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November 8, 2018

IN THE RIGHT PLACE: TURKEYS WITHOUT BORDERS

By Richard Leighton

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November in rural Maine has become a month for avoiding Turkeys as much as for hunting and eating them. The wild ones roam freely in foraging flocks called “rafts.” It’s not unusual to see a raft of 20 or more Turkeys working a field.

They’re fun to see, but the ones that you don’t see – the ones in the brush alongside the road – can be problematic. Many Wild Turkeys are jaywalkers with a death wish. They dart across the road just when vehicles get within skidding distance. Turkey-related vehicle accidents reportedly are increasing here. Thank goodness these birds sleep at night.

We’re beginning to wonder whether Maine has been too successful in reintroducing the birds. The original colonizers of New England reported Wild Turkey rafts of more than 100 birds, which the colonists hunted relentlessly. By 1672, it was rare to see a Wild Turkey in Massachusetts.  But the birds remained numerous in the sparsely-settled north, now called Maine. As Maine became settled, the number of Wild Turkeys here diminished severely; by the 1880s, the birds were uncommon in much of the State.

After several unsuccessful attempts to reintroduce Wild Turkeys into Maine, a small imported flock took hold in the 1970s. That flock has now grown to an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 Turkeys and is continuing to grow, according to Maine wildlife officials. In a recent State survey, more than a third of Mainers responded that additional steps should be taken to reduce the State’s Wild Turkey population.

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October 11, 2018

IN THE RIGHT PLACE: STICKY BUSINESS

By Richard Leighton

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It’s dinner time, but first we look out the window with a bit of anxiety to see if he’s back. He is! We’ve run him off three evenings in a row, but there he is again. We grab the broom and open the door loudly. He looks up and hunkers down into his Buddha pose, waiting to see what we’ll do.  He’s wild, but not fearful; he’s armed, but not aggressive. He’s a dilemma. He apparently thinks he’s our “Spiny Pig,” which is English for “Porcupine.”

We run at him shouting and waving the broom. He slowly gets on all fours and raises his quilled tail straight into the air – a defensive posture that reminds us not to get close. He turns and walks off in slow, waddling dignity. Perhaps he senses our profound weakness when he sees a broom instead of a rifle.

Porcupines can do considerable damage to trees and we’re not aware of any benefit that they confer on the world, except perhaps as a delicacy for large weasels. The State of Maine, a tree-conscious place, seems to be without much sympathy for Porcupines. Under our regulations, Porcupines are considered numerous and may be taken by licensed hunters in any way, at any time, in any number, except on Sundays or someone else’s posted property.

Nonetheless, there is the view that Porcupines were here before property rights and are part of a complex natural system that we humans invaded and don’t fully understand. And, there is this: sometimes they’re cute. But, not often.

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September 13, 2018

IN THE RIGHT PLACE: SHADOWS AND GHOSTS

By Richard Leighton

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The fog is thick. There’s about 15 feet of visibility as we begin to pick our way along Great Cove’s rocky shore. Above the sound of the lapping tide we hear “Whump- Whump- Whump” – silence – “Whump- Whump- Whump.” We think we know what it is: big wings pushing and pulling heavy air, then gliding. Very near. We wait.

It emerges as a silent shadow almost directly over us: its legs and toes are perfectly aligned and its huge wings are extended straight out, a gliding swan dive that defies gravity; its war bonnet plumes are streaming from its prehistoric head; its long beak is a spearhead piercing the fog. Then, its wings move in large, rolling undulations -- “Whump- Whump- Whump.” It disappears in the mull. We’ve glimpsed a Great Blue Heron or the ghost of one.

Great Blues are the largest Herons in the United States and are common summer visitors in Maine. They breed and nest in dense colonies here, usually along the coast. However, there has been a noticeable decline in their nests and the State has listed the Great Blue as a “Species of Special Concern.”

In 2009, Maine wildlife officials initiated a continuing study to help find the causes of the Great Blue’s decline. There apparently have been no definitive results yet, but we have learned from the study that some of our Great Blues take their winter vacations in Florida, Cuba, Haiti, and the Bahamas.

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August 9, 2018

In the Right Place: Meet the neighbor

By Richard Leighton

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Summer is when we often meet new seasonal neighbors, which usually is fun. However, the first meeting with this summer’s most intriguing new neighbor did not go well – he was in the process of destroying our birdfeeder. He’s the biggest Black Bear that we’ve ever had visit us; we guess that he runs well over 400 pounds. Watching a creature that big trying to munch tiny seeds would have been laughable were it not for the fact that he and we were eyeing each other at 40 feet and he had put our birdfeeder seriously out of torque.

But, he was true to his Black Bear Code. We yelled at him as if we were in charge and he loped away unapologetically. We eventually came to a neighborly understanding with him: we wouldn’t replace the birdfeeder and he wouldn’t come close to the house. He saunters by in our field at dusk every now and then, we wave to him and he seems to nod a “How’s-it-goin’?”

Maine contains more Black Bears than any of the lower 48 states. Black Bears virtually never attack out of aggression or even for protection of cubs, according to State Wildlife officials, Apparently, the few reported dangerous confrontations in the State virtually always relate to very hungry bears, available food, and panic by the bear and/or human.

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July 12, 2018

In the Right Place: Thwack

By Richard Leighton

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The Bald Eagle was chosen in 1782 as the emblem of the United States because of the animal’s majestic appearance, strength, and long life. However, this bird always has had its critics. Even Benjamin Franklin famously complained that it was ”a rank coward” of “bad moral character.”

Nonetheless, we suspect that most of the Bald Eagle’s critics have never carefully watched one soaring on its seven-foot wingspan high above a river, then banking severely, spiraling down fast in smaller and smaller circles, pulling up to skim the water, thrusting its talons straight out at the last moment, and plucking its prey with a splashy “thwack.”

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