We do very little that is deliberately intended to affect the animals, birds and insects that inhabit or move through the terrain we manage, though some of our actions alter habitats and inevitably have impacts on some species numbers and well being. And, surely, any effect on one species can affect another species that eats or is eaten by it. We are not zoologically sophisticated and are unaware of all but a small percentage of what lives here and what those creatures do. Nevertheless, here is a brief survey of some of the more prominent varieties of mammals, birds, reptiles, fish and insects that we encounter on the land and how we interact with them.
Deer: thriving in large numbers; their trails, resting sites and gnawed twigs are everywhere apparent.
Black Bear: one sighting, calmly walking through the woods near the cabin.
Coyotes: their eerie nighttime vocalizations are often heard close by, but coyotes are quite shy and seen only rarely.
Porcupines: numerous and kinda cute, but they often inflict serious damage on conifer trees by eating their bark and girdling trunks; they also chew on outdoor wooden furniture and wood siding.
Beaver: a colony lives on the creek in a dense thicket of saplings, which they harvest for building material.
Foxes: red and gray foxes are sighted from time to time, invariably a pleasant experience, for some reason…
Woodchucks: their holes are in every field and near every structure; perhaps the most common road kill victims.
Raccoon: at least one raccoon lives under the barn and often stalks around it looking for food and depositing scat.
Bats: a large colony of small brown bats living in the barn was almost destroyed a few years ago by a virus causing “white nose syndrome” (a devastating plague affecting hibernating bats throughout the eastern US and Canada), but this population seems to be slowly recovering and a few can again be seen relentlessly feeding on insects at dusk in summer.
Bobcats: several possible twilight sightings across the creek at dusk.
Mink: sighted by Roy Knapp, unofficial gameskeeper.
Skunk: plentiful and hard to ignore.
Squirrels: red squirrels occasionally find their way into the house and hut and knock stuff over for no apparent reason; less excitable gray squirrels also numerous.
Chipmunks: always making small leaps close to the house and shed.
Shrews: that slow, cute mouse is actually a shrew of some sort…
Wild Turkeys: re-introduced to the region after being completely hunted out in the 19th century, turkeys have made a remarkable comeback and large throngs of them are always strolling through the woods and fields.
Hawks: At least two varieties of raptors live on the property, including a family of red-tailed hawks and at least one smaller type, perhaps American kestrels.
Turkey Vultures: unrelated, of course, to turkeys but with heads and necks bearing a resemblance to them, these scavengers are an everyday sight circling over the landscape in groups of one to twenty birds.
Bald Eagles: not in residence but seen occasionally flying very high to destinations unknown.
Crows: a murder of crows loiters near the farmhouse and barn quite often, never gladdening the heart.
Pigeons: the same sort of pigeon familiar to cityscapes is always attempting to establish residency in the barn and we are always making efforts to expel them and their filthy droppings from it.
Barn Swallows: several pairs of these remarkably acrobatic and entertaining flyers would return each spring to nest along the beams of the ground floor of the barn. Their numbers suddenly diminished over the past two or three years, for reasons not known, and last year (2014) no barn swallows nested in the barn. They were greatly missed and we hope for their return.
Owls: some types of owls are in residence in the woods but, being nocturnal, we almost never see them and only occasionally hear them.
Geese: The spring and fall migrations of Canadian geese bring many, large flocks of these honking birds through the area over periods of weeks. Their numbers are genuinely impressive.
Cardinals: the farmhouse was under siege by a cardinal for several years. Almost everyday, a male bird would repeatedly throw itself against a particular window of the house, presumably mistaking its own reflection in it for the presence of a rival cardinal. Placing a small, shiny reflector on the outside of the window immediately ended this idiotic behavior.
Hummingbirds: these unique birds have been seen feeding on the banks of jewelweed flowers that grow abundantly near streams.
Ducks: several kinds of ducks, including mallards, usually in pairs, are seen occasionally loitering in one of the ponds.
Herons: these enormous birds are seen occasionally at twilight flying along the length of the creek.
Woodpeckers: holes made by woodpeckers drilling for insects are evident on countless trees and their hammering is a very common sound resonating through the woods, but we don’t know which of the 11 species found in New York State are present at FC.
Grouse/Partridge: these field-dwelling game birds are often startled into flight by vehicles passing close by or overhead their homes. There is a hunting season for them that lasts most of the fall and winter.
Perching birds/songbirds: Collectively, the many varieties of what are loosely called “songbirds” are the masters of the forest canopy: finches, wrens, hatches, larks, sparrows, warblers, larks, thrushes and more. As of now, no person deeply involved with Franklin Chthonics is a birder, so the details of the identities of these birds are not known well enough to be described here. Nevertheless, by all appearances, this enormous community of birds seems wonderfully adapted to thrive in the terrain of disrupted forest and fields that human beings have fashioned in this hill country.
Reptiles and Amphibians
As humans, we tend to have cooler feelings towards our reptilian neighbors than our warm-blooded ones, the mammals and birds. Snakes, lizards, salamanders, turtles, toads and frogs, our distant cousins of the mud, mire, sumps and rock bottoms, are an integral residents of the ecology, but not our hearts, with, perhaps a few exceptions:
Newts: also called red efts, these greenish, little salamanders float in the ponds as newborns and adults, but take to the forest floor as orange-colored juveniles.
Snakes: large snakes appear to be a rarity in this landscape, but small grass snakes, milk snakes and several other types are always sliding through the grasses and the stone walls.
Frogs: some frogs are seen and heard around pond edges but there numbers may have been diminished by predatory largemouth bass that we put into the ponds and have now attained decent size.
Spring peepers: thousands of these extremely tiny frogs sound a signature note of March and April, when they create a chorus of high whistles as dusk from the pools and sumps they swarm.
Toads: brown toads of greatly varying sizes are extremely numerous and occasionally fall victim to our “weed whackers” when they are tearing through banks of high weeds and brush.
Turtles: snapping turtles certainly live in some of the ponds but are rarely visible. They actually seem to be seen more often crossing a town road then in their regular habitats.
Except for brown and brook trout that live in the creek, the only larger fish in Franklin Chthonics are the largemouth bass that were stocked in the larger ponds by people. These bass have settled in and almost always visible cruising the shallows in formation. They are reasonably good for eating and many are large enough to make catching them worthwhile for that purpose. It is always fun to see their sudden jumps for insects above the surface of the ponds, especially at twilight. Another interesting aquatic creature is a variety of crayfish that are abundant in the streams. In appearance , they are precisely tiny lobsters, but no experiment of eating them has yet been made.
Only a few representatives of the insect world differentiate themselves from the anonymous profusion of insect varieties to enter into our consciousness as individual types. Actually, we should continue to ignore as many insects as possible, since most of them only intrude on our awareness as annoying distractions anyway. Yes, ants are important and significant and have super-heroic powers but most of us would prefer not to have to think about them until the need arises. From a crude humanist point of view, it is a fact that insects rarely enhance our pleasure or seem to add to the sublimity of experience, with some exceptions, a couple of which will be mentioned below. But this partial survey of chthonic insects will begin with an account of unpleasant insects.
Black flies: these gnat-sized creatures are a nuisance of late spring, swarming and unpredictably biting exposed skin. Their bites are painless when inflicted but can itch and linger for days. Last spring (2014), the black flies did not materialize, perhaps victims of the extremely bitter cold of the previous winter.
Ticks: perhaps oddly, we have only experienced one known tick bite in 30 years of outdoor activity. [It is well to remember that ticks cannot infect a person with Lyme disease is they are removed from the skin with 36 hours after attaching themselves.]
Deer flies: the most painful biting insect, they sometimes doggedly follow potential human victims.
Wasps: several varieties of wasps are hard to ignore at FC. A couple of varieties like to build nests wherever people build structures, under stairs and eaves, in stone walls. One variety constructs large, elegant, heart-shaped, gray paper nests. Most of these wasps are not aggressive but sometimes it is impossible to share space with them and the nests are destroyed. Yellow jacket wasps build nests in the ground and are extremely aggressive when disturbed, which often happens inadvertently when we are doing maintenance work in the fields. They will pursue an intruder for hundreds of yards, get under clothing and sting as often as possible. Workers have been forced to plunged into ponds on numerous occasions to escape avenging yellow jackets.
Mosquitos: the most amazing thing about Franklin Chthonics is the virtual absence of mosquitos year in and year out. Most summers, a few mosquitos will appear at one or two locations on the property for a few days and then disappear. No one has ever proposed an even slightly plausible explanation for this miraculous state of affairs; we can only hope that it persists.
Ladybugs: in spring, shockingly large clusters of Asian lady beetles, which closely resemble ladybugs, appear in ceiling corners and the insides of windows. They do no harm and then they die. Apparently, they were released in decades past to control aphids, which they did, and now they’re here to stay.
Butterflies: butterflies are an exception to our general disdain for insects. Monarch butterflies are particularly attracted to stands of tall milkweed plants that are a common meadow flower. Monarch caterpillars can only feed on milkweed plants, which have other interesting attributes, including milkweed pods that are edible in their immature phase, and create lovely silken, wind-blown seeds at summer’s end.
Fireflies: one of the most spectacular and otherworldly displays created for our pleasure by fellow creatures is an extended annual event at Franklin Chthonics. On warmer evenings in early summer, millions and millions of fireflies gently swarm over the fields and wet areas and literally light up free-standing trees while performing their strange, luminous ritual dance. When a person’s eyes finally fully adjust to darkness, fireflies can be seen flashing over a half mile in the distance.