Old Moon

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Wildlife on the Hilltop

My dog and I were walking along the road that runs through the community where I live one recent afternoon when I noticed a rather large eastern box turtle against the curb. At this time of the year, it seemed to me she might be on her way back to the river after laying her eggs. The Catawba loops around part of this property. Not everyone driving here would be able to see that the lump wasn't a stone, or it might open up and begin to cross the road.

I picked the turtle up. Its head had just enough showing at the front of its shell for it to see me, and it promptly withdrew it and its tail and toes and clamped its shell tight. We got home, I went behind the cottage and took the turtle down to the edge of the woods (between the cottage and the river) where I left it in the shade of a holly tree.

About an hour later I went to the window to see if it had emerged and moved on. The cottage is built on a steep hillside that provides grade level access to the basement, so I looked down about nine feet from the window. There, not three feet from the house, was a black bear just moseying along. Its thick black coat glistened and its brown muzzle swung slightly from side to side as it tested the local air. I watched it for about half a minute, then went to find my camera.

The cottages are arranged in a curving row with heavy woods and a very steep bank that begins a very few yards beyond them. Ours is about halfway along the row, so I assumed I could at least watch the animal continue along behind the neighboring buildings. When I got back with the camera, I saw I was wrong. It had clearly decided to plunge down into the thick undergrowth and young trees and had vanished.

My late husband outwitted marauding raccoons by using an electric fence transformer to protect the bird feeders and thus end their destruction of planters on the deck as well; I use red pepper to discourage total consumption of seed by squirrels who know how to jump from the grounded railing straight onto the feeders; we see deer and turkeys fairly regularly in early morning or late afternoon; we've seen a fox several times; we have a tolerant relationship with the rabbits and groundhogs; I love the skinks and fence lizards; a small family of skunks have amused us; we've seen a possum up near the dumpsters; there's an audible if not visible frog in our artificial pond by the front door; I look forward to the Harrier-like antics of the carpenter bee who comes each spring to the deck -- but a bear?!

Apart from the hope that this young fellow wouldn't alert his mama and thus pose a threat, I was thrilled. Even in a zoo, I've never been so close to a bear. This one was about the size of a large St. Bernard, I think. I'm really devastated that I didn't get a snapshot.

One more time, I was reminded of how absolutely vital the wild things are to my existence. I can't admit to my next door neighbor that I was pleased to see the blacksnake that lives in the compost bin because she can't even abide the thought of a snake, let alone the sight of one. I pity her. It won't be long now until I'll be watching for the migrating fox sparrows that pause at our feeders for a few days, the cedar waxwings come to strip the holly, the dark-eyed juncos and more visits from the wrens. Four breeding pairs of cardinals flock to the feeders twice a day now, along with the other regulars like goldfinches, housefinches, and titmice. I can't help wondering how many will stay around for the winter. The hummingbirds are now chasing one another off the feeders in spite of four ports on each one. In less than a month, they'll almost certainly be gone. The towhees stayed all last winter. I hope they'll spend another one here.


Sean said...

Great article!

I always find myself stopping during my run to look at wildlife. Maybe thats why i'm still out of shape haha.

glenda said...

Love this post, Joan. You are observant to know all those animals are near you. And you know all the birds that come to your feeders.
My Barry was observant like you. He sat on the deck in the afternoon and watched nature as he smoked his pipe.