Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The hungry hawk

As the compiler of a column called BirdNotes, I regularly get reports of hungry hawks knocking off backyard birds – one once even tried to fly through a pet store window to dine on a budgie. (He was unsuccessful.)

Winter is the best hunting season for year-round hawks. The trees are free of leaves and dinner is out in the open, ready for the plucking. For the same reason, winter is the best time to witness “bird hawks” in action.

Often hawks will be seen perched near a backyard birdfeeder. People sometimes feel guilty when they watch a hawk capture a bird attracted to their feeders. Don’t. If the hawk hadn’t gotten its meal at your feeder, it would have found it in another yard or field. Your feeder just makes it a tad more convenient for nature to take its course.

After all, like it or not, it’s a bird-eat-bird world out there.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Fisher food

In recent years townspeople have reported sighting fishers, the 10- to 15-pound weasel-like martens that have been making a recovery in the region.

Their appearance is no accident. In 1988, the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection bought a bunch of live-trapped fishers from upper New England, and released them in western Connecticut. The aim was to restore an animal that had once been native to the state, but had been driven away by the agricultural deforestation and perhaps overtrapping. Today, fishers are found throughout the state and are doing so well, licensed trapping is allowed in the fall.

While fishers don’t fish – or even eat fish, they do love a tasty porcupine. That thorny fare is in rather short supply, however, so they have turned to a more abundant mammal for food: The squirrel.

In fact, in northern Vermont and New Hampshire, where the fisher was never extirpated, squirrels are much less common than they are here. The natives say it’s because the fishers keep them under control – good news for anyone who’s ever had squirrels invade their home.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Cool sweets

If you have a sweet tooth, the cold snap is a boon. At least two weeks of freezing nights are needed for our maples to produce a good flow of late-winter sap, the source of America’s oldest breakfast condiment.

The warmth of first month of winter was beginning to make the sap tappers nervous. And there are plenty of maple harvesters around: little Connecticut ranks 10th in the United States in its maple syrup production – some 11,000 gallons annually.

The American Indians were the first to recognize the treat offered by maple sap, boiled down to its syrupy or solid essences. But it is only recently that scientists have found that this sweetener is actually good for you. A single teaspoon contains nearly a quarter of your daily need of manganese and plus a good dose of zinc to boot. Both minerals are important ingredients in the body’s antioxidant defenses.

So our maples not only provide sweet treats, plus shade, oxygen, and terrific fall colors, they also contribute to our good health.