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?