Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Season Unfolding

Yesterday, and again today, I got out in the kayak and took special note to see if the water level seemed to be changing. It did seem slightly higher, but there were signs everywhere of the dearth of water: the usually lovely green cattail shoots were all tinged at the tops with brown and yellow, like houseplants long neglected; and I saw a bank that held a mass of grass roots which just dangled helplessly two feet over the water.
I noticed two chewed-down trees, the work of beavers no doubt, and today I saw signs of fresh work, just since yesterday: not only were the tops of these young saplings lopped off, but today, when I came back, the bark, from the remaining stumps, had been stripped off. It was very interesting to see the chew marks on these trees, and to see that they were so fresh.
As I was drifting in my boat, I came upon a lone, Red-wing Blackbird (Agelaius phoenceus), a first-year male, as evidenced by his conspicuously-absent red shoulders, which appear in the second year of their life. The first year, the males are brown, like the females. When they begin to develop mature plumage, they turn black, and have just a hint of white feathers on their shoulders, where the red will eventually appear.
This one seemed a bit lost, he seemed to wander aimlessly, just hopping about, as though he wasn’t quite sure what he was looking for. And this is understandable, considering they leave their nest in as little as 11 days after hatching. This is, no doubt, due to the fact that the parents produce two to three clutches of eggs per season! I have always loved these birds because I live on the water, where they make their home (it is, after all, great protection against predators- both the water itself, and the dense stands of cattails, rushes and reeds make for good cover) and the sound of their shrill call is a sure sign that spring is around the bend.
According to Wikipedia, the males are very territorial, and will defend up to 10 females. But interestingly enough, the females will mate with other males, besides their “social mate” and will often lay clutches of mixed-paternity.
I also spotted a snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) which, I found out today, is the state reptile of New York! We grow them very large in Fish Creek; I read today in Wikipedia, that they only grow up to 20 inches, but I think that must not be accurate, because I have seen many an enormous snapping turtle, in my years here on the creek. They say a full grown turtle will weigh up to 35 pounds, but again, in captivity, they have been known to weigh as much as 75 pounds! Either way, they are formidable to meet. They have a reputation for being very fierce out of the water, and I have witnessed this myself. But they are usually quite eager to quickly retreat from human contact, and I have never once felt personally threatened by one. They are carnivores, and quite active hunters: they will eat pretty much anything that has the misfortune of fitting in their mouth: frogs, fish, snakes, birds, and even smaller turtles, are not safe around them if they are hungry. I’ve caught them sunning on the bank many times over the years, but they quickly slip into the water as soon as they detect your presence.
Some of the birds that I saw over the past two days were: green heron (got only the briefest glimpse of it, but seeing as I watched a family of them over the course of a whole summer, I know them by sight, quite well) belted kingfisher (I watched its dramatic dive-bomb into the lake to catch some prey, but it apparently missed its mark) also sparrows, robins, nuthatches, a pair of mallards and some mourning doves; and finally, I heard, but did not see, a pileated woodpecker, and a cardinal. In addition, I watched a lone Canadian Goose; as the male and female have almost identical plumage, I cannot say for sure its sex, but I felt that it was a male. I kept my distance, so as not to crowd him, or make him feel threatened in any way. He seemed to keep an eye on me, just to be sure, but finally, after ten minutes or so, he began to relax, and strutted down to the water, rather that just standing sentinel. All in all, it was a good week on Fish Creek!

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