Relative Something

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

Posts Tagged ‘wildlife

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.



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.”



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…



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.



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.



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.



Written by johnwhays

March 4, 2021 at 7:00 am

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Rare Interaction

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We interacted in a social way with other humans yesterday! Late February 2021. A milestone. Duly masked for appropriate social behavior in a pandemic, we hosted our friends, Barb and Mike Wilkus to share an appetizer, visit the chickens, and then travel to Pepin for a snowshoe hiking event at YMCA’s Camp Pepin. Afterward, we returned to our house for a light dinner, dessert by the fire, a little banter, and …blink, blink… the night was over.

There will never be enough time to catch up on the year of social interaction we have lost since the pandemic swept the world.

Hanging with friends will never feel fully satisfying until masking is no longer standard procedure.









Despite the limitations, we happily absorbed every second of the gift of friends who love the outdoors and are up for adventures. Camp Pepin was decked out with ice lanterns along a groomed trail and campfires aglow in the woods for an open house event intended to rejuvenate interest in camp activities that the virus outbreak has squelched.

As the dusk of the hour consumed us, we came upon a familiar scene of a deer carcass that had certainly fed a variety of wildlife.

 Looked strikingly similar to the one we found in our woods, antlers, and all.

The weather was perfectly comfortable for winter activity and the treasure of enjoying it with precious friends was a wonderful treat.

It sparks a glimmer of hope for visions of increased opportunities on the horizon in the months ahead. Do we dare begin to make plans again for renewing our old level of interactions with other people as vaccinations reach a greater majority?

That will be one step toward making it happen. Let’s all start making plans now for as normal a summer as possible to help galvanize the future reality we want to happen.

I am emphatically hoping it can play out sans masks.



Written by johnwhays

February 21, 2021 at 11:29 am

Regal Visitors

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It isn’t at all surprising that Delilah gets alerted to something and starts barking at the doors and windows. Happens multiple times a day. Yesterday afternoon, seconds after one such flourish, Cyndie commented about all the birds making a racket. She joined Delilah at the door to the deck and quickly exclaimed there were eagles perched in our trees. Four of them.

She stepped out to take a picture and one of the four took flight, no sound but the whoosh of wings.

I joined her at the door in time to see another one fly off.

After several minutes, a third one launched into a gorgeous glide. We fully expected the last one to fly and that would be that, but suddenly two of the flyers zoomed back on the scene. One appeared to consider a landing but the big branch it picked snapped off and fell toward the ground.

With that, all three spread their wings and flew away into the distance.

Other than worrying a little about the health and well-being of our chickens, we are thrilled whenever the majestic bald eagles pay us a visit. More often it’s one or two coasting overhead in the sky making a brief appearance. Finding them perched is a bit of a rarity and offers extended viewing, but four at a time was a first.

I liked that they showed little concern about Delilah’s barking.

Sometimes I wonder what they must think about us and our activities down below them.

I suspect they find us a lot less fascinating than we do them.




Written by johnwhays

February 19, 2021 at 7:00 am

Contemplative Shuffling

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It appears that even deer recognize the benefits of walking the labyrinth path. Before we entered, Cyndie took a picture of the footprints on the path.

It looked impressive to see them so perfectly following the trail but after the first turn the deer tracks veered off across the paths and disappeared into the woods. I picked up from there and plodded along on snowshoes to lay down the proper series of turns and pass-throughs to reach the center.

By the time I finished, the overcast daylight was beginning to wane and the color of the image took on a different hue.

There were multiple turns where my double-stack of stones had toppled and were frozen to the ground in the middle of the pathway, but the primary route is now fully established in the base layer of snow. May it remain visible for the duration of snowfall through the end of the season.



Written by johnwhays

December 27, 2020 at 11:00 am

Off Trail

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Given the relatively long span of time with no snowfall, getting off the trails to explore our woods has proved revealing of late. Delilah and I came upon at least three hazardous waste sites. Me suspects the local raccoons have a luxurious condominium in the trees above this spot.

That’s more scat than I care to encounter in any one place. Wish they’d learn to bury their messes.

Farther along, it was hard to miss the calling card of one large antler-bearing white-tail deer. This buck also did a fair amount of pawing the ground in the vicinity of this scraping.

As we made our way down a slope where Delilah raced ahead while I scrambled to navigate the leash, and my body, around and under the tree debris she wove through, I thought I saw a big squirrel on the ground ahead. When Delilah ignored it and passed by in pursuit of a fresher scent, I saw that it was simply a long ago dried out scrap of furry hide from what I guessed to be a deer.

Later, after Delilah’s chase instinct had calmed down, I turned us back to look for that fur so I could take a picture. As so often happens in the woods, I couldn’t find it a second time. Unfortunately, we had no problem coming back to unsightly piles of scat, but nothing that stood out like a body of a dead squirrel that was obvious the first time we passed it.

Unless something smells freshly of death or walked by in the last few hours, Delilah’s nose seems to hold little interest. She walked past this bone with nothing more than a glance.

The white color made it stand out distinctly.

Actually, fresh presence doesn’t always guarantee Delilah will notice. Last night in the final walk before she retires to her crate (her “den”) for the night, my high-beam flashlight caught two little eyes reflecting about 50 meters ahead. I kept my eyes and the beam on the two reflecting spots as we closed the distance, while Delilah focused on whatever scent her nose to the ground was picking up.

Eventually, the creature decided to move off the trail and I could see it was a domestic-looking cat. My flashlight beam picked up the reflecting eyes again in the brush just off the trail, so I knew it hadn’t run off entirely. As we came abreast, I stared at the cat in my light beam and it stared back at me, while Delilah just passed right on by with her nose still to the ground, oblivious.

Never a dull moment on our thrice-daily (minimum) jaunts around the property for Delilah’s benefit.

Even more so when I decide we get to venture off-trail.



Written by johnwhays

December 13, 2020 at 10:56 am

Stinky Year

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Look at it this way, today it is the fifteenth day of July, so we are halfway through the month that comes after the midpoint of the year 2020. All this whining about 2020 being so problematic will be over before you know it. We can stop wondering about what the next calamity could possibly be and start marveling over how we got this far without throwing in the towel.

Unless you happen to have school-age children, that is, and have no idea how to cope with more distance learning in the fall. Or if you got sick with the coronavirus. Or you are out of work due to the pandemic. Or lost your medical insurance because you no longer have a job. Or you can’t pay your bills because you didn’t qualify for financial assistance.

In the wee hours before waking yesterday, I experienced the most vivid dream where I found myself in the midst of my high school classmates in something of a reunion gathering. I am curious about what threw my mind into that reconnection with my school days. In classic dream fashion, by daylight, I lost the gist of what I was thinking and feeling about the situation while the dream was underway, but was left with the vague pleasure of having been among peers I haven’t seen lately.

Maybe it’s a mental defense mechanism for escaping the shelter-in-place mindset of the pandemic.

Cyndie has been up at the lake for the last two days and she took Delilah with her. It has been refreshingly calm at home on my own after the day-job. The cat and the chickens don’t ask for much from me, so it has felt like a little vacation.

Of course, the pesky wildlife hasn’t taken any time off. For two nights in a row, I found our kitchen compost bin had been abused and separate access panels forced open so they could ravage the rotting goods. Last night, I wrapped it with a ratcheted tie-down strap to secure the doors from opening.

Let’s see the little raccoon claws loosen a ratchet mechanism.

Yesterday morning on the drive to work, a young-looking fox trotted across the road just around the corner from our property. Luckily for us, that enemy-of-hens was headed in the direction of a neighboring property where egg-layers roam freely.

Later, as my car approached a fresh road-kill, I centered my tires to miss the mess and held my breath. Before I even started to resume breathing, I felt the acrid fumes in my nostrils. I was afraid to inhale, but I had to.

Fresh skunk. Reeeally fresh. Ow.

At least 2020 is over halfway to the history books. The whole year seems to have a general stink to it.



Written by johnwhays

July 15, 2020 at 6:00 am