Changing Wildlife of Upstate NY
[Reprinted from original]
‘The times change, and we are changed with them.’ The Latin saying speaks sooth. ‘Change and decay in all around we see.’ Sometimes change is sad, and sometimes it’s scary. But it’s sometimes exciting, often fascinating, and always inevitable. In the space of a couple of weeks recently I saw several deer... a wild turkey... [...]
‘The times change, and we are changed with them.’
The Latin saying speaks sooth. ‘Change and decay in all around we see.’ Sometimes change is sad, and sometimes it’s scary. But it’s sometimes exciting, often fascinating, and always inevitable.
In the space of a couple of weeks recently I saw several deer... a wild turkey... a beaver dam... and some black squirrels.
All of them represented CHANGE here in the Finger Lakes and Southern Tier. In parts of our region deer are so plentiful that they’ve become a nuisance, and Steuben beats every other county in the state for deer take during hunting season. But there are old men and old women who remember being taken from school and put onto a bus so that they could be taken to a field where they would see that exciting rarity... a deer.
Much of our region was cleared for farming by 1900 or so, and much of our native wildlife had disappeared. As farming dwindled after World War II, the forest came back, and with it came the fauna.
With the deer came the turkey. It’s not unusual to find them along main roads and back roads alike. I know two spots within five miles of Bath where the flocks roost in trees along the Finger Lakes Trail. They’re forest birds, and they come with the trees. Just as Steuben is number one in the deer hunt, it’s consistently in New York’s top five for turkey take.
As the turkey increase, the pheasants decrease. Ring-necked pheasants are an Asian species, introduced after 1900 as a game bird, since the turkeys had vanished. (The state raised them at Bath Fish Hatchery.) But pheasants are a field bird. More trees, more turkeys. Fewer fields, fewer pheasants.
More TREES also mean more BEAVER. The last quarter of the 20th century saw their busy families return in delightful numbers... though of course they can be a nuisance when their dams flood our homes or our highways.
Our son and I observed a lot more black squirrels this year. Black fur is a natural morph for the gray squirrel, but why were their numbers going up? I’m told, by someone I’ve consistently found knowledgeable, that most squirrels were black when the first Europeans arrived ” it provided camouflage in the shaded forest. Gray fur did better in open fields, and proportions swung in that direction. As more squirrels live again in forests, the numbers swing the other way.
As with the deer, the turkey, and the beaver, so with the black bear. Fifteen years ago the Encyclopedia of New York State estimated about 200 bear in the Alleghenies of the Southern Tier, where they were creeping across the state line from Pennsylvania. It’s a whale of a lot more than that now, as they’ve spread throughout the reforested parts of the Finger Lakes, and extended their range eastward to meet the westward-growing population from the Catskills.
Fishers and bobcats have taken so much advantage of the returning forest that we now have hunting and trapping seasons.
One native animal that has NOT returned since being hunted to extinction is the wolf. But the wolf’s absence, along with farmland going fallow, opened the door for the highly adaptive coyote, which is now perfectly at home in most of the state, field and forest alike, and even makes incursions into cities.
Besides the turkeys, other birds have ebbed and flowed with the changes. Cardinals, once rare above the Mason-Dixon line, have become commonplace, partly due to widespread planting of the decorative multiflora rosa since World War II, providing a year-round food source. They’ve also profited from global warming has made our winters less severe.
The Canada goose has also benefited from global warming, as grain is now grown much farther north in Canada than ever before, and their numbers boom. In many communities they now stay put all year. But their haunting call on their southward journey is still the herald of winter to come, and summer slipping away.