Posts Tagged ‘woodpecker’

A Discomforting Noise

On Sunday my husband left for a two-week trip to our home town, while I remain in Maine. People often ask me if I’m afraid to be alone in such a rural spot.  Fortunately the area in which I live is pretty much crime-free.  There are people I can call for assistance for other emergencies if necessary.   But of course there is always the possibility of an accident.

The only time this became a reality was when I fell  – – hard! – – on some ice and just quietly lay on my back on the snowy ground looking up at the sky, waiting for the pain to pass and thinking, “This. Is. Not. Good.”  I knew I wasn’t badly hurt, but the drama queen in me did force me to consider the possibility that I could die here and no one would know about it!  (My husband and I do communicate with one another several times a day, so help would arrive before the vultures start circling.)  Fortunately after a few minutes’ rest I was able to get up and go about my business.  I do try to avoid unnecessary risks when possible.  I always let someone know where I’m going and when I expect to be back when I walk, hike, or kayak alone.  My dog usually accompanies me.  I wear bright neon colors even when it’s not hunting season so I’m easily visible while walking on the road or kayaking on the lake.  And I am well versed in self-defense.  I guess I just have the spirit of a free-range kid.

But for Monday, with my husband away, I was planning on sleeping in late.

Alas, it was not meant to be.  I was awakened abruptly at 6:30 a.m. by a horrible, loud vibrating noise.  It sounded like a pipe that might be connected to our furnace.  The noise came and went, then started up again intermittently.  I dragged myself out of bed, praying that the furnace would not blow.

It’s times like these that being alone can be challenging.  Unlike in my home town, I don’t ever feel unsafe here in rural Maine, but it’s a hard realization that you can’t rely on someone else to solve your problems for you.  You need to stay calm, and think things through, which is sometimes easier said than done.  Mainers are great diagnosticians and good repairmen, but I didn’t want to call my heating person only to find out it wasn’t the furnace – – I didn’t want the story of that “dumb lady from away” to make the rounds of the local diner that would make me a laughingstock and recipient of quiet smirks the next time I went into town.  So I was determined to get to the bottom of the mysterious noise.  Even if I couldn’t fix it, I could at least identify it.

But when I got to the basement, the noise faded, and I realized the source of the noise was elsewhere.  But where?

There was no regular pattern to the noise.  I kept walking around the house looking for clues.  Then I went to the porch.  It could be the noise was coming from outside.

When I ventured outside, the noise stopped.  To be safe, I carefully checked under the porch, and around all four exterior corners.  Nothing.  But the second I stepped inside, the noise started up again.  Now I determined the sound was indeed coming from outside.  But it was like a game:  when I would go outside, the noise would stop.  I’d go inside, and the noise would start up again. Back and forth, in and out, and I wasn’t any closer to solving the mystery.

Finally I went outside and stayed outside.  Making myself small, I stood silent like a statue, not moving an inch.  I waited for the noise to start up again, whenever that might be.  And sure enough I wasn’t disappointed:  a yellow-bellied sapsucker, which is a type of woodpecker, flew to my roof and promptly began attacking my metal chimney cap!

Why a woodpecker would prefer metal to all the juicy, bug-saturated trees surrounding my house remains a mystery. Perhaps it saw the chimney as an alluring location for a future nest.  And this bird was no dummy.  The minute it would see me, it would fly away, but as soon as I retreated to the shadows it was back, pounding away.  The vibration in my house was actually the entire length of the metal chimney reacting to the woodpecker’s pounding outside.  Besides the genuine annoyance from the noise, I was concerned about damage to the chimney, which would be an expensive repair.  And because I am away for weeks at a time when I visit my family in my home town, I was not going to be able to be on constant woodpecker patrol.

The Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker woodpecker

The Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker woodpecker

But I was here now and I just wanted my peace and quiet.

Even though it wasn’t particularly cold outside, I decided to build an early morning fire in the wood stove.  I figured the combination of hot metal and spewing smoke from the chimney top would discourage the bird.  Fortunately I was right!  The woodpecker stayed away the remainder of the day.

Alas, the very next morning at 6:30 a.m. the yellow-bellied sapsucker was back, pounding away.  Now the outside temperature was even warmer, but once again I lit a fire and I was undisturbed the rest of the day.

This morning the bird must have decided it wasn’t worth the effort, and left my chimney – – and me! – – blessedly alone.  Considering that outside temperatures are supposed to reach a beautiful 70 degrees next week, I hope I won’t be lighting any more fires in the wood stove to keep the woodpecker away, anytime soon.  And tomorrow, I’m sleeping in.

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Deer Sign

During deer hunting season I didn’t see a single deer, but now that deer hunting season is over, I have seen two bucks.  Due to a very harsh winter three years ago which resulted in death by starvation, an increase in the predator coyote population, and overhunting (the number of deer hunting permits is limited, but there are poachers), the deer population is down and sightings are rare.  Unless hunters are incredibly lucky and just happen to see a deer when their rifles are handy, it takes some good scouting work to locate areas where deer have visited.  This is usually done by taking long walks in the woods to look for deer signs: tracks (hoof prints),  pellets (excrement), deer scrapes, and antler rubbings.  From the website Foremost Hunting I found the following helpful information:

Deer “scrape” the ground with their hooves- – and at times will do so with their antlers. The scrapes will range from the size of a dinner plate to that of a child’s portable swimming pool. Put money on the fact that if you find a swimming pool sized scrape, you’ve either got one huge trophy buck, or it’s a “community scrape,” where all the deer are together. That type of community scrape usually means younger, or immature bucks. A mature buck will normally stay to himself and scrape distinct areas to announce his presence and mark his territory.

Different types of scrapes mean different types of bucks. Young bucks go along, and they really don’t know what they’re doing. It’s like a 16-year-old going out on his first date – -he has some instinctive idea of what he’s supposed to be doing but doesn’t really know the ball game. So young bucks go out and start marking territory everywhere. There’s no rhyme or reason to their scraping. If they see a scrape from another buck, they’ll scrape in the same area, and in the end the area will become a community scrape, of sorts. The young bucks will return to these areas to check out what’s happening. They don’t really recognize that they’re marking the area.

On the other hand, a mature, dominant buck knows exactly what he’s doing. They scrape, and they announce by their scrapes that they’re marking their territory, telling other bucks to stay out of it.

Savvy hunters recognize what are called “scrape lines.” Dominant, big bucks will move up and down and around their territory marking with scrapes anywhere from about every 30 to maybe a 100 yards. They scrape along a specific trail or “line” as it’s called. These scrape lines will attract knowledgeable hunters who will set up along these lines, taking the wind into consideration (remember – -it’s critical to always locate downwind from your quarry), and then the hunters wait for that big trophy to show up on his scrape line.

Very much like the scrape line is a rub line – which is done on trees or bushes. Bucks use these rubs in two instances. The first is when they rub off the velvet on their new set of antlers. Usually that’s earlier in the year and smart hunters know that these rubs may not indicate territorial markings, but rather just the opportunity for the bucks to get the velvet off their antlers. Early in the year, rubs will mostly appear on small saplings or trees, and you can’t tell much about the size of the deer or if there’s any territorial rubbing going on. As the year moves on and the antlers harden, the bucks instinctively try to get the velvet off as quickly as they can. At that time, you can really begin to estimate the size of the deer that’s rubbing. As the rut approaches, you can look at the diameter of the trees that the bucks are rubbing. The bigger or wider the tree, and the larger the antler marks, the bigger the buck. A little forkhorn will not rub against a huge pine tree. Deer will stick to a tree that befits their size. A big 10 or 12 pointer however with a heavy rack will hit on a big tree. That’s what he’s looking for. The real key is if you see a tree which has been rubbed – and it’s big- – and the tree or trees directly behind the primary rubbed tree also have ancillary rubs from the same deer, then you pretty well know that you’re on to something big. The buck was so large that as he wrapped himself around the big, primary tree he was rubbing, he not only hit that tree, but the ones behind it.

What a lot of hunters do is set up trail cameras along scrape and rub lines, which will photograph or take video of the bucks who are rubbing and scraping. The hunter will then be able to closely determine the actual size of the buck who is in the area.

While I don’t hunt, learning about how to track animals truly enriches one’s enjoyment of walks in the woods.  About a month ago my husband and I were walking around the edges of our property, when we came across these antler rubbings.  Had I not known what they were, I might have passed this tree without noticing anything special.

This young tree shows signs of antler rubbing.  My husband holds his pen nearby to get an idea of size.

This young tree shows signs of antler rubbing. My husband holds his pen nearby to get an idea of size.

This young tree shows signs of antler rubbings.  My husband holds a pen next to the tree so you can get an ideal of perspective.

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While most people have romantic notions of wildlife, animals such as beavers, deer and woodpeckers can cause tremendous damage and destruction to  trees.  While on the same walk, we found a tree with some freshly drilled woodpecker holes.

While these huge holes will undoubtedly kill the tree, other animals, including owls and other birds, will use the hole to make a nest.

While these huge holes will undoubtedly kill this tree, other animals, including owls and other birds, will use the hole to make a nest.

Sawdust from the freshly-drilled holes on the trunk lays at the base of the tree.

Sawdust from the freshly drilled holes in the trunk lays at the base of the tree.