Hello, Pennsylvania summer, and welcome – finally
Bluebirds busily tend their nests. Fireflies dance at night. Fawns emerge from brushy hiding spots. All of these occurrences are telltale signs of summer’s emergence in Pennsylvania.
Life has been quite busy the past few months, but I’ve taken some time to stop and “smell the roses” – as simple as it may seem – and truly appreciate all this time of year has to offer. Wildlife abounds, even in the heat, and some of my experiences are worth mentioning here.
During an evening drive through Lebanon County farm country, I spotted a cottontail rabbit basking in the broken sunlight of a fencerow, red-winged black birds fluttering between cattails in a drainage culvert and mourning doves picking grit in the roadside gravel.
I’ve had a few run-ins with snakes — two of which were garters staking claim to my collapsed hunting blind, which was in desperate need of repair after winter storms tested its strength. They were safely relocated to a less obtrusive location, and I appreciated their docile nature, which contrasts dramatically with the 3-foot water snake that struck my leather glove when I moved him from the coiled refuge of my father’s picnic pavilion. To think there are folks out there who intentionally seek out rattlesnakes this time of year sends chills down my spine. More power to them – that’s not for me.
In fear of sounding like a broken record after last year, I didn’t get to trout fish as much as I would’ve liked due to the unrelenting rain blowing out creeks on a regular basis. But I’m hoping to find a window to throw some fly line later this week if the weather remains cooperative.
I did fish Sweet Arrow Lake in Schuylkill County one morning and nabbed nine crappies, a bluegill and a perch – mostly on fathead minnows fished about 3 feet off the bottom. They seem to be moving deeper into the lake as the water gradually climbs above 65 degrees. No such luck on the prize tagged trout, bass, channel catfish or muskies that roam the waters, but at least I didn’t get skunked.
Participating in the inaugural Friedensburg Groundhog Hunt, I shot 12 chucks in six hours of hunting the family farm one evening. I’m pretty sure that’s the most I’ve ever killed in one day, even counting the glory days of my youth when I bowhunted the critters daily. This time I went for efficiency and toted the Savage .17 HMR, and it worked great, as long as I picked out headshots.
My three best groundhogs measured 9.90 pounds, 9.52 pounds and 7.59 pounds, respectively, at weigh-ins, but it wasn’t enough to top the champion at 10.8 pounds. Still, I was happy to accept second place, and I did Dad a service by removing some of these pests from the property.
One of the side benefits of the hunt was that I was able to observe several fawns taking in their surroundings while learning from their mothers. I even spotted a young buck in velvet sneaking through the switch grass at a distance.
The garden is doing well, and we’ve enjoyed some tastes of summer, both domestically planted and wild. Fresh mint, mulberry, blueberries and black raspberries were picked this week, meaning the red raspberries, wax beans and cucumbers won’t be far off.
I eagerly look forward to our annual family trip upstate to the Pine Creek Valley later this summer, where encounters with black bears, smallmouth bass and other wildlife species are common. But for now, I’ll be limiting my outdoor forays to nearby excursions. My wife and I are expecting our second child – a girl – any day now.
As I close this blog, the brilliant red head of a male house finch peers into my office window from the bird’s perch on the nearby wash line. A soft breeze blows through the maple trees under a sky of blue. A gray squirrel carries away seeds from his latest bird-feeder raid. And I’m reminded to get outside and enjoy this beautiful Pennsylvania summer day while it lasts.