Tag Archives: wildlife

critters and such

Normantown News — Martha and Her Goslings

I have named the goose nesting on the island in the lake behind our house Martha. As I have mentioned before, she took her position on that nest about the time we were quarantined. Martha laid one egg every one to two days, usually early in the morning, as geese do. She has not left the nest, to eat, drink, or bathe once the eggs started incubating. The gestation period is 28 to 30 days, so there should be some activity over there pretty soon.

The appearance of these goslings will be one of the highlights of our quarantine, right up there with painting the bedroom and putting purple highlights in my hair. I’ve been told only boring people get bored, but I am grateful for that goose and her pending goslings and monitor her every day from the back door window. A few days ago, I noticed that she had turned around on the nest, something she had not done in a month. The next day, she was fidgety, plucking and tucking the ground around her body.

I knew, when the male took up a guard position three feet from the nest, that something was happening. The female on the nest had poofed out her body, but remained with her head tucked back into her wings, but the male did not move. He did not pluck at the grasses, did not paddle around the lake, did not falter. For the most part, he had left the female alone for a month, but now he was diligently by her side.

The next morning, the nest was empty, and no geese or goslings to be seen. But, after 22 years of observing this spring ritual, I did not panic. Instead, I looked to the yard and the fields. Geese mate for life, and nest close to the same spot every spring. There has been at least one nest on the island every year since we moved here, so I go on the assumption that this couple has raised several broods on this lake. I likewise assume they know what I know: at least one massive snapping turtle lurks beneath the lake’s waters.

We witnessed the day, several years back when the snapper tried to pull a chicken-sized gosling off the bank of the island. It was large enough to dig into the mud with the free leg and flap its wings enough to keep from being pulled into the depths. But the turtle did not let go. To our amazement, the larger parents took turns, jumping on the turtle’s back, stomping on it, and pecking its head. This battle continued for nearly thirty minutes, and that was the day I learned: a snapper WILL let go. But, it takes a long and brutal beating before the turtle will admit defeat. That gosling grew up with a dysfunctional leg joint but is still living a normal goose life.

To my count, two snappers keep residence here in the warmer months, but the one is truly huge. The last time I caught him crossing the yard in the spring on his return to the lake, his shell alone was 15 inches long. Throw in the head and the tail and you’re looking at a two-foot snapper. Like most snappers, he has a surly attitude, and he can pull a gosling beneath the waters without so much as a ripple. This is why ducks don’t nest here. They have never adapted to the danger beneath the surface, and lose all ducklings, silently, within the first week. They’re just there paddling on the water, and then, with the slight sound of a raindrop, they’re gone.

But the geese who raise here and were raised here know the danger, and freshly hatched goslings are not taken to the water. Today they pluck around the yard, splashing in the puddles made by the second day of rain. Right now, the clan is high on the bank that runs the lower side of the lake, the father tall and diligently watching, the mother resting with her head partially tucked under her wings. But her eyes are open and she keeps them on the five goslings waddling around her body. Another goose has nested on the lower ponds, and that clan will keep their goslings closer to the water at first, though I haven’t seen signs of hatching yet at that nest. Eventually, when the goslings are all big enough, both clans will bring their young to the lake out back. Each year I watch to see if the turtle has goose for dinner.

So, the next phase of goose observation is just that – to see how many survive. This phase comes with mixed feelings because, in truth, geese are a nuisance around here. Goslings are cute for a very short period, then go through a rather ugly phase. Then they become geese. Geese are noisier than you can imagine and prefer mowed grass. Thus, goose poop is an issue in the yard. Also, their defecation in the lake increases the water’s nitrogen level, promoting the growth of problem water plants and duckweed. Duckweed looks like algae on the water’s surface but is actually a plant. It is spread by birds flying between ponds with the tiny plants clinging to their feathers. The plant is prolific and given enough nitrogen, can produce a new plant every 24 hours. In two weeks, a single plant can produce up to 17,500 more to cover the entire surface of the water.

It is difficult to root for the survival of all the goslings when I know I will come to hate them later. Sometimes, in years when the geese have especially large broods, I root for the turtle.

Normantown Historical Community Center’s May food pantry will be on Friday the 8th, for emergency box distribution. They will need the same volunteers as the April pantry, likely because they know the safety procedures. Thanks again to Parkersburg Area Community Foundation for their donation of food, and for the previously awarded grant to repair the roof on the brick concession building. Also thanks to Ken Roberts for his contribution.

Donations to NHCC can be made online at https://nhccwv.com/donation or mailed to NHCC, 3031 Hackers Creek Road, Jane Lew 26378, c/o Margaret. Donkey Basketball has been rescheduled for October 17th, 2020.

The Normantown School Alumni Association Reunion has been canceled. They are currently looking at Labor Day Weekend, Saturday, September 5, 2020, as a possible reschedule date. It will be appreciated if you could remit your Scholarship Fund contribution now so the program can grant its award on schedule rather than waiting. For more information, contact Gary Smith. I see also that the Gilmer County High School All-Class Reunion has been cancelled.

Have you submitted your 2020 Census questionnaire yet? This is the first time in my working-age life that I have not worked for the Census when it came to town. The results determine how much federal funding flows into West Virginia each year, and your completed questionnaire can be worth more than $22,000 in federal funding to our state. You can respond online, via phone, or by mailing in your questionnaire. https://2020census.gov/

If you have any 25267 area news you would like to share or any personal messages you want to be posted in local media, send an email to hayesminney@gmail.com or leave a message on our machine at 304-354-9132. I also have a seasonal email newsletter that includes links to this column online. You can subscribe at tinyurl.com/two-2020.

 

The Sounds of Spring

(Published in the May 2017 issue of Two-Lane Livin’ Magazine.)

Oh, how I enjoy the sounds of spring. After months of winter silence that was interrupted only by the rumble of traffic or the caw of crows, the cacophony of spring is truly a celebration of song. First, of course, the spring peepers started. Spring peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) are tan or brown with a dark cross that roughly forms an X on their back (thus the Latin name crucifer, meaning cross-bearer).

I cannot see the frogs, much less their x, without my glasses on, but no one can miss their insistent peeps. Just a few at first, those who awaken too early, the ones who are subdued by the early spring nights that dipped below freezing. Then, as evening temperatures warmed, more and more join the spring call, until their voices are beyond counting, beyond the individual, morphed into an amphibious chorus that lasts all night long. Here, beside the lake, the peepers get so loud they could keep you up at night. For me though, the sound is so soothing, they help me fall right to sleep.

Then, the ducks return. Wood Ducks, Mallards, Bufflehead, Coots, Mergansers. They have little to say during the day, too busy diving and dipping and puttering about. But when they gather on the lake around dusk, zip-lining from the sky to the darkening water’s surface, their coos are comforting, yearning, soulful, and serene. Once they return, I begin timing my days so I can wander out onto the back porch at dusk, just to eavesdrop on their conversations and enjoy. Languishing calls in the darkness from one feathered family member to another, coddling calls that seem like sounds of settling, of ruffling off the trials of the day.

German poet Rainer Maria Rilke said, “A birdsong can even, for a moment, make the whole world into a sky within us, because we feel that the bird does not distinguish between its heart and the world’s.” On the porch glider in the dark, listening to the quibbling ducks, I feel I am a part of their conversation, unable to distinguish between their hearts, the world’s, and my own.

The Canada Geese calls are different. Their honks are loud, caustic, annoying. They argue and fight with great frequency, especially when they gather on the water at night. They WILL keep you awake at night, fussing and shouting at each other. Chattering. By the time the matriarch of the flock sets her nest on the island, the bull frogs are out of hibernation and add their bass barking to the blend of the spring music. Their voices push from their throats against the water into the sunlight of the day, into the stillness of the night. Pushing, throbbing, again and again, seeking their mates for the season. Next, the turkeys start mating in the fields, their sporadic gobbles echoing through the valley intermittently throughout the day.

And as if these sounds weren’t enough, come May, the spring birdsong truly flourishes. We are in a prime location-near water, in the fields, but not far from the edge of the woods. I celebrate the return of each spring bird as thought my friends: the robin, the bluebirds, the red-winged blackbirds. The woodpeckers (red-headed and red-bellied), the American Bittern, the Belted Kingfisher. Shrike, nuthatches, killdeer, titmice.

I sat down one afternoon to simply listen to the song of the catbird, and am always listening for the seldom-heard call of the Bob White or the Whippoorwill. Rumi, Persian poet and Sufi master, once wrote, “Birdsong brings relief to my longing. I am just as ecstatic as they are, but with nothing to say.” For me I feel I have too much to say, but cannot find the words. Birds don’t need words; they have their songs.

The birdsong at my friend’s house in the forest is made up of different songs. The towhee, the vireo, the thrush. She learned the birds and their songs as she grew up here in West Virginia, and she knows them well. I have my grandfather’s binoculars, a field guide to birds, the lessons she has taught me, and I try to spy the singers in order to match them in my book. Slowly I learn the birds who tweet, those who warble, those who chit, those who sing.

The last to arrive are the ones who hum, the hummingbirds who come to dive into my iris and spring lilies. They rest briefly in the sassafras tree, shimmering green and aquamarine. As long as I have flowers blooming in my gardens continuously all summer, I have no need to put out a feeder. The hummingbirds visit all season long.

Autumn, I think, is West Virginia’s most beautiful time of year visually, but Spring is the most lovely, musically.

Buzzing will come and carry us through summer. The buzzing of wood boring bees, determined to hollow out the beams of our back porch roof. The buzzing of flies, of gnats, of mowers and weed-eaters. The buzzing of fans, air conditioners, the rumbling of tractors and tillers, the rip-roaring of ATVs. But, for now the world is filled with song, glorious music, from brisk mornings into the earthy night. I lie in the lounge chair on the porch in the evenings and just listen, remembering to be still, to be grateful, to breathe.

Recent Visitors — Name that Duck

Since our house sits right next to a large pond, you can imagine that we get a variety of water foul around here. We have our regulars, the cormorant and the Canadian geese, but then we also encounter a variety of duck who come and go, as well as the occasional egret and even once, and osprey.

These are our most recent visitors, not as skittish as most others, who enjoyed the day eating at the “human’s side” of the water.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unseasonably Warm

Like anyone else, I get a case of the blues now and then. Also like anyone else, I have the benefit of people in my life who make it a point to develop and create those blues for me. As much as I appreciate their efforts and attention to my life, I’m afraid the blues just can’t compete with an unseasonably warm day.

Most often, this time of year, I tend to dread the trips outside to check on the chickens, collecting eggs, feeding and putting the hens up at night.  Mud, cold wind, grey skies – not on my list of favorite things. Imagine my surprise today when I opened the door to sunshine and a warm breeze.

Our honey bees were already active, raiding the chicken feeders and buzzing around the porch. I’ve long-since learned the bees have little interest in me, as long as I’m not doused in perfume and cosmetics.

Even in mid-winter, our garden needs attention after the way we abandoned it in the fall of last year. So, I tossed my coat and hat on the roof of the chicken pen, and wandered out that way, with Daisy Dewdrop on my heels. Both the chickens and the bees seemed interested in what I was doing, clearing weeds and moving dirt. Both likely hoping I would uncover something for them to eat.

It didn’t take Daisy long to find the rabbit hiding among the high grasses, and if you know beagles, you know the chase was on. Since she can run up to 24 miles and hour (we’ve chased her in a car before) I tied on her leash and did my best to keep up. It frustrated her, me holding her back, but didn’t keep her from following the trail through the prickly Autumn Olive bushes, which scratched my arms. When she lost the trail (at the same spot she always does), I led her back to the house. Along the way, she stopped at the edge of the lake to get something to drink, and I took time to lift my face to the sun.

I don’t claim to have all the answers. I only claim to be constantly in search of them, and I’m often eager to share any I’ve discovered. One of the main truths I’ve found is if you can find joy in sunshine and warm breezes, it’s easier to survive the mean and nasties of the world.

Sure, I may seem crazy, offering buzzing honey bees warm greetings. Even more crazy still to think they’ve come to know me, know the sound of my voice, my scent. Crazier still to think they are my friends – but I have yet to be stung by any of our honey bees.

I know the wild ducks on our lake better than I know most people. I know who has mated who, which side of the lake they prefer to eat breakfast, and lunch, and dinner. I can sing to my chickens and they’ll sing back to me.

It’s difficult, among these friends, to be haunted by the pettiness of a few people. To bees, beagles, ducks and chickens, the words of men and women are meaningless. Tell a chicken someone hurt your feelings, and they’ll squat, poop and move on. Frankly, I think that’s good advice.

If animals and insects have food, shelter and water – they’re happy. Humans are the only beings who believe – for some reason – they need (or deserve) more. We’re the only ones who torture ourselves (and others) to achieve far beyond what we truly need.  We spend lifetimes making ourselves (and others) miserable simply because we want.

Part of simplifying our lives has taught me though – we make ourselves (and others) miserable only if we want to. And while there are those who obviously want to share their misery with us, I have to remember, that is not what we want. People don’t believe it. Because they want that misery and to share it, they assume we want the same.

But the bees know better, the hens know better, the ducks, the beagle and the sunshine knows better.

In many ways, we wanted to find the simple joys in life, like the blessings of an unseasonably warm day.

The Peepers Always Freeze Twice

One of the biggest cues that winter is ending is the emergence of the Spring Peepers. When you have a lake in your back yard, sometimes they can be so loud they make it hard to fall asleep at night. Most folks, when they hear that first “peep,” they think that spring has sprung.

But I know — the peepers always freeze twice.

It’s been about a month since we heard the first peep around here, and two weeks ago, there was a spread of snow. Then, we had warm days with rain, hail, thunder — all a small taste of spring. I planted seeds, inside and out. The hens began laying again. Crocus bloomed, forsythia bloomed, daffodils bloomed.

But last night the peepers were silent, and this morning — there’s snow.

As much as I would like to think we’d be delivering the April issue along sunny roadways with the windows down, I realize that’s not the weather predicted for the upcoming week. And though the Vernal Equinox has passed, I know the loading docks at the printer in Parkersburg tomorrow will feel as windy and cold as pick up in January.

<sigh>

The new T-shirts I ordered for Frank and I to wear on delivery sport our logos and a new promotion arrived yesterday. Looks like they’ll be pulled on over thermal shirts and hidden beneath coats all week. Bummer.

The arrival of spring is a month filled with disappointments — because once we start seeing the signs, we have higher expectations of sunshine, warm breezes and open-toed shoes. But I have learned not to get my hopes too high, and to leave the electric blanket on the bed.

I may switch from snow boots to rubber boots for yard work, but I know to keep the wool socks handy.

I clip daffodil blossoms and forsythia branches, and bring them inside to put in water.

Because the peepers always freeze twice.

Not One Coyote But Four

Recently I told about a lone coyote coming through the yard in the middle of a hot day. It stopped at the lake for a drink, then went on about its business.

Yesterday I realized the truth. Where there’s one coyote, there’s more.

At first, I thought the open door was creaking in the breeze. Then I thought a stray (or farm) cat was mewling in the yard. Then, Daisy Dewdrop jumped up from her nap and pitched a fit. The source of the noise was a coyote pup, one of two sitting casually in the shade at the back corner of the lake, looking at… something….

Ah, an adult coyote. But, where I stood my full view was blocked, and actually there were two adults as well.

I realize, as someone who lives on a farm with cats and dogs and newborn colts — this is bad.  Four coyotes, not more than 200 yards from the house.

I didn’t think they’d stay long, so I grabbed the camera, the binoculars and my sandals, and out the door I went.

Actually, they stayed quite a while. One adult would run into the woods, and the two pups and the remaining adult would lay low in the grass. Next thing you know, a deer would exit the woods near where the coyote entered – out in front of the three laying in wait. They didn’t get any deer yesterday, but not for lack of trying.

Had they jumped a fawn instead of adult deer? I think the results would have been different.

Here’s the best picture I got without the big lens on the camera. (I think, it’s been a long time since I’ve tried to include a photo in a blog entry. I’ve made it a large image, so you can see…)

Four coyotes
They were not concerned about me. Although I didn’t get close enough to get a decent picture, I did get into the edge of their space. They were not scared of me. The pups looked at me with some concern – “Hey. There’s a human.” – but the adults gave the look like “Yeah, humans. Such varmints. I wish they’d just stay in their caves.”

When I got close enough to make them uncomfortable, I realized, I had the wrong equipment for such socializing. I had a camera and binoculars, but no gun, and was walking right up on two adult wild animals with young.

DUH.

Finally, they gave me their full attention – still without fear. “Eewww. The human’s getting closer. Come on, we’ll have to find somewhere else to train.”

Still, they went just past the edge of the woods, to a rock and boulder formation still within sight. All four lined up along the edge of the boulder, looking at me, watching me, as if to see if I was going to leave so they could go right back to what they were doing.

Eventually, they must have decided I wasn’t leaving, and they casually, one after the other, went deeper into the woods and out of site.

Although it felt like an episode on National Geographic, I also now feel as though they’re out there, watching.

Coyote At the Door… Almost

In the sixteen years I’ve lived in Central West Virginia, until this year, I had never seen a coyote. I’ve seen a bear – twice. I’ve seen foxes, bobcats, countless deer.

But this year, while sitting lazy on the back porch watching the lake, as I was yesterday, I watched a coyote emerge from the edge of the woods, in the middle of the day, to trot down to the water for a drink.

Yesterday was the second time. Since yesterday’s coyote followed the same path as the first (and the same path as the deer usually take), I assume it’s the same canine.

I ran in the house and reached for the camera — Frank reached for the gun. I gave him a look.

“See your dog?” He asked, tipping his head towards Daisy Dewdrop, napping on the chaise lounge. “Yes,” I replied.

“To that coyote, she’s meat.”

I thought about my little Daisy as meat, and of our older dog Jazz trying to fend off a pack.

While I was thinking, Frank went on. “And the new colt in the lower field?” I nodded. “Meat,” he said.

I relented, but was happy to see the coyote slip over the bank and out of our immediate sight before Frank fired.

Frank followed him across the lower field – past the horses – and into the woods on the other side of the farm. Again – the deer path.

We’ve hear coyotes in the woods a few times this summer — far off in the right hand holler. Daisy freaks out and barks her head off. Jazz, too old and hard of hearing to hear the coyate’s cries, only knows something is up because of Daisy’s ruckus.

I have wondered, frequently, how often a bear has lumbered across the fields at night unknown, with us on the porch, staring into the darkness. You know how a dog will be laying beside you on the porch, then out of the blue, will lift his head and sniff the air? Well, when Jazz does that, and lays his head back down, I think it’s a skunk or opossom. When he does that and walks to the end of the porch and sits? I think it’s a bear.

The coyote seemed healthy, and casual. He stopped  in the middle of the field to look around the houses by the road just as sweet as you please, and then, perhaps hearing Frank come near, pranced across the field and disappeared into the woods. So – matter-of-fact. So quiet.

I couldn’t sleep last night. I laid still, flat on my back, and realized I was listening. Listening to see if the coyotes were calling to each other, sharing the news of the bounties they scouted out during the day. Telling of fresh water, and Beagle meat, and Elkhound meat, and horse meat down below.

But the woods only echoed the calls of a thousand crickets, and of the occasional toad or night bird.

But, who knew what was crossing the field?
Lord, it’s so dry. When the hunters of the woods come to our yard to get a drink, we need rain.