Blueberry varieties are plentiful during this time of year.
Daisies, Indian pipes, and edible Suillus mushrooms are popping up everywhere, a prelude to this month's traditional wild blueberry harvest. Pickers have begun scouring their secret patches of acid-soil swamps, woodlands, and power lines - taking home pails of berries for some of the best pies in the world. Their month-long harvest is one of the sweetest reasons to venture outdoors in New England.
Blueberries may all look very much alike, but there are actually several distinct species growing locally, along with their seedier, blue huckleberry/dangleberry cousins. Oakham botanist Tom Rawinski reports low sweet blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium) ripening in uplands first, normally around the Fourth of July, often on power lines. With this year's abnormal heat, some have ripened even earlier.
Another slightly taller, low-growing species, early sweet blueberry (Vaccinium pallidum), ripens a bit later in mid-July. Local tall species include our most common highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum). It thrives in wet sites, fruiting from mid-to-late July. Black high-bush blueberry (Vaccinium fuscatum) often grows along with it. Its fruits are blackish, and its leaves are pubescently fuzzy underneath. All of our local, native species are delicious, regardless of their names, and now is the time to savor them.
Spotted white-tail fawns are following their mothers now in the cool shade of swampy hideaways. Bucks are in velvet. Their highly sensitive, blood-engorged antlers, still bulbously swollen at the tips, will continue growing for at least another month.
Early-morning birdsong is quieting down, though the Carolina wren continues to sing like Pavarotti. Many birds have finished raising their first clutches. Some have started a second family - especially those that had unsuccessful first clutches. Having many babies makes sense when 80 percent mortality can be the norm. By mid-July, most of our breeding birds, goldfinches being the most notable exception, will have completed their reproductive imperatives. A few migrants will slowly begin trickling back to the tropics, their massive migration building to a peak in September.
Carp fishing has remained good, despite fluctuations in weather. Tom Pattiselanno caught one in Lake Quinsigamond that weighed just under 24 pounds. The standard this year has been Jeff Allard's new unofficial record carp in Rhode Island. The 33-1/2-pound giant is an unforgettable fish, in large part because of the exceptional sportsmanship of the man who caught it. Jeff reeled it in at night, when official weigh-in stations were closed. Rather than kill the egg-laden female and have it weighed again in the morning, he released it to breed again. His respect for carp has earned him both the unofficial record and the respect of true sportsmen .
Dan Laukaitis of Barre has been slamming stripers on the Merrimack at Salisbury, using mackerel, which he keeps alive on his boat with a large drum that circulates water. His fish have averaged 35 inches, with several over 40.
It's time to prepare smoked bluefish. Few of our local delicacies are so distinctively delicious. I've collected alder and hickory chips in anticipation of this event. Captain Scott of the Tale Chaser in Hyannis (www.talechasercharters.com) reports fast fishing for small blues in the 2-4-pound class all along the Cape's south side beaches, especially around Great Island and the entrance to Lewis Bay. Handkerchief Shoals is producing bass in small numbers and moderate size.
Monomoy and Bearse's Shoals have larger bass, 20-30 pounds, hitting well on surface plugs. Fishing the rips with soft plastic Sluggos has proven most effective. They impressionistically represent sand eels, the bait of choice now for blues, as well as stripers.
Deer and bear hunters are reminded to submit their permit applications to MassWildlife postmarked no later than July 16. Every year, numerous hunters complain they forgot to send their application in on time. Without an antlerless deer permit, hunters have to watch big does pass by.