Is It Mourning Already ?

By STEVE WHITE

 

Even though they tend to sing before dawn, mourning doves are so named for their sorrowful song. The melody is a low-pitched, sort of hollow series of whistles.  The first two phrases have a high pitch with the last three generating a single, low pitch.

Another unique sound of this wild bird species involves taking flight.  As these doves fly off, a distinguishable “wing whir’ is made when air passes over the feathers. This twittering noise signals an alarm to other doves when startled and must fly away from danger.

The mourning dove is the most widespread of North American dove species.  These large birds nest in all 48 contiguous states, along with the Canadian and Mexican borders.  The only habitats not conducive to these unique birds are dense forests.  Mourning doves are year round inhabitants in almost all areas of the country.  However, one cannot call them skilled homebuilders by any means.  The thin, flimsy nest consists of a loose stick platform that a light wind could blow apart. Eggs sometimes can be seen simply by looking up through the bottom of a mourning doves nest.  In warm climates, it is possible for a parenting pair to raise 6 broods per year, putting rabbits to shame for being so prolific.

A seed eating bird, mourning dove bills are not designed to crack seed shells, however.  These sociable birds prefer eating seeds with softer shells like those of weeds and grasses.  Millet, corn or no-shell seeds fit the diet of these ground dwellers.   We owe our gratitude for the vast number of weed seeds they consume around our towns and suburban homes.  When doves do encounter food sources with hard shells, they swallow the entire seed and crush the shells in their gizzards.  This explains why you see these birds sitting in tree branches for hours after visiting your bird feeders.  They are resting while their bodies digest the birdseeds.

 Mourning doves are smaller and have a longer tail than the Rock Dove or Pigeon.  The birds are considered game birds in a number of states, yet the population numbers in the millions each year.

Enjoy your birds!

Wild Bird Depot is located on Rt 11 in Gilford, NH.  Steve is a contributing author in major publications, a guest lecturer at major conventions in Atlanta and St. Louis as well as the host of WEZS 1350AM radio show “Bird Calls” with Lakes Region Newsday @ 8:30AM.  Wild Bird Depot has donated over $5,000 to local rehabilitators and local nature centers since 1996. Be sure to check out website www.wildbirddepot.com.  Like us on Facebook for great contests and prizes.

  • Written by Dennis Schaefer
  • Category: Outdoors
  • Hits: 17

Mt. Cardigan and Welton Falls

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Welton Falls from the Lower Manning Trail

By Gordon Dubois

reached the river crossing on the Lower Manning Trail and found myself stuck. I could go no further. Winter temperatures had been set in motion and ice was forming along the banks of the Fowler River. No way could I cross to the other side, where the trail continues, without risking life and limb. One slip on a rock and I would find myself tumbling downstream; worse yet my head could possibly be smashed to smithereens. My destination hike to Welton Falls was now in jeopardy of being aborted.

However, I was not to be denied by a river crossing strewn with ice covered rocks and boulders. I was determined to find safe passage. I searched for a crossing, striding ceaselessly up and down the side of the river. All that I could see was ice- covered rocks and boiling water. I was getting discouraged and ready to turn back, when I suddenly spotted a series of boulders with no ice. They rose up out of the stream, like sentinels guarding the river. This was the place for safe passage. I felt like Froddo Baggins (Lord of the Rings) making his way through the Old Forest. These boulders could be used as stepping stones and with any luck they will get me across the river. I lowered myself down the bank and onto the first gigantic rock. From here I stepped gingerly, one boulder at a time, watching carefully for any ice covering the foothold. I looked down once, noticed the swirling eddies below and raised my eyes quickly, focusing on the dry boulders ahead. At last I was across the river, where I rested on terra firma. I could now continue my journey to Welton falls.

This is the shoulder season, when fall is fading and winter is close at hand. The morning began under cloudy skies and cold temperatures. A chilling breeze sent icy fingers through my outer jacket. I was on this hike as part of a writing assignment for a conference I was attending, Writing From the Mountain, sponsored by the Appalachian Mountain Club. We were spending the weekend at the AMC Cardigan Mountain Lodge. The lodge is nestled near the foot of Cardigan Mountain, at the end of peaceful Shem Valley Rd. on a 1,200 acre reservation in Alexandria, NH. The valley was carved out by the glaciers 12,000 years ago. The summit of Cardigan is composed of three main peaks-South Peak, Cardigan Peak and Firescrew. In 1855 a massive forest fire raged over the mountain denuding the entire summit of vegetation. The fire was so intense it threw flames hundreds of feet into the sky. Firescrew was named for the spiral of fire and smoke that rose from the peak.  The summits have never recovered from the fire, but the valley has recuperated from the devastating inferno. Nature has a way of healing its wounds and marvelously restoring the forest to its former self. Cardigan is a place where you can find a challenging climb, as well as a leisurely woodland walk. The mountain preserve is also a favorite destination for backcountry skiers and has a plethora of ski trails for a wide range of abilities.

The Lower Manning Trial begins adjacent to the Cardigan Lodge. The trail wanders through several camp sites and then enters the Welton Falls State Forest. Here I encountered a forest of gigantic hemlocks and beech. Brown leaves scattered along the trail swirled around my feet as I bustled along. I soon found myself hiking along the Fowler River. The trail overhung the river in several places, where the Fowler had undercut tree roots and soil. With each storm and spring runoff the banks of the river are pushed wider, trees become imperiled, eventually falling into the water. 

After making my risky crossing of the Fowler I continued my trek to Welton Falls and encountered “clear sailing”. No more rushing streams to cross. Within a matter of minutes (.2 miles) I noticed a cable fence in disrepair, guarding the trail, keeping onlookers from tumbling into the boiling waters below. Looking over the precipice of the roaring cascade, I was struck by the stark beauty of this waterfall, walls of granite rising up from the foaming water. It was easy to see where the glaciers, as they melted, sent tons of water, rock and debris down the river carving out the chasm below. Blocks of ice clung to the sidewalls of the gorge. I found a resting spot to contemplate the stunning beauty around me and I tried my feeble best to capture the moment: 

Water rushing by underfoot,

Signs of high water lay about: trees, boulders, sand, silt.

Sheets of ice cover the river and the granite cliffs,

Winter closing in.

Ancient broken trees cling to the ledge, 

Tree trunks riddled with holes from woodpeckers

Searching for a tasty delight.

Roots undercut by the rushing water.

Ancient rotting branches

Reaching with outstretched arms for sunlight,

Trying to stay alive.

Beech tree pocked with warts, 

Moss crawling up the trunk;

Shelf fungus taking hold of the rotting bark. 

I notice a small hemlock seedling

Emerging from the dying tree.

Green needles show off brilliant color,

As they rise like a phoenix.

 

A sign of new life, 

Replacing the old and dying member of the forest.

The circle of life, never ending.

After this brief respite I decided to continue my hike and not return the way I came. Besides, I didn’t want to risk crossing the river again. I made my way along the bank of the river, encountering one more river crossing, this time much easier. At 1.3 miles I reached the junction with the Old Dicey Rd. Once on the Old Dicey Road I found myself walking leisurely along, taking in the warming rays of the sun. Stone walls lined the road indicating that at one time this was a main road to somewhere, but where? There are no indications of a settlement in the area. Eventually after a mile walk I left the Old Dicey Road and began my circuitous route back to the Cardigan Lodge on the Back 80 Loop. 

The Back 80 Loop Trail gradually climbed a ridge reaching the junction with the Back 80 Trail. At the junction I found a good-size cellar hole, once the homestead of a pioneering family. I pondered the life of these early settlers who carved out an existence in the wilderness. I admired their fortitude and grit, their ability to build a substantial home in this desolate wilderness of the early 1800’s. Now I was returning to the comfortable accommodations of a 21st century lodge. The hike from the cellar hole back to the lodge was a quick mile, mostly downhill. I made it back just in time for the start of our next session with no river crossing to impede my hike.

This hike can be done as an out and back to Welton Falls (2 miles) or continue as I did. I would not recommend this trail at this time of the year. Wait until later in the winter when the Fowler River is frozen or better yet, during the summer when the water crossing is easy and you can jump in the river for a quick dip.

There are a number of options you can choose as there are a vast array of over 50 miles of trails within the AMC Cardigan Reservation and the Cardigan Mountain State Forest. The AMC Cardigan Lodge can be reached by taking Rt. 3A out of Bristol, then turning right onto West Shore Rd. Continue to Alexandria and then onto Cardigan Mt Rd. Stay on this road, it will turn into Shem Valley Rd. and you’ll arrive at the lodge and trail heads. If you would like more information about the lodge and accommodations call 603 744 8011.

Happy hiking and stay safe.

Gordon can be contacted for comments or questions at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">

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Top of the Welton Falls

  • Written by Dennis Schaefer
  • Category: Outdoors
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Blue Jays, Friend or Foe?

By Steve White

Many backyard birders have a favorite song bird.  Based on our customer’s inquiries in New Hampshire, the chickadee, cardinal and hummingbird top the list.  The average backyard has the ability to attract over 25 different species of wild birds each and every day, no matter what the season.  How to attract each species depends on your natural environment, feeder and seed selections.

For some birders, so-called nuisance birds can be a concern due to intense flocking and the monopolization of bird feeders created by mobbing activity.  Starlings and grackles are the usual culprits of these observations.

The blue jay has an interesting following.  You either love them or can do without them.  The middle ground doesn’t seem to exist when discussing this song bird.  It is the most misunderstood backyard visitor.  We would like to use today’s column to explain these unique birds.

Consider the blue jay as you would an older sibling.  An older brother or sister can be protectors or bullies, depending on the situation at hand.  If someone is perceived to be a threat to you at some time during your life, you would expect your older siblings to stand up for you as they offer protection.  However, there may be times when these same protectors can push you around or bully you into an unwise activity due to your younger age or diminutive size. 

Blue jays are the older brother or sister to most birds in the wild.  Whenever danger presents itself, the blue jays will be the first to sound the warning call.  Have you ever observed a hawk flying around your area looking for prey, only to be mobbed by dozens of blue jays?  These protectors of the sky will force birds of prey to change their feeding zones away from the blue jays’ designated territories. In this instance, these birds are accomplishing the same goal as an older sibling aiding a younger family member.

In other instances, blue jays will literally bully their way into any backyard and monopolize bird feeders until they have had their fill.  Blue jays love to announce their arrival with a raucous, causing all other birds to scatter.  Hence, the bully characteristic that so many customers attribute to this species.

Love or leave them, the blue jay has a unique place in the wild bird society that many humans may not understand.  Without this bird in every backyard, many other species would probably fall prey to hawks, cats, and other threats to song bird survival.   In many circumstances, you will hear chipmunks chipping and blue jays squawking in chorus whenever the same danger has entered the area.  Together, these two very different species join forces as early warning detectors. 

Enjoy your birds!

Wild Bird Depot is located on Rt 11 in Gilford, NH.  Steve White is a contributing author in major publications, a guest lecturer at major conventions in Atlanta and St. Louis as well as the host of WEZS 1350AM radio show “Bird Calls” with Lakes Region Newsday @ 8:30AM.  Wild Bird Depot has donated over $5,000 to local rehabilitators and local nature centers since 1996. Be sure to check out our website www.wildbirddepot.com.  Like us on Facebook for great contests and prizes.

  • Written by Dennis Schaefer
  • Category: Outdoors
  • Hits: 67

BIRD CALL — Keep Your Cardinals

By STEVE WHITE

The cardinal is relatively new to this area of New England.  Prior to the popularity of backyard bird feeding, the northern most boundary of this brilliant red bird was the Connecticut and Rhode Island regions. 

As more homeowners enjoyed this hobby of feeding wild birds in the last two decades, attracting the cardinal has almost become an obsession.  The chase was on.  Just how do you keep this majestic bird in your area year round?

Attracting cardinals to your backyard is not a difficult task if you have the right habitat to start with.  Unfortunately, most backyards have eliminated the environment necessary for maintaining nesting cardinals.

Cardinals are basically ground birds.  They enjoy the comfort and safety that natural cover provides.  Brambles, briar patches, and thickets are standard cardinal territory.  You may witness cardinals singing from the tallest branches of trees, but for nesting purposes, this species prefers the lower levels of your area. 

Many people choose not to have these natural plantings in their backyard and may have a difficult, if not impossible, task of attracting northern cardinals.  Nesting birds are feeding birds. The cardinal is very aggressive in defending its territory from other birds. They are extremely loyal as well.  It’s one of the few species of wild birds that allow the offspring to stay for the first year after hatching.  It is not uncommon to witness large flocks of cardinals during the winter months as they forage for food 

Large, airy bushes, like the rhododendrons, serve well as cardinal habitat.  You can create your own cardinal friendly environment using a simple brush pile.  Choose a suitable area at the edge of your property and commence the process of gathering large tree branches that have fallen to the ground in neighboring woods.  Place these loose branches on top of one another until you have a rudimentary brush pile approximately 6 feet wide at the bottom and 4-5 feet tall.  Do not compress this new site and leave plenty of airy, open areas for the cardinals to fly into.  Viola, instant cardinal habitat!

Cardinals prefer bird feeders that imitate their natural feeding area, the ground.  These birds are not clingers, like chickadees or finches.  Perches are very difficult for large birds to use for feeding purposes.  Traditional style tube feeders are not cardinal friendly.  Consider adding a tray on the bottom so that cardinals will feel comfortable during feeding. 

Properly designed hoppers can be the most optimized solution to attract feeding cardinals to your yard.  Open tray feeders are another solution.  Sunflower and safflower seeds are the two favorite ingredients in the eastern region of the United States for attracting northern cardinals.  Of course, water is also a key element to serve in order to maintain your population of cardinal families.

Enjoy your birds!! 

Wild Bird Depot is located on Rt 11 in Gilford, NH.  Steve White is a contributing author in major publications, a guest lecturer at major conventions in Atlanta and St. Louis as well as the host of WEZS 1350AM radio show “Bird Calls” with Lakes Region Newsday @ 8:30AM.  Wild Bird Depot has donated over $5,000 to local rehabilitators and local nature centers since 1996. Be sure to check out our website www.wildbirddepot.com.  Like us on Facebook for great contests and prizes.

  • Written by Dennis Schaefer
  • Category: Outdoors
  • Hits: 124