Mama bears and cubs are springing back to life.
Mother bears with tiny five-pound cubs are awakening from hibernation this week. Bear mothers with 50-pound yearlings that spent their second and final winter together have, for the most part, already left their dens. It's hard to keep those energetic "teenagers" cooped up.
The recently born, highly vulnerable little cubs, though, are barely ready to leave their dens and follow mom. They've been nursing on their groggy mothers all winter and are more cuddly than frisky.
Most bear mothers wintered with their babies under fallen logs and brush piles. They need surprisingly little overhead protection. They always seem to choose a spot, though, that has a big tree nearby, like a hickory, that's easy for their cubs to climb in an emergency.
Worcester County should get ready for more bears. They're displaying an amazing ability to survive in small pockets of very thick vegetation - sometimes in an area no larger than a couple of acres - sleeping all day there, moving about largely unnoticed at night, looking for bird seed, pet food and garbage.
They're early birds
Red-winged blackbirds and woodcock have been present a full month ahead of normal. How the woodcock found worms after the snowstorm is amazing. They had to probe for them in seeps and other soft-soil wet areas. We're already hearing their enchanting evening mating song and flight music. I can't remember any year they arrived earlier.
Christmas Bird Count totals
Before turning our attention to phoebes, palm warblers and other early-spring migrants, we can analyze wintering species tallied on the local Christmas Bird Count by birders Bart Kamp, Donna Schilling, Paul Meleski, Peter Morlock, Don Holm, Jean Holm, Mark Lynch, Sheila Carroll, Laura Lane, Bruce DeGraaf, Barry Van Dusen, Mike Makynen, Dave Grant, John Liller (compiler), Kim Kastler, Alan Marble, Joan Gallagher, John Shea, Nickilas Paulson, Ken Paulson, Kevin Bouriniot, Lisa Hennin, Rodney Jenkins and Chuck Caron.
With much open water, waterfowl were plentiful: greater white-fronted goose, 1; pink-footed goose, 1 (new species for the count); snow goose, 1; Canada goose, 2,440; mute swan, 14; wood duck CW (seen during count week but not on count day); gadwall cw; American wigeon, 1; American black duck, 55; mallard, 786; northern pintail, 1; green-winged teal, 9; ring-necked duck, 28; greater scaup, 58; lesser scaup, 12 (new high); white-winged scoter, 1; bufflehead, 10; common goldeneye, 106; Barrow's goldeneye, 1; hooded merganser, 355 (new high); common merganser, 96; American coot, 2; wild turkey, 226 (new high); common loon, 9; horned grebe, 4.
The presence of fish-dependent waders was reflective of our open water, too: great blue heron, 12.
Raptors: bald eagle, 1; sharp-shinned hawk, 1; Cooper's hawk, 3; northern goshawk, 1; red-tailed hawk, 47; rough-legged hawk (remarkable), 1; merlin, 1; peregrine falcon, 1.
Gulls have proven very adaptable to human presence, responding to the availability of food: ring-billed gull, 1,773 (this species has become our McDonald's "parking lot gull"); herring gull, 173; great black-backed gull, 7.
Rock pigeon (they actually did nest on rocky cliffs in Europe before domesticated ones were brought here; city buildings and bridges serve them just as well), 505; mourning dove, 271.
Eastern screech owl, 9; great horned owl, 17 (new high; since they mate in December, hearing them call facilitates identifying their presence); barred owl, 2; northern saw-whet owl, 2 (2011 was a very poor year for their migration here; neither my bird-banding researchers at the Auburn Sportsman's Club nor Strickland Wheelock's Uxbridge team captured anywhere near normal numbers).
Belted kingfisher, 7; red-bellied woodpecker, 20; yellow-bellied sapsucker, 1; downy woodpecker, 147; hairy woodpecker, 36; pileated woodpecker, 2.
Eastern phoebe, 1 (new for count); blue jay, 115; American crow, 931; common raven, 5; horned lark, 39; black-capped chickadee, 822; tufted titmouse, 283; red-breasted nuthatch, 2; white-breasted nuthatch, 184; brown creeper, 7; Carolina wren, 13; winter wren, 7 (new high); golden-crowned kinglet, 12; eastern bluebird, 87 (new high; this species, along with robins, can stay all year if there's food available; many keep them around feeding large amounts of meal worms on exposed platforms); hermit thrush, 2; American robin, 452; gray catbird, 1; northern mockingbird, 26; European starling, 1,619; cedar waxwing, 96; eastern towhee, 1; American tree sparrow, 45; chipping sparrow, 1; field sparrow, 1; song sparrow, 69; swamp sparrow, 3; white-throated sparrow, 100; dark-eyed junco, 743; snow bunting, 1; northern cardinal, 164; eastern meadowlark, 1; rusty blackbird, 4; purple finch, 3; house finch, 259; pine siskin, 2; American goldfinch, 513; house sparrow, 887.
Total: 14,764 birds, 86 species (two others seen on count week but not on count day).
Mark Blazis can be reached by email at email@example.com