Relative Something

*this* John W. Hays' take on things and experiences

Posts Tagged ‘wildlife

Noticing Things

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Lately, when Delilah and I step out of the house at the beginning of our walks around our property, I hear a wild turkey gobbling through the trees in the neighboring woods. Just one or two calls and then just quiet. It occurred to me the bird is probably alerting others to our presence. I have yet to spot any gobblers moving around.

At first, I wondered why he would give himself away like that but after failing to ever catch a fleeting glimpse, despite staring intently in the direction of the sound while we slowly made our way down the perimeter path, I realize he hasn’t given himself away at all. He’s just alerting others to seek immediate concealment.

It works.

The narrow path we cleared through the middle of our woods –which we’ve taken to calling the “middle trail”– has become our new favorite. After frequent commands to Delilah to “take the middle trail,” she now hesitates when we approach it, anticipating the call. There are plenty of times when I am more than happy to let her choose our route and leave it up to her as to whether we make the turn or not.

Yesterday, she turned onto the middle trail before I had a chance to consider an opinion. It made me happy thinking that she might like that trail as much as Cyndie and I do. Unlike the main perimeter trail, most of which already existed when we moved here and allows plenty of room for ATV travel, the middle trails (there are now several) are intentionally narrow and a little more winding.

The newest portion was cleared over winter this year so we have yet to experience it when green leaves create a much more dense impression of the surroundings. I’m looking forward to finding out how much that changes the experience of traveling that path.

As we exited the trees and made our way along the fence around the hayfield, I noticed an orange cat walking along in the middle, unaware of our approach. When it finally saw us, the cat immediately went into a crouch position and looked as though it was trying to become as flat as possible. Delilah remained oblivious, so the wind must have been in the cat’s favor.

Since the grass in the field is still short, the orange-ness of the cat stood out clear as ever. I think I may have audibly chuckled at it. I also realized there are probably countless times we have walked past an animal that is crouched just out of view and downwind from Delilah’s keen senses to which we were entirely ignorant.

Sometimes they pop out at the last minute and make a run for it. I figure they must hold out as long as possible until deciding the dog has just gotten too close for comfort. Rabbits, grouse, various other birds, and cats have all startled us at one time or another when they suddenly panicked and ran or flew away from beside us.

I’m always amazed when Delilah fails to notice them first.

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Written by johnwhays

April 27, 2022 at 6:00 am

The Birds

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While walking with Delilah yesterday afternoon, I think we gained an appreciation for what might have inspired Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.”

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It’s not about the video image. You gotta have the sound on to get the gist of what we experienced.

When we got close and stopped to check out the chaos, we experienced a wonder of nature when the birds all suddenly fell silent. It’s just fascinating to witness the cooperation of that many birds that have just been shouting up a storm of noise to all understand when it becomes time to get quiet.

Lasted barely a second and the cacophony resumed at full force.

A brilliant spectacle.

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Written by johnwhays

March 18, 2022 at 6:00 am

Nighttime Screeching

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Two nights in a row now. High pitched snarling, screeching growls in the darkness. We are grateful to be sleeping indoors, even if the sound leaks through our windows and doors enough to be audible. In the cold darkness, it must sound magnitudes more unsettling.

It wasn’t originally obvious what was going on, since we have heard the cries of rabbits being preyed upon, intense yelping from packs of coyotes, and rare screeches from owls in our woods on various occasions. This seemed to hold elements from any and all of those.

When there was no evidence of any carnivore activity to be found on the morning after the first night of terrorizing sounds and the screaming resumed the following night as darkness settled over the land, my suspicions about the source coalesced.

For reasons that completely evade my understanding, both Delilah and Pequenita showed no hint of reaction to the angry creature sounds happening just beyond our walls. They both seem to react to a myriad of other triggering sounds occurring beyond my range of hearing, but this drama that was catching my attention mysteriously meant nothing to them.

I pressed my ear to the glass of the back door to gauge the distance and direction to the source of the creepy screams as I attempted to silently work the latch. As soon as the door cracked open, the sounds stopped. There was no echo, no winding down of conflict, no sounds of movement. Only silence. Instant silence.

Standing motionless outside the door, holding it closed but not latched to avoid making a single sound myself, I hoped to outlast whatever creature it was that was smart enough to respond to my appearance with such immediate disappearance. Was it holding its breath?

I was, mine.

It would have to eventually move. Whatever the screaming was all about couldn’t have just totally ended. If it was some fracas between two animals, the animosity couldn’t have just vanished because I showed up.

They, or it, won. I gave up after a few minutes and went back inside. Undaunted, I headed right to our high beam spotlight flashlight to follow up on my hunch. At the back door again, I switched it on and pointed it toward the high branches of the nearest big tree.

Suspicion confirmed. Two beady raccoon eyes glowed in the light beam.

We had thought the masked bandits weren’t active in the coldest months but research reveals mating can be happening in February and March. Yippy! Up to seven new babies possible in April and May. [sarcasm]

That screaming could be males competing for a single female. Beats me why I only saw one set of eyes in the tree limb when the noise definitely sounded like conflict between two parties.

Time to practice our trapping skills again to see if we can improve on the modest effectiveness we had last summer.

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Written by johnwhays

February 6, 2022 at 11:48 am

Treading Widely

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Our Belgian Tervuren Shepherd, Delilah, being one high-energy dog, gets multiple opportunities per day to burn off energy in walks around our property. If not, she gets a little stir-crazy in the house. As such, we tread on our paths repeatedly –from every direction, because I like variety.

In the last week, we have received a series of overnight snowfalls when the temperature has been very cold, bringing an inch or two of light powder each time, which has been enough that the trails we walk have needed to get re-packed every other morning. If we were to walk down the middle all the time we would end up with a rather narrow “aisle” of travel through the accumulating snow cover, so I make a concerted effort to walk the edges after new snow in order to keep the packed path nice and wide.

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It makes it look like a large crowd has been taking Delilah for a walk, but it’s just me, three or four times a day.

Once the width has been re-established, I focus my boot steps on knocking down as many high spots as possible with each subsequent pass until the path is groomed smooth like an excellent fat bike trail.

The local wildlife has shown an affinity for following our packed trails as opposed to the deeper snow so Delilah often has a variety of enticing scents to track as we progress. Of course, that means we frequently find ourselves pausing to wait for her to come back to the trail after she followed some footprints that wandered off to the left or right in pursuit of alternate destinations.

When we get the big dumps of snow around a foot or more at a time, I break out the snowshoes to pack these trails. Just a few inches at a time are easy enough to walk through with just boots, which are easier to navigate when we stop to tend to the horses on our morning and late afternoon jaunts.

The middle of the day usually involves a route past the mailbox to pick up the daily snail mail.

When I’m feeling generously adventurous, I’ll grant Delilah the opportunity to bushwhack through the woods wherever her nose leads. Those trips don’t happen as much once the snow gets deeper. Since we just cut a new trail through the middle of a portion of our woods last year, I more often let that be her treat for alternate exploration.

That path doesn’t get the same attention toward widening. It’s more like a rustic side road to our perimeter trail’s main expressway.

Winter tail maintenance at Wintervale is an art! What can I say?

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Written by johnwhays

January 25, 2022 at 7:00 am

Reversing Perspective

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After our last meager accumulation of snow, we have had a few days of high winds creating small hard-packed drifts that serve as perfect surfaces for wildlife tracks. Using Delilah’s prints (that mostly break through the crust) for reference, I can tell the other recent traffic was smaller than her. And me.

The most likely first set aligns with our frequent sightings around the property: neighbor cats. My guess on the other prints is a fox.

I took a closeup of a couple of the smaller prints and got another perfect specimen for the optical illusion of “reversing perspective.”

You can either see the prints as raised bumps in the snow as if the light is shining from the upper left, or you can see them as they truly are, depressions with the light coming from the bottom left.

How flexible is your mind? Are you able to flip the perspective at will and alternatingly see it from both perspectives? Oftentimes, switching from one to the other can be hard for our vision to do.

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Written by johnwhays

January 11, 2022 at 7:00 am

My City

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I live in a city in the country. A place characterized by a specific attribute. My city is populated by leaves. Leaves and sticks. And mud, when the weather is wet. My city is constantly changing. There are animals and animal dung. There are births and deaths.

Is it murder when one animal kills another?

Not according to this definition:

“the unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another.” 

Doesn’t apply to animals.

My city has common routes of travel shared by many. There are also back alley shortcuts to get from one place to another. There is traffic night and day.

Our house is the city center, the hub of all activity. From here, energy radiates in every direction. There are constant battles waged against unwelcome invading plants and critters.

The invasion of cold temperatures appears to have quashed the zeal of microorganisms living in the only remaining active pile of composting manure. I won’t fight the issue. The pile will be there when warmth returns next spring. I’ve witnessed piles that cook through the winter and seen many more that go dormant and freeze solid.

This year, we have noticed an atypical increase in the number of mice seeking to move into the city center now that the leaves have fallen to the ground. Do they know something we don’t about what kind of weather this winter will bring?

We are receiving news now that the whitetail deer population has contracted the coronavirus in substantial numbers. Since they lack the infrastructure for getting vaccinated, it gives us added incentive to get our booster shots. I’d rather not wear a mask when walking through the woods.

Imagine the opportunity for the virus to morph again while it is spreading uncontrolled through the deer population.

We can try to put our city on lock-down but policing the traffic that crosses our borders is beyond the reach of our security forces.

My city will take its chances.

We are more concerned about a threatened strike by the snowplow driver.

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Written by johnwhays

November 13, 2021 at 10:23 am

Forensic Guessing

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Looks like we have some competition in the wood chipping department.

Analysis of the evidence by amateurs came up with guesses like porcupine, or woodchuck, or possum. What animal would have spent so much time shredding the bark of this downed tree overnight?

Would you guess that it might have been a bear?

That’s the opinion Cyndie received from the person teaching her Master Gardener classes.

Must have been a good collection of insects beneath that bark to keep the animal’s attention engaged. Or maybe just shorter days and longer nights are triggering the urge to gorge zealously on any possible morsels of protein.

Logic indicates the days of warm temperatures are running out. It won’t be long and the only bugs to be found will be frozen “insect-icles.”

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Written by johnwhays

November 10, 2021 at 7:00 am

Dancing Cranes

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Cyndie is home again! She received a wonderful greeting from Delilah, got ignored by Pequenita, adored by me, and most surprising of all, warmly loved by all the horses. She said they were all behaving like the four Arabians we used to have, showing that same desire to receive attention from her.

On Friday morning, she was cleaning the waterer and heard the sound of horses snoring.

We can’t remember the last time we saw them lay down for naps while either of us was around. The serenity didn’t last for long, though.

Two sandhill cranes made an appearance in the hayfield. The trumpeting vibrato trills of sandhill cranes have been reverberating for weeks from a dry creek bed beyond our trees in a neighboring field. Yesterday, they showed up in plain sight and grabbed the attention of the horses.

Cyndie recorded from a vantage point where she could capture both the horses and the two posturing, squawking cranes. Wait for their hopping around toward the end…

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Today, we host a gathering of some of my family. Siblings and kid cousins will be here for a long-overdue get-together.

We will probably remind the horses of the sandhill cranes, but without the dancing.

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Written by johnwhays

September 18, 2021 at 7:00 am

Night Sounds

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With the present summer weather about as perfect as could be, we had our windows open the last few nights while we slept. Or, tried to sleep. Our resident owls have been wonderfully vocal with each other lately, opening with a long, classically owl sounding, “Whooooo,” but quickly followed with a repeating variation of short shout-like hoots.

At least two of them have been calling back and forth at noticeably different distances from our house. Last night, that seemed to trigger one of our neighbor’s dogs to do some shouting of its own.

The next time I unintentionally surfaced from the depths of precious slumber, the lovely sound of a songbird was resonating strongly through the forest. In the predawn darkness, it revealed morning light would be appearing soon.

Underlying it all, the continuous drone of crickets, tree frogs, or both paved the foundation for a comforting summer night soundtrack.

What we haven’t heard recently is the howling and yipping of coyote packs, so maybe they have figured out there are no chickens left to steal here and moved on to harass some other property.

Cyndie spotted another young family traipsing across our backyard early one morning last week.

Wild turkey parents were parading a brood of young ones along the edge of the woods.

I guess coyotes must not like turkey as much as they do chicken.

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Written by johnwhays

August 15, 2021 at 10:08 am

Trotting Turkeys

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Wild turkeys are no longer as rare a sight as when I was growing up, but it is still a special treat to have them actually pay a visit up close. Yesterday, we suddenly spotted a batch of them up near the house, out on the driveway. As I stepped toward the window, they noticed my presence and started movement off the driveway. They looked like they would be headed toward the chicken coop and I wondered how that would play out.

Still in my house slippers, I stepped outside as slyly as possible, hoping to avoid scaring them away. It was clear they were aware of me and I wasn’t able to record more than a few seconds of their visit before they disappeared into the woods, taking a path that crossed midway between the house and the chicken coop.

 

If you click on the image, you can spot movement by some chickens in the distance, to the left of the coop.

From my vantage point, it looked like chickens and turkeys were oblivious to one another. One of the turkeys seemed to be providing a cluck, …cluck cadence as they traversed the nearby trees into the main woods. It was decidedly different from the variety of sounds our chickens make, but with a hint of familiarity, too.

I made sure Cyndie counted only 14 birds in the coop when she closed it up for the night, in case one of those wild turkeys decided to take a crack at domestic life.

There was nobody roosting inside but them chickens.

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Written by johnwhays

March 4, 2021 at 7:00 am

Posted in Chronicle

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