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Spring’s unpredictable wildlife

Notes from the North Woods

Styrofoam worm containers are not biodegradable. Plastic trash lasts for years, and it is easily washed downriver by the spring floods.

Styrofoam worm containers are not biodegradable. Plastic trash lasts for years, and it is easily washed downriver by the spring floods.

The spring season’s unpredictable weather has certainly provided some unique challenges for outdoor travelers with high temperatures in the 70’s and 80’s and lows dropping into the 30’s, with snow, rain and heavy winds.

Fortunately, the cool weather has helped to keep the blackflies at bay. And when it didn’t, at least you could hear them coming with the noise of thousands of black flies chattering their teeth in the cold.

A much more common spring sound has been the faraway thump, thump, thump of a lawnmower attempting to start up far away in the forest.

The noise is not actually mechanical by nature, it is natural in nature. And the fascinating element of the odd spring sound is the sound maker.

The noise is the mating call of a male ruffed grouse, which is often referred to as a partridge. In order to amplify the sound the birds seek out a ‘drumming tree,’ which is usually of a long, hollow tree laying on the ground.

Drumming trees may be used by generations of birds, but contrary to the long accepted theory of drumming, the male grouse does not produce the drumming noise by thumping the tree with their wings.

Rather, the male birds stand upright on the log and beat their wings furiously. So furiously in fact, that the tips of their wing feathers actually break the sound barrier.

But instead of just cracking a whip, their feathers crack several whips to produce the rhythmic thumping that has become as signature a sound of spring as a loon’s lonesome wail or a pepper’s pestering peep.

The effort also serves to ‘buff them up,’ as they can lose more than 10 percent of their body weight due to the energy expended in drumming.

In addition to attracting female birds, the male’s powerful beats serve to ward off potential suitors from intruding on its territory, which may be as extensive as 6 to 8 acres or larger.

Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at brookside18@adelphia.net.

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