May’s memorable compensations

By Jim McGuire

Contributing columnist

May is all but over. Time marches relentlessly onward— and the final full month of my favorite season is fast winding down.

I’d like to bid May adieu by fishing a couple of small and stellar bronzeback waters. But it’s been an unseasonably wet spring, and I am sorely underfished—a nagging malady that increasingly affects my mood and wellbeing.

This ailment can only be remedied by sufficient doses of stream therapy. Unfortunately, it’s currently raining. The river flowing past our cottage is up several feet and is the color of creamed coffee. It will rise even more during the hours ahead.

Excessive rain is always the spring fisherman’s nemesis—and has been the story for this year’s iteration of May.

In the frustrating way these things seem to be personally directed, whenever the streams I hoped to fish did momentarily clear, my schedule and responsibilities intervened. And when I could finally break free…it would begin raining again.

Still, while the month of May didn’t provide much ideal fishing weather, it has generously delivered any number of memorable outdoor moments—several bird related.

The first involves a pair of Canada geese. Every morning they paddle across the channel from the island, climb the steep riverbank into the yard, and wait by my front door for a generous breakfast ration of cracked corn.

Should I fail to speedily serve their meal, they honk loudly until I hastily and apologetically deliver their food.

Back in their good graces, I often then sit in a nearby rocker literally a yard away. These are wild and otherwise wary birds. I don’t know why they trust and accept my presence so close to where they’re eating. But I count my status as a privileged eavesdropper a high honor.

The female dines first. The gander, always a solicitous mate, keeps careful watch. When she’s done, he bends down and pecks away at his own breakfast.

Throughout I remain still and watchful, listening to their soft and nasally mealtime chatter. Relaxed, familial goosetalk.

At regular intervals—whether he’s keeping watch or eating—the gander will raise his head and turn directly my way. Looking me in the eye, he seems like a canny poker player trying to decide whether you’re holding a winning hand or just bluffing.

I swear that goose is thinking, contemplating…considering. You can chalk this up to anthropomorphizing if you like.

Regardless, I counter by returning his penetrating gaze while trying to give off benign vibes. Sometimes I speak friendly words of reassurance.

Our dual scrutiny typically ends with a bit of mutual head-nodding. While I don’t know what we’re saying, or what the body language means, we seem in agreement.

May’s pair of friendly geese have been a genuine delight.

Another May pleasure has been the orioles who built their nest in one of the big sycamores, and are now feeding hatchlings. Not only are orioles flat-out gorgeous, they’re loud, musical, and tireless singers. Daily the yard is filled with lovely and enthusiastic song.

A couple of mornings ago, I looked out and saw a male rose-breasted grosbeak perched on a limb a half-dozen feet from the kitchen window.

Rose-breasted grosbeaks—the males, anyway—are another astonishingly colorful bird and also excellent singers! But they’re uncommon visitors hereabouts. I seldom see more than one or two around the cottage annually.

Finally, I must mention the red-shouldered hawk who’s become something of a dooryard regular. Seldom does a day pass without his visiting.

I presume this hawk is stalking the birds, squirrels, and anything else attracted to the scraps of corn left over from my morning goose feedings. Though I haven’t actually witnessed any successful swoops—the big raptor keeps trying.

About half the time, rather than making a swift fly-through, the hawk lands in the doorway box elder—or, astonishingly, plops on the back of one of the porch’s rocking chairs! Perched thus, he looks carefully around for several minutes—head swiveling, keen eyes scrutinizing, checking every hidey-hole for the least hint of tell-tale movement.

But here’s the kicker!

I’ve been sitting in one of those deck rocking chairs when the red-shouldered makes his swift rounds. Astonishingly, the presumptuous hawk lands nearby—usually on a low limb or a nearby stump. Once he parked on the railing at the riverbank end of the porch.

Every one of those perches was located within a few feet of where I sat!

He knew I was there. And always gave me an unnerving long stare—perhaps deciding whether I might make an acceptable victim. He’d then look around a while longer before flying off.

I’ve never known a hawk to act so blasé and unafraid. But I’ve been told red-shouldered hawks are very people tolerant.

I could cite a dozen additional memorable May moments. So while I may complain about the incessant rains and my lack of fishing, there have been wonderful compensations.

The river is still high and muddy. But the first three weeks of June are officially spring, so there’s time yet to finish up the season on a piscatorial high note.

Of course, it needs to slack off on the raining…

Question or comment? Reach me at: [email protected]

Jim McGuire, a nature columnist, resides in Englewood, and can be reached at [email protected]