After watching a male woodcock perform his dazzling evening display for several weeks, we weren’t surprised to come across a nest under a scrubby cedar at the edge of the meadow.
Each night at dusk, the woodcock would crouch in the grass emitting a buzzy peent then suddenly burst into the air, a hundred feet, two hundred feet, more, his wings twittering loudly as he zigzagged around, chirping look at me, look at me! Then suddenly he would plunge to the ground and land silently almost exactly where he had taken off. A short silence, then peent, peent, peent.
Clearly this display worked for him. The nest we found contained four spotted eggs, but when we checked the next day, we only found broken shells. They’re fine, I told myself. Newly hatched woodcock leave the nest as soon as they’re dry. I kept a lookout for little balls of fluff in the long grass.
The grouse were the next to hatch. We had been watching a nest under a pile of brush in the woods for a few weeks, managed to set up a critter cam to keep an eye on it, when one day the eggs were just gone. All seventeen of them. No egg shells, nothing. And the critter cam was knocked over. Uh oh, I thought. Raccoons. A fox. Yes, foxes like eggs, and we know they’re around here because we heard a vixen scream the other night, sounding eerily human.
I was relieved when we reviewed the pictures on the critter cam and saw a little pile of chicks tucked in beside the mother, clamouring over one another to get the best spot. I knew they too would leave the nest within a few hours. I shook my head as I watched the video. Too tiny to be stumbling around in the forest. Their mother is keeping them safe, I told myself. But I couldn’t help thinking what a delicious mouthful a chick would make for a young coyote pup just learning how to hunt.
Chris almost didn’t see the little fawn curled up in the dappled sunlight at the base of the pine tree in the middle of our meadow until the little creature opened his eyes. His spots provided the perfect camouflage, and other than following us with his eyes, he didn’t move a muscle, didn’t even flick his ears. Fawns emit almost no scent, and if they remain perfectly still, a predator will walk right by them. With a little luck.
“Where’s his mother?” I whispered to Chris.
“Grazing, making milk while the little guy sleeps. She’ll be back.”
We continued on, making a wide loop through the meadow, hoping that if a predator followed our scent it wouldn’t know there was anything of interest under the tree. We did creep back later and set up the critter cam at some distance, but then we stayed away, though it took all my willpower.
All afternoon we kept an eye on the tree, waiting for the mother to appear, but she didn’t come back, at least not while we were watching. Dusk fell. I fretted for a while, which did neither me nor the fawn any good, then finally went to bed.
I had just fallen into a troubled sleep when a pack of coyotes came howling through the meadow, pups yipping joyfully, they had something. I ran to the window, pressed my nose against the screen. I couldn’t see them in the dark, but they were so close I heard a sharp intake of breath between howls. Coyotes have to eat too, I told myself. But it brought me little comfort.
Early the next morning we went and looked under the tree and of course the fawn was gone. We took the critter cam inside and checked the footage and there, sometime in the late afternoon, the mother appeared and the fawn woke from his long nap and toddled after her. I’m sure they were deep in the forest by the time the coyotes came through.
Springtime in the meadow is a joy, for sure. The bluebird chicks—long fledged now—swoop by, returning to their box just to sit on top and admire the view. So much nicer than being crammed inside, stepping on top of each other to look out the hole. When the adults fly overhead, the fledgelings peep frantically and flutter their wings, their beaks wide open. Feed me! Feed me!
But it’s also a season tinged with sadness. I know that not all the grouse chicks will make it, and while the fawn probably has a better chance, his life will be fraught with danger, first from coyotes then in time, from hunters.
And what about us, I find myself wondering? Are we out of danger? As a tiny patch of ladyslippers bursts into bloom, as the purple flags on the wild iris unfurl, as tiny apples begin to appear on the trees in our orchard, I dare to let myself feel hope.