Community Columns

Back home, where spring is in a hurry

Soon after we arrived home from our winter in Florida, we saw commotion by the cherry tree in the backyard. Looking closer, we saw three young squirrels running around and around and then up into the safety of their tree house. We took this family portrait from inside our house just before they went in for the night.

Before we left Florida we had read that spring was two weeks early on the North Fork this year. That meant we were going to be in a new green world when we arrived. The lawns should not have been so green. The budding trees should have been in their infancy. Everything was ahead of schedule.

Across our pasture we could see three or four ospreys flying and calling around our windmill. Each year they make an attempt at building a nest on top of it. We wondered if this year they would finally succeed. But no, all that seems to be accomplished is a pile of sticks and debris that has mostly fallen to the ground. Each day it was the same: ospreys diving and flying and screaming and dropping nesting material on the top of the windmill.

Even though we were sad to see failure, we always enjoy the ospreys landing on our windmill to dine on their freshly caught fish. Most of the fish we could identify as bunkers, for their forked tails and silver sheen gave them away.

One day Barbara caught a glimpse of something moving not far from the windmill and tried to identify it. She thought it might have been the groundhog that visited us last year. She got out the binoculars and to her surprise it turned out to be a beautiful, big red fox. Later that day we also saw a young fox playing on the back hill.

Barbara thought it prudent to check on our chickens, as we’ve had problems with foxes before. They like chickens. Some of you readers may recall the day we had a family gathering and sat and watched a fox chase a hen across the lawn, only to snatch the chicken out of the air when it could fly no longer. Our real concern was for the two bantam hens now setting on eggs that should hatch within the next week, but it turned out that all was well in the hen house.

All the time we were watching the ospreys and fox, we were surprised to notice how green everything was and how many shrubs were in blossom and trees were in leaf. Our redbud is in full bloom, along with the azaleas, the star magnolia and, of course, the daffodils and tulips.

We stopped by our son’s place to pick a bunch of lilacs with their wonderful spring fragrance. That’s not what I remember most about the lilacs from years ago. Lilacs were the signal that the weakfish were running. As I’ve mentioned before in this column, one of my greatest days when weakfish were in was a day Dennis Puleston came to the house and I took him across the bay in my canoe to do some birding on Robins Island. On the way back I thought we’d try to pick up a few weakfish. To the delight of both of us, we loaded our bucket with those silvery fighting fish.

The only bad side to that story was that when Barbara filled the electric frying pan outdoors with the roe and walked down the driveway to the mailbox while they cooked, she returned to find Flicka, our golden retriever, licking her chops and an empty fry pan! So much for weakfish roe for the rest of us.

Before we left Florida, we had been watching the red-bellied woodpeckers as they enjoyed the suet cake at our window. Occasionally they woke us up with their drumming on the gutter. I think we spoiled them by feeding them raw peanuts in the shell. What they would do was fly away and take the nuts out of the shell and then fly to a nearby telephone pole, where they would insert them in a hole for later use.

It didn’t take us long to see our first red-bellied woodpecker back here in Cutchogue performing the same ritual of drumming on our rain gutter. It has taken to the sunflower seed and suet and perhaps soon we’ll see if they, too, like peanuts in the shell.

Actually, wildlife in our backyard has kept us busy since arriving. Early mornings, three or four deer wander through our place heading out for the day, and later in the afternoon we often see them when they return for the night. We’ve lost a few plants and bushes to them, so we fence in whatever we feel we need to keep for ourselves, like our vegetable garden and some special bushes, and the rest we share.

We enjoyed feeding the birds in Florida and now back home we have enjoyed seeing and hearing our old friends the chickadees, nuthatches, titmice, cardinals, finches, wrens and others, all adding their voices to the mating chorus, which means love is in the air.