Skunked!

Unknown-1

If the fish in your backyard pond kept disappearing, you’d get tired of replacing them. You’d start focusing on getting rid of the character who was eating them, most likely a raccoon.

That’s why Debbie and Jerry bought a large Havahart live trap, set it up near their pond, baited it with tuna fish, and waited. Several mornings later Jerry stepped out the back door, saw they had something in the trap, and was immediately disappointed to realize they had apparently caught someone’s black and white cat.

Unknown

 

Fortunately, Jerry was approaching the trap from the rear when he realized what he really had in that wire cage.

 

The back end was all Jerry could see of the little skunk. That was good. It meant the skunk could not see him.

Quietly, Jerry backed away from the cage. He would much rather have dealt with a thirty-pound snarling raccoon than a five-pound skunk. He needed advice.

Clackamas County Fish and Wildlife said, “You have to release it. Take it five miles past the Oregon City limits and let it go.”

pixabay-1239764

“Don’t you have someone who can come out and help me?” Jerry asked.

It’s a skunk in a large wire cage. I won’t be able to get anywhere near it!

“We don’t do that, sir. You have to take it out of town.”

How about a humane way to get rid of it without getting close?” Jerry asked.

“No! You are required to take it five miles out of town.”

Jerry was running short of patience by then, “How about I take it to your offices and release it there?”

“No! Do not bring it here, sir and do not do anything to that skunk! We may send a officer out to your house and make sure you properly release it!”

Unknown-1

Jerry had to work that morning but he came up with a plan.

Debbie grew up on a farm in Colton. She knows skunks and she says, “If a skunk can’t see you, it won’t spray you.”

Holding up a large tarp so the skunk couldn’t see him, Jerry tip-toed quietly through the tulips, past the pond and right up to the wire cage. Still hidden, he carefully covered the entire cage with the tarp. Then he used several bungee cords to make sure the tarp was tied down tightly. Next, Jerry lifted the large cage to the back of their small Chevy pickup. The skunk was quiet.

Jerry planned to park the truck in a shady spot at his office and then, after work, take the skunk out of the city and release it.

Sailing down I-205, with the skunk in the back of his truck, Jerry was feeling pretty confident.” So far so good,” he thought!

It wasn’t long before Jerry noticed honking, a lot of honking. Then the driver of a white Toyota flew by and scowled at Jerry. Suddenly Jerry picked up the powerful scent of skunk. Panic took hold of him when he looked in the back of the pickup and saw the tarp flapping in the wind. People in the lane next to him flew by as fast as they could, some of them were gesturing toward the back of the truck. Many were making obscene gestures. Those who passed carried with them the scent of a terrified freeway-riding skunk.

They say that a skunk can spray about six times in a row to a distance of ten feet. But this skunk was really terrified and Jerry swears the skunk never stopped shooting until they arrived at Jerry’s work. In any event, the ten-foot range must have been extended to hundreds of feet behind the truck – what with the wind produced by the freeway speeds.

Jerry made it to work and parked in a shady spot far away from any other vehicles. He told his work buddy, John, the tale of his morning adventure.

“Skunks have never bothered me,” John said, “I’m a single man with a cabin in the woods. Bring the skunk out to my place and let him loose. He’s welcome!”

After work, Jerry carefully tied the tarp down again and followed John out to the cabin. In a pleasant wooded spot they slowly lifted the tarp from the front of the cage.

John stood behind the cage, held the tarp in front of himself, and lifted the door of the cage. The skunk could see nothing but freedom.

He waited. And waited.

Jerry couldn’t see any reason to wait for the skunk to gather courage so he went home.

Now it was just John and the skunk.

John continued waiting for several minutes.

Since he was hiding behind the tarp, John couldn’t see the skunk but he was pretty sure it hadn’t left the cage yet.

He continued to wait.

After a while, John peeked over the tarp, just barely, he was too nervous to pull it back far enough to see the cage.

He continued to wait. There seemed to be no movement from inside the cage.

Then he thought, “Maybe I looked away for a second, the little guy ran out, and I missed it completely.”

So he lowered the tarp a little bit more, peeked further over, and looked into the shiny black eyes of one mad and disoriented skunk. Before John could think, the skunk turned, fired, then proudly waddled off.

Too late John dropped the tarp and ran to his cabin.

Unknown

The skunk was never seen again.

As Debbie says, never let them see you!

 

Misplaced Priorities

It’s twenty years since we built the pond and this was the first winter we’ve had a net over it. The net was great for keeping fallen leaves out, but we were mostly trying to protect our ten-for-a-dollar feeder fish from the Great Blue Heron.

IMG_0435

This makes no sense. We built the pond for the heron, not for the fish. The fish are food. We throw the tiny things in the pond every spring and they spend a relaxing summer eating and growing.  The heron always gets most of them before the next spring.

And when he does, I feel bad.

The problem is that the fish become pets. By the end of summer they have come to expect to be fed when they see us near the pond. We take pride in their beauty, their health, and their growth. Some of them have interesting and distinctive markings. This is where our priorities get confused. We start with the intention of nurturing wildlife but end up nurturing the food.

Dave wanted to protect the fish this spring and summer, but I thought we should stick to our original intent – welcome the heron and his appetite. Then we took the net off last week and I saw the fish! Tiny babies from last spring have grown. Some of the babies actually hatched in our pond. I recognized the gold one with the large black oval on his back and I saw the white fish that has been around for three years.

dscn0118.jpg

I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t let them be eaten.  The last several years I’ve been lashing four long pieces of bamboo together forming a tic-tac-toe grid. I toss several of the bamboo structures in the pond and hope they discourage the heron. It hasn’t worked so far.

I’m trying something new this year. I attached the bamboo to stakes in the ground near the edge of the pond. That way the heron can’t use his trick of pushing all the bamboo to one end of the pond while he dines.

IMG_0243

This morning we were delighted to admire a flock of robins bathing while standing on the floating bamboo.

When the heron comes, it’s a wonderful thing to see. He makes a deep croaking sound as he stalks around the pond. It’s a prehistoric noise straight out of  the Jurassic Park sound track. Once in a while one of our clever ideas slows him down for a while, but eventually he will outsmart us. He always does.

Until then, the fish are happy and the robins are loving the bamboo!

August 2015

An Invitation

In this post I explain why I choose experiencing a great moment over taking a great photo. Please see my invitation at the end of this post and seriously consider sharing your story. I look forward to hearing from you!

Last year my family and I had the incredible good fortune to be on a whale-watching tour in Kuai. It was a dream-come-true. Eight of us perched on a yellow rubber boat that seemed too flimsy for hanging around humpback whales, but it worked fine.

Our guide gave us a great piece of advice, “Don’t bother with your cameras. Don’t try to take pictures. You’ll ruin it for yourselves. Just enjoy!”

We watched mama humpbacks with their babies. Because they are in the ocean, we were seeing a lot of exciting flukes and backs.

After two hours, our guide began to turn us back toward shore when a sudden explosion of water erupted directly in front of us. One whale had burst out of the water and seemed to stand on his tail before dropping back into the churning sea. It was breathtaking, a stunning end to our tour, and it lasted less than ten seconds.

I have the picture in my mind, and it will live there as long as I live.

humpback-whale-natural-spectacle-nature-mammal-51964.jpeg

Still, I sometimes regret the photos I never got, the pictures I’ll never be able to share. After years of wandering the neighborhood and wildlife refuges, I have plenty of mental snapshots:

*A morning at Oaks Bottom when I watched a coyote chase down a fat nutria, catch it, and carry it off into the bushes.

*The summer night I saw the great horned owl looking down at me from the top of the redwood next door.

*Dozens of ducklings trailing after their mothers every spring at Oaks Bottom and the Rhododendron Garden.

*The July morning I watched a mama raccoon lead her three little ones into the creek and teach them to turn over rocks and hunt for food.

*The very young coyote pup who jumped out of the bushes, cocked his silly little head, and watched the dog and I walk down the street.

*Every spring when the does finally bring the fawns out and show them off.

*Another July when I accidently confronted a mama raccoon and her babies on the trail at the refuge.

pexels-photo-634255.jpeg

My head is full of delightful fleeting encounters. Maybe yours is too. Photographs are wonderful, but if you have to choose between a great shot and relishing the moment, choose the moment.

Then you can tell everyone about it! That’s what I do.

AN INVITATION: If you have a memory (with our without a photo) please consider sharing it here. Your stories are a gift only you can give and they are more interesting than you may realize. Send me an email or leave a comment here. We can talk on the phone or, if you’re willing, we can meet. I can’t wait to hear your story.

Lily

 

 

pexels-photo-756758
This pretty lady could be Lily’s mother.

 

I call her Lily now, which doesn’t make any sense because I didn’t name her until she disappeared. Besides, I don’t name wild animals.  I first saw her three years ago when she was just a spindly-legged new fawn. She was a pied fawn, more white than brown. There were no other deer so conspicuous in the herd. Tiny fawns are left alone when their mothers are feeding and I worried she would be easy prey for coyote.

Near the end of her first summer, I spotted her from a quarter mile away one morning. She seemed to be alone in a grassy field. When I got closer, I realized the entire herd was there. The pied had been easy to spot while the others blended in and were only visible when I was very close to them. 

She stayed with her mother that first winter. They grazed quietly together, sometimes only a few hundred yards away from the herd, often completely alone, as though they weren’t part of the herd. 

I saw Lily the next spring with her mother and a new fawn.. They made a pretty trio, the lovely doe, the pied, and her little brown baby sister. 

That summer I saw her every week or so, but not with her mother; she was always by herself.

I came to believe that the rest of the herd didn’t want her near. It seemed like common sense. Her pretty white coat reflected brightly in sun or shade. Surely her presence endangered the whole herd.

Winter came again and I didn’t see her at all, though I often saw the other deer. Eventually, I decided something might have happened to the little doe. Then, a year ago, on a foggy early spring morning, I turned a corner near the fields. There she stood, fully grown, filled out, and healthy-looking. 

She was pulling on the new buds of a rose bush. Many people hate the deer for their rose-loving ways. I glanced at the window of the house, half-expecting to see an angry homeowner, but a woman stood in the window wearing a blue bathrobe, watching the first of her rosebuds disappear, and smiling broadly.

pexels-photo-879656.jpeg

There is nothing like starting the day with good news. The pied doe was alive and well!

I thought her story would stop there, with a known and happy ending. She was separated from the herd, probably because of her conspicuous color, yet she was near, and well. Then I saw her once more.

Last fall, in the middle of a warm afternoon, she was in the street in front of my house. The neighbors across the street have an old apple tree and I often get to watch the deer enjoy fallen fruit. But Lily wasn’t eating apples. She was moving back and forth restlessly. Turning to start back toward Kellogg Creek where the rest of the herd would likely be, then turning anxiously in the other direction. She didn’t seem to know where to go. 

pexels-photo-257840.jpeg

I have seen very young bucks doing the same thing in late summer, just before breeding season. I was told the bucks have been turned away from the herd and must move on. They act confused and upset. Its the only comparison I can make to the way the doe was behaving that afternoon.

I saw her make a decision that day. She marched forward, into the unknown, down Snowberry toward Briggs. If she stayed on that path she could only end up on Oatfield Road and, perhaps, McLoughlin. A doe was killed on Oatfield a few years ago. McLoughlin Boulevard would surely kill her. There was nothing I could do but watch. Maybe she went around the block and back to Kellogg Creek, but my gut tells me she was leaving.

I like to think the cars stopped on McLoughlin and watched her make her way across the busy highway and on to a new home. That happened once for my old blind dog, Jasper. I heard about it later, how all the cars stopped because the drivers seemed to understand he was trying to find his way home. He made it too, with a little help from a stranger. 

Why did I name her after she was gone? I’m not sure.  I was able to pick her out of the herd. I was able to follow her story. I came to know her, so now I call her by name. 

Lily
This  photo of Lily and her mother was taken in a hurry through my living room window, I share it just to give an idea how conspicuous she was. My apology for the appallingly poor quality of the picture!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

February Sights

February started warm and spring-like.

IMG_0113
Bulbs began popping up!
IMG_0119
Strange things appeared in the grass

IMG_0117

IMG_0111
She and I turned a corner and nearly ran into each other.
IMG_1855
 Nuthatch                               
IMG_1819
Gorgeous Varied Thrush always turns his head away when I point the camera at him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1881
Winter made one more appearance near the end of February.
IMG_1884
Feb. 22, 2018 – 8:00am – In the back yard
IMG_0176
Feb. 22, 2018 – On the Oregon Coast (photo courtesy of Lisa Scoggins & Marc Iwata)
IMG_0177
Feb. 22, 2018 -Two Eagles posing – taken at  Seal Rock on Oregon Coast                                                    (courtesy Marc Iwata & Lisa Scoggins)

 

 

A Confession

I love some trees way more than I should, but I’m not the only one.

Oregon Public Broadcasting recently aired a special, “My passion for Trees,” featuring Judy Dench. Yes, she was hugging trees, and I understand.

I wouldn’t be caught dead hugging a tree. I always make sure no one is around.

I may be a little crazy, but Lyanda Haupt, a brilliant writer and scholar, is not; she gave trees their own chapter in “The Urban Bestiary,” a book about birds and beasts every lover of urban wildlife should read.

Your Maple tree may not think, but some scientists are convinced a presence, an energy – even an awareness  – can be detected in trees. Some of us are drawn to that energy. Some of us feel we have a relationship with certain trees.

My favorite tree, a huge old oak in my back yard, may not be beautiful by some standards, but oh does that tree speak to me. She has homely, puny leaves and she’s a messy thing; but her branches are covered in moss and ferns, she has character, and she has beautiful bones.

I admit, I once wrote a private love letter to her.

IMG_0476
July picture in full foliage. The leaves are very tiny but those bones are gorgeous.

During storms, I worry about my oak. How hard will the wind be on those old bones? What if she’s struck by lightening? I would mourn her loss. When I think about moving from this house some day, I secretly worry someone will see that she is old and messy and cut her down.

A mature Redwood with a dignified military posture, and beautiful red bark, stands in the yard behind ours. Planted long ago by a family still living in the area, though no longer in that house, the Redwood casts a large shadow over the very back of our yard. Last summer I saw a screech owl sitting on one of the lower branches. I have a great deal of respect for that Redwood and I’m so happy Scott, the present owner of the house, also treasures the tree.

IMG_1682

A breath-taking old oak watches over Riverside Elementary School on River Road. Not the same kind of oak as my special tree, this one is perfection in shape with much prettier foliage. She is a huge spreading creature and I never drive by without admiring her. She is so big and all alone between the parking lot and street, I worry someone will decide she needs to go.

IMG_1672
My friend Terence has some knowledge and convinced me this is probably a White Oak. January picture.

About a year ago, I walked into the school office to inquire about that tree. What kind of oak is it? Does someone take care of it? Maybe I was just fishing to know if they noticed and treasured her. I hoped someone knew a little about her history, but I instantly understood the puzzled look on the faces of the office staff. They were busy with a few hundred little people to take care of. I do like to imagine my making a fuss about the tree might have caused them to take more notice.

There are many distinguished trees in the area. I haven’t spent time learning to properly identify them, yet I’ve daydreamed about locating and photographing them. They should be memorialized before they are gone.

For now, I cherish a warm relationship with several of them.

Learning to Walk

I had barely noticed the fields across the street from our house. Up until then, my world had been school, home, bus stops, streets, and my part time cafeteria job. If you had asked me what was in those fields, and not seeing any structures, I would have told you “nothing.”

But I had one last biology project in the spring of my high school sophomore year; collect and identify wildflowers.

Dusty looking yellow flowers in the ditch across the street from our house proved to be yarrow, my first wildflower. I realized I needed to go beyond the ditch and into the acreage and fields. Carrying the Guide to Washington Wildflowers, I walked a little farther every day. Every day I found more wildflowers. I found blue lupine, wild strawberry, and chickweed. I began to feel tenderly toward tiny blossoms I would once have crushed beneath my feet.

In a few weeks I finished the project. School ended but I kept walking. I had been bewitched by fresh air and sunshine, by birdsong, the peaceful drone of insects, and a meadow full of wildflowers. I caught myself welcoming the occasional early morning scent of skunk.

Those fields were mine that summer. I never saw another human being.

Every day I discovered something wonderful. One morning a sudden and terrifying explosion burst out of the grass only a few feet in front of me. A large bird, bigger than any I had ever seen, was furiously objecting to my presence. She fluttered and protested loudly when I moved closer and leaned over to see a dozen warm brown eggs nestled tightly together in a small earthen depression. I learned to watch for pheasant nests.

Each time I walked I pushed a little bit farther. Every step aroused my curiosity. What would I see over that next small hillock? What would I find if I climb down the steep bank and explored the brush? Where is that bird, the one serenading me from a hiding place in the bushes?

By mid-summer I had reached the forest. It was probably only five wooded acres, but it was forest to me. I’d been working my way closer for a while, hungry to know what secrets hid in those piney Spokane woods. Stepping out of the sun, through the dry underbrush, into the gentle shade, was pleasant relief on a hot day. Not twenty feet in, I stopped abruptly.

unnamed.jpg

Standing silently, I watched and listened to the soft twittering of tiny birds as they flitted from branch to branch, from tree to tree. I wasn’t an offense to their world as long as I stood still and watched. Their very indifference was enchanting.

A busy hum hung over the entire kingdom. I heard a loud jay, and the steady loud buzz of an unknown insect. I wanted to be quiet, to know this place through all of my senses.

Bright flashes of insight are not every day events for me; but that day I suddenly understood why I had walked all summer.

The fields, the woods, these creatures, had always been there. They weren’t waiting for me to discover them. They didn’t care. When I wasn’t there to observe, they were still going on about their lives.

That simple, obvious, observation comforted me. Through the spring and summer I had found peace, mystery, and a kind of order as I walked the fields and forest.

I’ve never stopped watching and walking. Eventually I saw that nature’s peace was visited by occasional tragedy. Accidents happen and predators take what they need; but there is no ill intent, and no time to dwell on misfortune.

There is only the beauty of abundant life, the will to survive, and grace.

December in the Backyard

IMG_2087.jpgThis photo is actually from Josh & Laura Dillard’s backyard in Newberg. Their deck has been regularly crowded with hummingbirds.  Their hummers happily share the feeder while ours are ferociously territorial. (Photo provided by Josh & Laura Dillard)

IMG_5012.jpgI love this view of a magnificent Great Horned Owl hiding in plain sight (also taken in Newberg by Josh & Laura Dillard).

IMG_1500.jpgIn our yard, the pond attracts the beautiful Great Blue Heron off and on throughout the year. The heron waits until the feeder goldfish are six to eight inches long then takes them at his leisure. He cannot be outsmarted. Here he is waiting for the dog to go inside so he can have his way at the sushi bar.

IMG_1555.jpgBushtits sharing the suet last week. When it freezes, the suet feeder becomes more popular than the seed feeder.

IMG_1513.jpgThe Downy Woodpecker has been a regular December visitor this year.

IMG_1640.jpgDark Eyed Juncos, probably our most common backyard bird this time of year.

IMG_1650.jpgA Dark Eyed Junco and, under the solar light, a Northern Flicker waiting her turn at the suet.

I’ve had a solo Varied Thrush visiting from time to time and would have loved to catch his picture. So far, he has refused to pose.

Have you got an urban wildlife picture you’d like to share?

Happy New Year!

 

 

 

Seeing Wild

 

I see wildlife. Everywhere

Once I’ve seen it, I can’t wait to tell someone else about it.

Rustling under the rhododendron intrigues me. Will it be a small bird, the Towhee perhaps, scratching around in the dry leaves? A mouse? I’m not satisfied until I’ve learned the answer and watched the creature for a while.

When I’m driving, my eyes are drawn to the blue heron flying overhead. Years ago I realized I was likely to die flying down the freeway with my eyes glued to the sky and a flock of geese. Now, I practice forcing my eyes back to the road.

Something in me is constantly searching for a subtle movement or slight sound that means another species is near. I’ve seen a terrified possum in the middle of a crowd leaving the symphony downtown. I doubt he actually sat in the audience soaking up Mozart; but he somehow ended up dodging the feet of the exiting crowd.

Here in the suburbs, I saw a rare immature eagle with a four-foot wing span sweep to the ground, snatch a crow, take it to the roof of a nearby house, and proceed to make a meal of the poor thing. This happened in broad daylight with a half-dozen children waiting for the school bus and four adults keeping them company. True, the eagle was twenty feet behind them; but not one other person had sensed the drama.

Meanwhile, crow feathers were flying and I was jumping up and down trying to get the crowd to see the amazing eagle. A couple of mothers eventually turned around, saw what was happening, and looked at me with shock and disgust.

We live only fifteen minutes from downtown Portland. I used to think we were insulated from the thrill of truly wild creatures; but wild things are all around us, precious, and knowable. They enrich our lives with their presence.

We just need to pay attention.

We’ve made our half-acre yard as hospitable to wildlife as possible. We have bird feeders and baths. We built a pond with a gentle waterfall. The next-door neighbors say they feel closer to nature when they visit. If our back yard isn’t satisfying enough, I have only to walk the neighborhood or the nearby wildlife refuge.

I plan to share my urban wildlife adventures through this blog. Some of my family will have their own tales to tell. I hope others will share their knowledge and their stories. I can’t wait to hear them all.

Maybe we can inspire respect for the ordinary crow, the squirrel, the songbirds, the deer, and the coyote. Maybe we can cultivate awareness of the diversity of life right outside our doors.

Maybe we can learn from each other.