Neighborhood Wildlife

Damp, cool air, corn snow, puddles in meadow depressions, treacherous ice booby-trapping nighttime, backyard paths — all signs that spring is creeping in. Plus, just Tuesday morning, taking out a fresh pailful of ash and embers from my woodstove, a crimson cardinal was perched in an ornamental cherry singing his happy tune, an even better harbinger.

Down where I walk, little worth reporting. One lonely raccoon’s tracks traveling northward along the upper hayfield’s rim, across a double-rutted farm trail and over the escarpment to high, steep, undercut refuge. Also, random coyote traffic. Not much. They’re probably hunting rabbits. As for deer, well, some sign is starting to reappear, but nothing like the fall and early winter. They’re around but there’s nothing in the hayfields for them these days. Queried this week, my friend and upper Greenfield Meadows neighbor reported seeing 15 in his yard recently just before dark.

“I counted them twice,” he said. “Fifteen. They were out back along a line of white pines, feeding toward Green River Road. They wandered around, regrouped and headed up Smead Hill for the night.”

“Did one appear much larger than the rest?” I inquired.

“Yes, there was one big one that really stuck out, and some that were much smaller than the rest.”



This final report told me the big trophy buck I’ve tracked for months is still touring the neighborhood. Another neighbor had reported in December that he often saw eight does feeding along his fence line. I know one of those deer had been killed in the road during a snowstorm soon after that report. Now 15 in my buddy’s yard, not a mile away from where the eight were regularly appearing. Do the math. The winter neighborhood herd has picked up eight deer since December, likely three or four bucks that have shed their antlers. Looks like next summer will be a good one for deer sightings around home after the does drop their fawns.

Something else I’ve often seen over the past 10 months is bald eagles, never more than one but one many times around the same location. They may be different birds, or perhaps the same one over and over. Who knows? Most often, I notice one circling high above, easily identifiable by its white head and tail. Another time I wrote about jumping one out of a riverside tree and watching it gracefully fly upstream over a dwindling brood of common mergansers. Then, there was the day after a fresh snow when I watched one circle a hayfield low and perch in broad daylight in a tall tree between a Plain Road home and a squash field. A half-hour later, it was still there, its white head signaling its presence in a naked gray tree, most likely a soft maple.

Last week, a neighbor stopped by and later called after his knocks had gone unanswered. I don’t know how I missed them. He had come straight to my home after passing two low-flying bald eagles headed east toward the Green River, just upstream from the Greenfield Pool at the Colrain-Plain roads’ crotch. Later that same day — you can’t make it up — an email from west Northfield reader Bill Copeland arrived with an interesting photo attached. After viewing last week’s photo of a deer’s remains after coyote predation, he wanted to share a backyard photo (below) of a bald eagle on the ground, wings stretched high, talons securing the wild turkey it was devouring to the ground.  The eagle dwarfs the turkey, which looks more like a partridge underneath the giant raptor.

“I meant to send you this earlier,” Copeland wrote. “Your latest column (of the deer remains) reminded me. Though not a good photo and maybe not rare, this sight of eagle-on-turkey in west Northfield is a lot gorier than eagle-on-fish.”

Honestly, I never pondered eagles preying on turkeys, but it makes a lot of sense given turkeys’ aggressive response to owl hoots emitted by hunters trying the initiate gobbling. Also, it offers another explanation why eagles are attracted to my agricultural neighborhood, where there is no shortage of turkeys to go along with fish, waterfowl, woodchucks, rabbits and many other prey. Though I can’t say for sure, I have an idea an eagle or great horned owl could maybe even take down an infant fawn embarking upon its maiden voyage out of the nest on four shaky legs. I wouldn’t bet against it.

Live and learn.

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