Birdie Babel

Birds are in my brain today as I sit down to hammer out this weekly chore. So, yes, it’s birds I plan to discuss while, of course, fighting off Satanic urges to meander off into the perilous terrain of sensitive topics, which it seems to me readers prefer.

As for birds, well, no, I honestly can’t blame this thought train on the mated pair of mallards Chubby flushed out of a cold, slim channel slithering between tall, verdant cattails painting the beaver-bog edge this morning. No, that fleeting, flying, whistling encounter, which happens often, was just a brief reminder of the many bird tales that have for some reason crossed my path this week, starting with a wood duck hen and her brood of perhaps 10 tiny ducklings I stopped to literally let cross the road in front of my truck on the way to work Monday evening. I was surprised to witness such a sight, thinking it a bit early for hatchlings during this cold, late spring as I watched their nervous, disoriented waddle across the road’s center stripes, over the gravel shoulder and into an old, overgrown Christmas Tree farm planted t’other side of the guardrails by a radiologist who some years ago split Down East.

Then, in rapid fashion came a phone call from an old hunting buddy curious about a turkey vanishing act that had endured for more than a week, and, from the same source, especially his surreal tale of a peculiar partridge that befriended and frankly bemused him during a mid-morning turkey hunt behind his friend’s barnyard on the way to Leyden. Accustomed to being startled by flushing partridge fleeing for cover in a burst of energy from the forest floor as he’s tiptoed through his haunts for better than 60 years, this bird, to his utter disbelief, walked right up to him as he sat concealed in a turkey stand. Then it lingered like a pet and proceeded to follow him around like a dunghill hen, flying across brooks to join him t’other side. When he finally decided to call it a day and backtrack to his truck, the bird followed him all the way back to within sight of the barnyard before spotting a fat barn feline in the double-rutted road and flying off with that familiar whooshing flash.

“I never thought I’d live to see the day that a partridge would follow me around in the woods like a pet,” my friend marveled. “I really believe I could have reached out and picked it up a few times when it got real close.”

Suspecting the bird had been raised, fed and tamed by his farmer friend or a neighbor, my friend asked his old National Guard pal if he was familiar with the partridge. He received a wry grin and quick response. Yes, he knew the bird well, said it had been around for some time and was remarkably tame, but no one to his knowledge had raised it. No, he figured it was just a freak of nature — one of those things that happens from time to time. And when I think of it, hasn’t Thoreau or Muir or some naturalist of that ilk written about unusual relationships with odd wild creatures? It seems to me I’ve read such accounts, though please don’t ask me to cite verse and line.

Regarding my buddy’s turkey dilemma, well, not being out there as an observer, it’s difficult to ascertain the reason for this reported disappearing act, though I can say from experience that there’s always a stage of the spring mating season when the action slows noticeably for hunters. My buddy’s initial question to me was, “Hey, when’s the last time you saw turkeys out in the fields you monitor?” And he was indeed onto something because, although I hadn’t really given it much thought, I realized that, yes, I had not seen in a week or more the turkeys I had been watching all spring. Such a phenomenon usually occurs when toms are content with the harems they’ve assembled while their loyal mates are busy tending and building nests full of eggs.

My buddy claims to have spoken to many experienced hunters and farmers, all of whom concur that they’re not seeing turkeys, either, and that they were seeing them regularly not long ago. So it appears that we’re experiencing that familiar part of the season when things slow down, which doesn’t mean no one is scoring. Trust me, there are random daily successes here and there in the Hampshire/Franklin hills, where hunters situated in the right place at the right time are bagging trophy longbeards that charge in with a vociferous fatal passion.

Then again, this time of year one must always beware of silent approaches by wise, wary gobblers that creep within range without a peep.

Fish finder: MassWildlife crews are working toward their Memorial Day trout-stocking crescendo, after which will likely come one surplus June stocking followed by a fall stocking that’ll signal the end. By now, there are trout everywhere they’re typically found, so don’t hesitate to dig that old rod out of the shed. … Meanwhile, things are picking up on the Connecticut River anadromous-fish-migration scene, with 51,634 American shad having been counted in the river system through Tuesday. With the river temperature in Holyoke at 55.4 degrees Fahrenheit Tuesday, more than 36,000 shad were lifted at Holyoke, representing the best day so far, and it should only get better as the river temps rise to 60. … No Atlantic salmon to report yet. Who knows? We may get a few stragglers. Maybe not. Only time will tell. By now, with the once-aggressive restoration project defunct, does it really matter? The time was not and is not right for salmon restoration on New England’s largest river. Sad but true. Had the authorities done their homework or listened to the doctoral-level naysayers who warned them from the start that the project was not viable, they could have saved taxpayers tens, if not hundreds of millions. Too late now. Chalk it up as water over the dam.

Outgoing: Affable Elna Castonguay — a cheerful, humble, friendly, committed and loyal public servant with whom I’ve dealt for many years in her post as MassWildlife’s Western District administrative assistant — retires today, the lucky dog. With an old-fashioned enthusiasm for her job, Elna is a dying breed, the likes of whom are most often replaced by those who think they’re overqualified or just plain “too good” for their job, making life difficult for people like me seeking information in a timely fashion. All I can say is that in more than 35 years covering this beat, there were none better than Elna, thus the praise. Elna will be missed. Trust me.

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