The warm weather has been with us for weeks now, and the 6 to 8 inches of snow that we had on the ground a couple of weeks ago is nearly all gone. I figured that as long as the weather is spring-like, I might as well get outside for some springtime work. The job I wanted to do is pulling up some very old fencing, halfway up the hill behind my house. Last fall I pulled out about 70 old, rusty metal fence posts, and now it was time to roll up the fencing itself. Hard work, but it felt good to be working in the fresh air, without having to worry about deer ticks!
This fence should have been taken out years ago, and problems with it have multiplied over the years. The old fence was woven wire, and the woods had grown around most of it. My bow saw and wire cutters have been getting a good workout. Also, the fence never fit in with the natural surroundings and was a hazard to wildlife. Many times I have seen deer injured and killed, trying to dislodge their legs from a woven wire fence like this one. And besides, I was getting tired of tripping over it on my walks!
The six nice brush piles I made from brush I pulled out of the fence will be used by lots of wildlife throughout the year. In the summer, toads and snakes may escape the heat by hiding under a brush pile. Deer mice and chipmunks will hide extra seeds and nuts deep in the piles' intertwining branches. It's also a good place for them to build nests. Many birds might build nests in the piles, including the Mourning dove, Blue jay, thrasher, catbird, robin and others. For many small song birds, a brush pile is a safe year-round place to roost, and a good place to hide when a predator is near. A cotton-tailed rabbit may live under a brush pile all winter, coming out only to find something to eat or get a little sunshine. A woodchuck or opossum may also find a brush pile to be a nice temporary place to say. Indeed, a few brush piles will do a lot more to serve nature than that old fence ever did.
Today I saw a Rattlebird perched on a high wire stretching over the river. What's a "Rattlebird," you ask? Well, it's what I called a Kingfisher when I was a kid. Rattlebird was the name my dad used for the Kingfisher, as did his dad before him. Some of the other names old time hunters and trappers used for the Kingfisher include Hammershead, Halcyon, or Laughingbird. I always thought Rattlebird was the most appropriate name, because they make rapid, rattling laughing noises when they fly.
A Kingfisher is about the size of a Blue jay, but his large crested head and long bill makes him appear bigger than he really is. Hausman's 1946 Field Guide to the Eastern Birds, describes the Kingfisher as follows:
"The Kingfishers are top-heavy birds, with large heads, long, heavy bills, short bodies, short tails, short legs, and small, weak feet. Their wings, moderately long, are powerful and are operated with strong, pronounced beats. The birds often give their loud, startling rattle as they fly overhead. Only 4 members of this large family of more than 250 species and subspecies are found in North America, and only one, the Belted Kingfisher, occurs in the Eastern U.S. and Canada."
The Kingfisher has always been one of my favorite birds, because they always seem to be so happy and laid back. Often on fishing trips along a trout stream or river, I would see one fly off ahead of me. He would always laugh at me, as if to say, "Ha, Ha! I caught the last fish."
They are hardy fishermen, these Rattlebirds, and many of them spend the winter here. They will stay as long as there is some open water for catching minnows. If you're driving along a country road and you pass over a bridge, look for a single bird perched on a high wire above the water. You bird you spot may very well be Rattlebird.
Naturally yours, Dan
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