ZEKE WILSON: Thaw on the way
An influx of waterfowl to our area in recent days was a welcome sight even as the snow flurries continue.
A group of wood ducks in particular drew special attention because they are not much for cold weather. Mergansers, mallards, bufflehead also were seen dabbling along the creeks, and a high-flying flock of geese further emphasized the incoming flights.
As I checked a couple ponds, it was revealed that the south-facing edges were just barely beginning to recede. The ground also appears that it will be frozen for some time, although the surface can quickly become a quagmire with days like today.
Seagulls also have been spotted in the now-exposed farm fields.
• A recent afternoon drive revealed several groundhogs out on the prowl despite many fields still being snow-covered.
While working outside in recent days I had to wonder if the shots I heard throughout the day were from those getting an early start on things or just checking their zero in preparation.
• As the snow recedes, habitat that for much of the winter was off limits is once again on the table. With new food sources exposed, animals quickly move in to take advantage of what the forest floor still offers. In recent days, deer really have been on the move as they seek out new food sources.
Turkey surely have suffered some mortality this winter, although finding tracks for me was almost a given during the tail end of trapping season.
• Just as the thaw begins to reveal long-hidden food sources, shed antlers also are becoming easier to find. After being beaten all winter by the snow, the ground is a bleak, almost flat surface, allowing ease in spotting a partially hidden antler. The base of the antler or just the tip of the main beam often are enough of an indicator to allow discovery.
Using binoculars can save a lot of walking when dealing with an agricultural food source. Scanning a thawing field for signs of antlers from an elevated position is easier than walking it, although often the sheds are along the edge.
• With the ground still frozen, traversing across the side of a hill can offer ample opportunity for falling. Good boot tread and a walking stick should be on the list for any rough terrain that is explored in the weeks to come. Well roads, farm lanes and other trails that for much of the year offer access can quickly leave a vehicle without traction when warm air quickly melts the surface. At this time of year walking an extra hundred yards or so often can eliminate the chance of getting stuck or badly rutting up the trail.
Game trails also are in similar conditions, with even the faint trails used by buck now easily found. The use of fallen trees to direct deer traffic is something that works well and costs almost nothing. Cutting shooting lanes now is as easy as it gets and will allow plenty of time for the herd to adjust.