Monday, December 1, 2008

Thanksgiving and Sanctuary

After unseasonably cold weather, Thanksgiving Day turned balmy with the temperature reaching sixty-four degrees with expansive blue, sunny skies. The day was a perfect day to build-up our hunger for the coming feast with a long walk at the Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary. The sanctuary’s lowland forest embraces beaver swamps, streams, and cornfields long ago harvested but still scattered with corn for the wildlife to forage. Passing Jobala pond we crossed the stream on the footbridge to take the trail along the narrow tupelo and buttonbush border between the fields then skirt along a cornfield to enter the grandmother tupelo pond. The majestic ancient tupelos stood with their massive swollen trunks, many furred with resurrection ferns, and floating in the dark water surrounding at the foot of trees were the dark drupe-like fruit-the next generation of magnificent trees. Beyond the tupelos the oaks, hickories, and maples closed hardwood ranks with most of their leaves covering the ground perfuming the air with that nose tingling smell of tannins. If sound came with an odorama experience then the sound crunch would be that sharp acidity smell of the oak-hickory hardwood forest!

Above the forest reeled two red-shouldered hawks and somewhere below in the canopy a plaintive wail that translated in any species’ language, “feed me!” Their offspring was having a hard time cutting the apron strings, he found feeding himself a tough road to hoe, and reverted to begging from his parents who ignored his cries, of course, even if they had wanted to the hunting in the area had been ruined by his all-alarm cry. Further along, a turkey flock scratched for its repast, at first, they were rather tolerant of our presence, but finally they trotted off. From the lower story of the trees flew out a large hawk, he had been sitting above the turkeys and followed them beyond sight into the trees. From his size I guessed he was a red-tailed hawk, a hunter of open areas not the deep forest, and equally odd to find one above turkeys who blithely ignored his presence. I normally would have noted this as odd and memorable, but it was a case of déjà vu, I had been through this before when a few weeks before the same scenario played out with same flock that patrols the forest near the river, and now what was memorable was now very interesting. The hawk trailing the turkeys through the woods might be coincidence, but it just might be purposeful, which opens interesting possibilities and questions. What did the hawk get out it? What did the turkeys get out of it? Following the turkeys might be lucrative for the hawk as they forage the turkeys inevitably scatter rodents that shelter below the leave litter providing the hawk with a tasty treat. Do they tolerate him swooping down? Do the turkeys get anything out it? What could they get out of it? Tantalizing, as it appears it may all be coincidence, but I will have to try to trail the flock one day and see if he shows up.

Besides turkeys the woods abounded with blue jays, cardinals, titmice, yellow-rumped warblers, assorted nuthatches and sparrows, but as we passed from the oak-hickory forest into the open park-like beech forest the birds were more scarce without their protective understory trees and thickets. Amongst the lianas along the river the robins massed taking turns bathing in the shallows below to return to the vines flapping their wings to dry in the warm sun. The beech forest glowed with light bouncing off golden brown leaves on the ground and still on branches above, and the scent of the oak-hickories was noticeably absent. The floor here was visibly less colorful than multihued oak-hickory forest floor. This open beech park was more quiet, perhaps the large spaces between the trees allowed the sound of footfalls to travel away from the ear and not bounce back or perhaps the monotypic leaf litter allowed the same shaped leaves fit together making a silent treading mat. The Flint River bordered this tall wood and as the clear water made its passage out of the beech wood it sounded out in resonant, melodic, tumbling tones.

Leaving the beech wood we traveled onward to the bottomland cornfield, here the pliable soil was rich with organics and sand that held the shape of the feet that had trodden it. In the sandy soil was the obvious sign that many animals had passed before us in the last few days since the rain last washed the field’s slate clean. There for us to behold were the tracks of deer, turkeys, raccoon, feral hogs, and coyote, but noticeably absent were bobcat and fox, but perhaps those prints lurked further out in the corn stubble. Beyond the cornfield the afternoon sun soon caressed the treetops signaling the time had come to go home and eat. In the waning afternoon we left the birds and animals to themselves and their own thanksgivings for such a lovely sanctuary to live in.

Pam Croom #&169; 2008

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