Thursday, October 25, 2012

Random Acts of Wildlife . . .



A few weeks ago, running in Vancouver, I was amused to be alerted by a runner approaching from the opposite direction, pointing excitedly to a seal, wanting to make sure I didn't miss it. He couldn't know, of course, that I'm so spoiled by an abundance of wildlife at home that seals are rather ho-hum.

I shouldn't take my good fortune so much for granted, though. My good friend, the scholar and poet Tanis MacDonald, has been maintaining a FaunaWatch on her Facebook updates and Tweets (follow her @PoetTanis) over the past several months, and it's rather inspiring. She's noted turtles, wild turkeys, deer, skunk, owls, raccoons, a Great Egret, rabbits,  muskrat, and an ornithological encyclopedia of birds. I'm not as disciplined as Tanis, but I thought perhaps I should push past my taking-for-granted barrier and jot a few notes.

-  Two hunch-backed raccoons working the margin at low tide in the just-before-sunrise light, completely untroubled by my tea-drinking presence. Such a characteristic shape they make--they could not be mistaken, even at a distance, for any other mammal of similar size.

-  A covey of quails, an entire extended family, bachelor uncles whipped into youngster-tending duties, about 20 birds panicked by my run into their wind-up toy movements of confusion. Finally despairing of tricking me on the ground, they rise in a clumsy flutter into the broad-leaf maple tree nearby. As if demonstrating a basic principle of physics, a seemingly equal number of leaves, bronze and copper and rust, pirouette and float and plummet their way to the ground. Quail up, Leaves down. And me, still running, but now grinning broadly -- the unpredictable side-effect of the experiment. . .

-  Pine siskins strike a confusion of rapid, intersecting flightpaths to our fishpond from the middle storey of the fir tree. They cluster at the ersatz waterfall in a series of explosive groupings, a blur of hydrating activity, all wings and tails, diminuitive flashes of yellow punctuating the dun avian collective.

-  The small brown bird's wings drum the air as he swoops to a willow branch. The mellow timbre of the drumming oddly recalls the contented purring, last night, of the tabby cat who now paces below the willow's sanctuary.

-  The dawn's dark and sombre beauty has yielded to a softer palette, greys, blues, the merest flicker of pink or orange, so dilute yet still powerfully suggestive. The long chevrons of clouds against bands of clear sky are reflected geometrically in the water below.The textures of the clouds comprise larger motions, softer edges, while the water surface is etched in tight lines, ripples.
Curious, I watch carefully a new pattern of ripples closer to shore. Is it simply a response to the tide receding, exposing a rock? I keep watching and my patience is rewarded: first one, then two small heads emerge from a swirl of ripples nearby. No, I watch longer and see that it's only one otter. It's head and belly I'm seeing, not two small heads. Foraging under the surface, most likely, and forming those ripples, then emerging to float and nibble, float and nibble.

-  And every Monday night as I cycle across the dark island on the dirt roads, I surprise a group of three deer, two younger, one adult. They shouldn't be surprised any longer, really -- they should make note that it's always minutes after the ferry docks, about 9:25, that I ride down the hill past what used to be Tom and Berniece's place. Yet every Monday night, they startle, and one by one, they bound across the road to disappear into the woods somewhere between the old Hungarian's place and the home of the couple from Manitoba. . . Perhaps one of these Mondays, they'll reverse the pattern, and then I'll be the one who's surprised.

-  The Friday night before our Canadian Thanksgiving, though, I was definitely the one surprised. I took our 18-pound turkey upstairs to finish defrosting out on the balcony off our upstairs bedroom. We use this technique occasionally when there's not enough room left in the fridge -- the night temperature was cool enough for food safety, and the raccoons are unlikely to climb and plunder (knock on wood).
       As I opened the balcony door, something flooshed past me, just above eye level. I reached the turkey, half frozen in a big roasting pan, down to the deck floor, and looked back into the bedroom to see if I'd imagined that movement. And there it was again, not a bat as I'd first nervously suspected, but a thoroughly freaked out small bird. A winter wren, in fact, propelling its neat brown self from wall to wall trying to seek a way out. It thunked into the dark window, optimism clearly dashed, and then flurried into the closet and perched on one of Paul's shirts. As long as it stayed off my favourite Smythe blazer with its now-anxious bowels . . . .
      Downstairs, I explained the situation to Paul, and he grabbed the fishnet we use in the pond occasionally. But a few attempts at capture proved that was too clumsy an approach. Finally, I grabbed a silk scarf from my dresser and drifted it gently over the tiny creature, then gathered it into the centre, held the ends together and took it back to the balcony. Before I released it, of course, I couldn't help but enjoy the moment, the privilege of being this close to the tiny, wild, and very shy wren. I'm sure s/he hopes we never meet again. . .

- Now, with Nola visiting, we point out seals with excitement, seeing them through her eyes, both fascinated and horrified by their vigorous shaking of a thrashing salmon, the gulls wheeling greedily about hoping for the by-catch. For the moment, at least, my blasé self has been banished as I study the magic they hold for a young child, relearn the mysteries . . . . Look, there's a seal. . .

If you began a FaunaWatch journal, what creatures could you record?

16 comments:

  1. Quail are my favorite birds:).

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  2. I enjoyed your writing so much in this post. You've painted some beautiful scenes.

    About the wren, I saw a plum-sized wren injured outside Hotel Vancouver on Tuesday. At first I thought it was a decoration, until I bent down and saw the tiniest flutter. Distressed, I rushed to the hotel's concierge desk and they sprang into action to help me transport this delicate creature to the wildlife rescue; they even prepared an aerated box. Sadly, the poor little bird had passed away by the time I got back outside. So sad, so I say a little prayer for this bird singing in bird heaven now. I didn't know what kind it was until I read your post. How odd that you should write of this now of all times.

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    1. Thanks!
      I'm really impressed that the hotel was so supportive -- must have been sad for all to see the little guy die. Did you look for images of a winter wren and then compare to what you saw? They're really lovely, in such a quiet way.

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  3. Your sketches are lovely. I love quail, on my dinner plate :).

    Nola's lucky to have a wonderful grandmother like you.

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    1. I admit to having a fondness for them in that form as well!
      And these birds are descendants of ones that were imported to our little island decades ago as game birds by some of the folks who summered here.

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  4. mmmmm that was lovely.
    We finally gave in a few years ago and fenced about 1.5 acres against the deer. They still sleep in the old goat yard, and that makes me happy - it's a win-win situation. The deer eat in our orchard and sleep in the protected field. They leave my garden alone but I still have the pleasure of seeing them nearby.

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    1. Thanks -- glad you enjoyed. I had fun making myself write out what I saw and remembered.
      I love this idea of your deer using the goat yard. . . if I thought it would work, I'd happily plant them a row of lettuce outside the fence and give them some safe sleeping space here, but of course the scale is much too small.

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  5. What a lovely use for a silk scarf. For a moment, I was afraid that it was a hawk after the frozen turkey. (Do you have hawks in your area?)

    Of all these vignettes, the one that spoke to me the most was the one about the quail.

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    1. We have bald eagles here as well as a variety of hawks -- I've never worried that they'd come close enough to grab something off the balcony though.

      Interesting that so many readers respond to the quail the most. They're such funny birds with captivating social habits.

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  6. Excellent post! FaunaWatch is very addictive, as you can see from writing up this great and growing list. Once you start noticing, it's hard to sink back into semi-consciousness and NOT see the non-human beings everywhere that human beings are. (That's not to say that you were EVER semi-conscious -- I'm talking about myself more than anyone...) Pointing out what you see to others -- and children especially -- can be a great reminder of the value of looking. For me, it's also a good way to be present instead of distracted by whatever is in my head that day.

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    1. Today we watched an otter, yesterday Nola spotted a sea lion. It's a good habit to get into, you're right!

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  7. Your writing here is so wonderful and lovely; it reads like poetry. I think I mentioned to you that I used to live on a boat, and so enjoyed waking up in the morning, sipping coffee while otters played in the water around me. I really still sometimes miss being that close to nature, though not the rowing to and from the mooring in storms!

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    1. Thanks, Sue. I've been trying to sketch in words as well as drawing -- both in contrast to my readiness to grab a camera. I love the way a camera focuses my eye, but I want to train my powers of observation a bit more as well.
      I do remember that you lived on a boat -- I know you wouldn't miss the stormy commute, but I know how special that time would have been. Sounds as if you still have recourse to it in memory.

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  8. what lovely writing! AND excited to see your wonderful journal sketches. I really don't know how you do everything you do! as well as take the time to absorb the quiet details.
    xx

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  9. Thanks Alison. I so wish I could have taken the Drawing from Nature course you offered a few weekends ago. Not enough time, is there, really?

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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