20 feet of the hawk, whereupon it moved to a nearby perch, giving me a better view of its mottled tail plumage and reddish shoulders. Perhaps it didn’t really perceive me since the substantial bulk of my 1,200-pound horse was between us. The red-shouldered hawk is probably not as familiar to most people as the red-tailed hawk. However, they have been nesting on or near our property for years, and we often hear their high-pitched, repetitive cries. — Anne Balant-Campbell

4/8    I looked out the window this morning on a sunny but cold back yard and spied an unusual visitor standing on a boulder—a black vulture. We often see them soaring over the woods as they go about making their living, but we don’t often see them on the ground in our back yard! This guy had his back to the bright early-morning sun, spread his five-foot wings and was soaking up the warmth. I bet it felt nice. After some minutes, he folded his wings, gave himself a shake and took off. — Dave Ehnebuske

4/17    Late afternoon, at the Green Chimneys’ put-in on Doansburg Road, I saw that the water is pretty low in the swamp, especially for this time of year!  I saw a gray heron and also a great blue heron.  Amazingly, I spotted an osprey—got two viewings once on the way in and then when I was leaving. It’s the first one I’ve ever seen in the swamp. I saw a bluebird emerging from a nest cavity.

I’m almost sure that I spotted two kinglets that were swooping for insects.  They were communicating with each other quite a bit. The swans were in attendance and I saw two carp jump all the way out of the water! I also saw two painted turtles swimming and noticed a barrage of small bubbles. Investigation brought to light a LARGE snapping turtle—probably about 30 years old. Wood ducks were around—about six. There was a nesting goose on the right very close to the put-in at Green Chimneys, close to the water. I haven’t yet seen the male.

There was a starling taking a bath and female red-wing blackbirds have returned. Robins were singing away and I saw a muskrat diving away from me. I was leaving about 7ish and saw a 25-pound beaver swimming out for the night! I also saw three damselflies, they landed on my leg (which was lazily up on the top of the kayak!) and the first “bomber” dragonfly—you know the ones—they’re huge!  — Diana Lee

(Ed. note: Perhaps she saw the first of the green darner dragonflies which are migratory?)

4/22    Last week, one of our cats killed a mourning dove. Its feathers were blowing all over our yard. A pair of mallard ducks actually left our small pond and came up into our yard to collect some of these feathers, presumably to make a soft lining for their nest.

Our neighborhood is sporting new metal signs demarcating the DEP land. There is a yellow-bellied sapsucker (a small woodpecker) that has been drilling on the different signs with its beak to mark its territory. The sapsucker makes a staccato, somewhat arrhythmic drilling sound with a slowing cadence. This one seems to have clear preference for the new metal signs, which give out sharp reports with every tap. It moves around the area from one sign to the next, only occasionally drilling on a tree for a change of pace.

We have been hearing spring peepers for weeks, but only have heard the high-pitched trill of the American toad on a few of the warm nights this past week. On the bike path in Carmel, I heard a couple of gray tree frogs trilling for the first time on April 14. On April 16, a very warm day, I heard a few more tree frogs, this time on the part of the bike path that goes down through Mahopac, and also at my home. I think that they, like many of the flowers, are making their appearance extra early this year. — Anne Balant-Campbell

4/27    Baby turtles and croaking toads. The welcomed demise (at last!) of the goddamned woodchuck and a crow with a damaged wing. It’s been a creature-filled April here so far.

An infant turtle caught me by surprise earlier this month as I came down the deck stairs toward the driveway. As I stepped off the bottom stair and took a step to the right toward the wild strawberry vines winding their way throughout a bed of pachysandra, some tiny round little thing no larger than a quarter moved in the grass near my foot. I scooped it up to get a closer look and was delighted to find it was a beautiful Eastern painted turtle hatchling. I hadn’t seen baby turtles on their way to the pond across the road in years and recalled how excited the oldest boys were when as youngsters they discovered several baby snappers trekking across the yard toward the pond. There wasn’t quite so much traffic on Nimham Road back then. Now worried for its safety in making the dangerous crossing, I decided to act as escort and carried the energetic infant across the street, placing it near the edge of the pond and wishing it well.

The next day, another babe met me right by my truck in the driveway and asked for a lift. I wonder how many there might have been in the—what do you call it—a litter? A clutch? And how many actually survive infancy? They seem so terribly vulnerable.

One damp evening, the driveway became THE hot spot for any number of, well, I am not sure if they were frogs or toads or both, but they were loud and determined to gather across the road with the chorale already in full song at the pond. My daughter, Meg, and I counted a half dozen or so of these restless natives as they squatted on the blacktop. How I do love the night songs of spring and the smell of the damp night air.

I won’t even think of apologizing for being thrilled to announce that the destructive woodchuck is finally dead. And I didn’t have to buy the .22 after all.

It was shortly after we returned home from Arizona when I first noticed a pile of freshly dug dirt alongside the stone chamber. I went to see what was going on and discovered a large hole. This was no chipmunk. Walking behind the root cellar and around to the other side, I found another dugout half way up the side of the chamber. Over the next several weeks I tried plugging the hole with what I thought were substantial rocks but she kept pushing them aside and going about her business. I tried scaring her away by scooping dog poop and shoveling it into her front and back doors. Nothing deterred her.

Next came the poison pellets. A while later, having already discovered the nibbled daylillies in the pony ring garden, I watched her scamper past my study window. It was then I decided to buy a gun.

I’ve never owned a gun of my own but have always enjoyed shooting one. Skeet and trap shooting is great fun. I’ve joined friends and family on bird hunts and have shot and killed a deer. While I don’t care if I ever hunt again, I wholeheartedly wanted to kill this woodchuck before she ate her way through my perennials.

But something got her before I bought the gun. Perhaps it was the pellets after all. I certainly poured enough of them into her tunnels. One morning last week, there she was, lying on her back right smack in front of the house without a mark on her. Belly up and freshly dead with a little trickle of blood from her mouth. Aahhh, but the Lord works in mysterious ways…

As for the crow, I didn’t know its wing was damaged. It sat in the grass in the pony ring far longer than any crow should considering we have a dog and a cat out and about. I watched it through my binoculars and wondered if it was ill. I remembered several years ago when a red-tailed hawk perched on a low branch of the walnut tree outside my study and then jumped to the ground and wobbled about like a drunk before attempting to lift off again. I wasn’t surprised to find its body in the pony ring the next morning. I called the Health Department authorities and they came and took it away. A few weeks later, I received a call and was told the hawk had died not from West Nile virus as I had suspected but rather from hepatitis.

With this crow, I was again thinking West Nile. It was just too still. But then something startled it and as he attempted to fly, only one wing functioned. He half hopped and flew to the top of the stone wall and then was gone over the side. I haven’t seen any sign of him since.

Yesterday, a red fox ran out onto Route 301 briefly as I hit the straightaway alongside West Branch. He didn’t stay roadside for long and I watched as he melted into his surroundings, the grayish red coat blending well into the brush and remains of fallen trees.

I won’t mention the dead baby snake on the driveway. I dislike snakes intensely and have dealt with enough of them around the property—and in the house—over the years. It’s times like these that I miss our elderly neighbor Dorsey Bennett. I used to call him to come over when I’d come across a snake sunning itself near the house or the barn or the root cellar. He’d bring his gun and make quick work of disposing of most unwanted creatures for me and then stay for a while and entertain the boys—and me—with his tales of Kent in the old days.  — Marty Collins

5/2    First sighting in 2012 of a ruby-throated hummingbird. They usually do arrive the first week of May. I think it might be good to start documenting the dates of their return to Kent. This particular hummingbird was flying around the unblossomed rhododendron.  — Janis Bolbrock

5/5    Hiking up the Mt. Nimham trail to the tower I was serenaded by wood thrushes, scarlet tanagers, ovenbirds, and robins, all exuberant in the sunshine.

5/6    Red admiral butterflies are everywhere, wow.

5/6    Full “Flower Moon”

5/7    The warblers are back in Kent! We enjoy the high, clear, melodious calls of many of these species. Others, such as the ovenbird, with its scolding “teacher-teacher-teacher” call, or the blue-wing warbler with its wheezy rasp, do not sound so melodious. I am not much of a “birder” and rarely have the patience to look carefully enough to identify species by eye. However, as former Kent resident and amateur naturalist Tom Morgan used to teach us, most of these species can be recognized by ear as well as by eye. Birding by ear is much easier; I just listen while I am in my yard or garden and parse the soundscape of calls into those of various familiar individuals. Tom’s hearing remained acute to the end of his life, and he continued birding by ear from his front porch when getting out in the woods became difficult.

A good site for listening to bird calls is www.allaboutbirds.org

In the last two days, we have heard the following warblers in various places in Kent:

  • Black-and-white
  • Black-throated green
  • Blue-wing
  • Chestnut-sided
  • Ovenbird.
  • Parula (This one does not stay all summer, it’s just passing through on its way to points north.)
  • Yellow

We also are hearing some new non-warblers, such as crested flycatchers. In addition, the wood thrushes are back, as recognized by their flutey but almost twanging trills. Their calls blend well with the high, trilling singing of the toads. Speaking of toads, when we first heard them, we were certain there was some sort of exotic frog in our pond. You can imagine our surprise when we learned (from Tom Morgan, once again) that these exotic sounds were coming from the common American toad. Thanks, Tom; we miss you.  — Anne Balant-Campbell

5/28    Baltimore oriole collecting nest material. Also bluebirds have returned to the box, hopefully preparing for a second set of hatchlings. And look what has come to my backyard  pond!  — George Baum

Green Frog on rockGreen Frog, Rana clamitans  — Photo by George Baum

5/29    Lady slippers in bloom at Clearpool and the gray tree frogs are singing.