It's been a bad year for predator and prey alike. For the first time in eight years and on three occasions, I've seen lone coyotes hunting the nearby fields in broad daylight. Typically the local packs hunt as a group after dark. My 17 year old, totally deaf and partially blind Schnauzer mix doesn't go out without an escort.

The red-tail hawk, a truly beautiful bird, has joined the turkey vulture in cleaning up the road kill. Generally they like their prey live. And I've seen more vultures than usual become road kill as they are reluctant to leave a meal in the very real fear that should they fly off, others will flock to the scene. As a result, they try to hop a short distance away and let oncoming traffic pass. Occasionally they misjudge and pay the price, and occasionally one of our locals with little regard for dents or paint work will deliberately nail one (a turkey vulture can weigh 40 pounds and be lethal to windshields).

Summer started early this year, with trees and shrubs and the crocus greening up in February, but a late freeze accomplished something I've never seen before. The trees, whether oak, maple, or beech, lost all their leaves. The black walnuts flower late, so they missed the frost, but are yellowing — way too early. The many wildflowers that typically grow in profusion on my "back 40" didn't appear this year. Those few butterflies that did emerge in late February had nothing to feed on and quickly died off. The late emergers are few and are living off the several butterfly bushes we have. But whether they're sufficient remains a question.

On the bright side of the bug picture, the Japanese beetles have been few (so, too, were my blackberries, which they seem drawn to). There are bees but very few (and none of the big black and yellow ones that so industriously pollinate just about everything around here).

The hummingbirds arrived on time (late March/early April) but got caught short by the freeze. Few of their favorite nectar-bearing flowers bloomed and it's been a bad year for the spiders and other insects they'll occasionally snack on. Their salvation has been a crazy woman who is going through five pounds of sugar a week to keep five feeders full. Surprisingly, these birds which were aggressive about six years back have now established some collegial bonds. It's common to see four feeding simultaneously, which used to occur only just prior to their early October migration, when they lard up for the long flight to Central America (only once did they leave later, when hurricanes hit Mexico in the first and second weeks of October and the birds left the third week — how did they know?).

Despite three dogs who love to chase, both deer and turkey are seen frequently close to the house. For preservation's sake, I haven't cut the grass in over six weeks and at about six inches high, remains about the last available free range feed. The local farmers have brought in only one hay harvest and right now it's questionable if there'll be a second. Rolls that went for $30 last year are bringing $60 and up. A guy from Michigan trucked down 38 rolls just two weeks ago and received $70 each.

Rabbits and squirrels are infrequently seen - as is usually the case when times are hard on the coyotes. Very few cardinals, even fewer blue jays, and the goldfinch, usually numerous, are almost non-existent. It hasn't been a great year for humans either. Too hot for too long! What we really need is a return of the bees.





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