Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Outdoors: As winter winds to close, we’re getting a whiff of spring

Mark Blazis Outdoors 

Considering the brutal winter of 2011, it's understandable why some species evolved hibernation strategies, avoiding the daily stresses of cold and starvation. After enviably sleeping without care through the last several months, they're finally waking. 

Skunks now are obnoxiously debuting with overpowering odor statements and road-kill displays. Worcester's Bashar Agha estimates there are over a hundred of them on the hills above Shrewsbury Street, not far from his Perfect Fit tailor shop. I actually smelled my first overly eager skunk this year early on Feb. 5, while driving along Grafton Street, when snowdrifts were still five feet deep. He came out, no doubt, looking for food or a mate. They've been housing, largely unnoticed, in hollow logs, burrows, under steps, sheds, wood piles or any number of human-built structures raised off the ground. 

Waking males intent on breeding now are fighting and spraying other males, while females are just as prone to spray overly presumptive males. Great horned owls, having no sense of smell, are dining enthusiastically on them as they move about — temptingly fat and vulnerably slow in the night. After a winter of slim pickings, skunks afford the owls a much appreciated, easy meal. Few local great horned owls consequently lack their scent. Many of our dogs will similarly be sprayed as well. 

One scent-removal formula that works consists of 1 quart hydrogen pyroxide, 1/4 cup baking soda, and 1 teaspoon liquid detergent. This combination loosens the oils that tenaciously hold the odor and prove otherwise impossible to break down. It has restored my bird dog from banishment to reacceptance in our home more than once. 

First put on clothing you don't mind later trashing. Then carry your dog into your tub, soaking and rubbing his malodorous areas — particularly his head and the front of his body, being careful to protect his eyes. Let the solution work for about five minutes. Sniff your dog carefully to make certain you've treated every affected area. You'll later regret taking shortcuts. Then rinse your dog thoroughly in cool water. 

Wearing disposable rubber gloves will make your own re-entry into your family's living space more acceptable, too. You'll know very soon if you missed any sprayed areas on your dog, especially after a rain, which seems to bring back remnants of the odor. Odor Gone, a product made in Quincy (617-471-1961), reportedly prevents even a post-rain skunk odor from returning. 

This formula should always be made fresh and never stored, as it can in time expand and break the container. The pyroxide is not without side effects, however. My liver-and-white Brittany has developed temporary blonde highlights after treatment, a small price to pay for acceptance back into our family pack. 

The comically fat, waddling raccoons of autumn have emerged relatively svelte, having lost most of their thick rump fat and nearly half their body weight. They're indiscriminately scrounging now for remaining acorns, trash, dog food, birdseed and even compost-pile discards. It hasn't taken long for them to train me to stop putting out my trash the night before collection. 

Chipmunks are revving up, too, their body temperatures increasing an amazing 60 degrees while their heart rates triple. Last year, they dug enough holes in my lawn to make a miniature golf course. To save my yard, I purchased a quickly effective live trap from Wildlife Control Supplies in Connecticut (877-684-7262, www.shopwcs.com). The chipmunks were undeniably cute but unbearably destructive. One reader, his Shrewsbury property also under siege, hired a pest control service that incredibly removed over a hundred chipmunks before the damage stopped. 

Bears also have emerged from their log and brush pile sanctuaries. January-born cubs are finally getting attention from their mother, who's breathing five times faster now. It's time for her to eat again, either grasses or skunk cabbage, to free a digestive system plugged up since November. They're understandably enticed now by our birdseed and dog food. 

Woodchuck heartbeats are now pounding 10 times faster, while their body temperatures have increased nearly 70 degrees. They're going to increase the heart rates of gardeners, too, whose broccoli and cauliflower patches are sure to be targeted. 

The increased heat and faster rhythms of spring are beginning to be felt by wildlife all around us. It's time for us, as well, to emerge from our own personal degree of hibernation and feel the vital energy invigorating all who venture outdoors. 

Mark Blazis can be reached by e-mail at markblazis@charter.net

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