5:30 AM, New Year’s Day

Still asleep, I heard a clattering noise. Once I had awakened sufficiently to speak, I said “What are you doing, Draconis?” who replied that he wasn’t doing anything. We then located the source of the noise–it was coming from the window well.  Draconis got a flashlight and shone it through the window; an animal had fallen into the well. “I think it’s a dog.” Cats were also mentioned, though I was secretly hoping for a fox.

Not wanting to leave the poor creature scrabbling at the window all night (which would render us quite unable to sleep, in any case), we got up and donned boots and coats for the winter night. I advanced first and was startled to shine my light not upon a dog but a raccoon–I immediately stepped backwards out of its sight, as if that alone would protect me. I was both relieved and disgusted–relieved because the animal sufferer was not, in fact, a dog (who would require looking after) and disgusted because I hate raccoons. I consider them to fall firmly under the heading of ‘pest animal’ and they can give one rabies, to boot.

We began debating the necessary next step.  Should we wait for the morning, and call animal control? Could the raccoon be assisted out immediately, giving us peace and quiet?  We looked for a plank to help it out–there was no plank, and the only other wood was two spindly dowels which would never support the weight of a raccoon. After considering and dismissing mops and brooms, Draconis decided to try lowering a tall stepladder into the well. Before he even had a chance to brace it against the ground, the raccoon had clambered up and away, dashing across the lawn to find cover under Sven the tree.

Relieved that no one had been hurt or bitten, we returned to bed. May the coming year bring you fewer raccoons than it has us.

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Spring!

Cedar Waxwing public domain image
Cedar Waxwing

This is a Cedar Waxwing, a beautiful little bird that you only get a to see once a year–as they migrate through your territory. (Unless, of course, you live where they do.) I presume that they are named for their sleek appearance–in some lights, they don’t really look as though they have individual feathers. They are berry eaters, and they, together with an influx of American Robins here for the breeding season, stripped the holly tree outside our window of all its berries in a day and half, and it was loaded down with fruit!

American Robin
American Robin

These are not my photos, but I got them from the public domain. I thought it would be more interesting with visuals (though robins are doubtless one of the more seen and recognized birds).  I feel that I have never properly appreciated robins before, because I used to live where they were omnipresent. They are actually quite the songbirds, and hearing them sing is a comfort and a joy.

Nutria–what are they, and why?

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A nutria in its eating pose, with a piece of lettuce
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A group of nutria–note the webbed hind feet

The nutria is, as you may already have guessed, a rodent.  It has adapted to life in the water–in fact, its nipples, rather than being on its stomach, are on its flanks so that babies can ride around on momma’s back and nurse without drowning.  They are originally from South America, and were introduced in the States for their fur.  They are now considered a pest species in this part of the world, and you can receive money for handing in a nutria carcass, which makes me sad but which I also understand.  The reason why is that they can be very detrimental to wetlands, which are a famously fragile ecosystem already imperiled by human development.

Many people who pass them by exclaim over them thinking that they are beavers, despite signs on the trails around the stream explaining their name and origin.  While they do look rather beaverish, they have long, thin tails like rats, and do not build dams of any kind.  Rather, they appear to dwell in holes up under the bank, hidden away from predators, but whether they dig them themselves, possibly expanding on bank swallows’ excavations, I don’t know.  They have also been mistaken for otters, but unlike the fish-loving otter, nutria exist solely on greenery.  They love being thrown things like lettuce (though only romaine or iceberg–bitter spring greens are shunned by them!), bits of fruit, and bread.  Some are fairly fearless, and if you have food, they will come right up to you and may even take it from you with their little hands.  I have more than once been startled by feeling a wet little paw on my foot when I didn’t realize a nutria had approached me, hoping to get closer to the food I was holding.  They have bright orange teeth, again rather like a beaver’s, which are rather alarming, but I have never seen a nutria behave aggressively.  It’s as well to still steer clear of their mouths, though.

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A nutria with its baby, who is eating a carrot peel

Turtles–not mutated, and of all ages, with no known ninja skills

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Turtles sunning themselves on a log

Many turtles live in the creek by which we like to take our ‘daily constitutional’–they’ll come up for bits of bread thrown for the ducks and lettuce thrown for the nutria (but more about those creatures in another post).  Young turtles eat a lot of meat, but the older a turtle gets, the more vegetarian it becomes.  Also, the older a turtle gets, the bigger it gets, and after a certain point it doesn’t really have any natural enemies (unless you count humans, who often remove turtles from the wild to become pets).  Before they get too big to swallow, however, the herons, who seem to have snake-like throats,  will eat small turtles.  There are many ducks on this creek, and the ducks and turtles pretty much leave each other alone, except when the ducks have their babies–yes, it’s sad but true, turtles really go for a mouthful of baby bird.  They also look out for a sunny, quiet day and a surface, preferably surrounded by water for safety’s sake, where they can climb out of the water and just bask for awhile.  If you stop and stare, they’ll slide off the log, or rock–plip! plop–in the blink of an eye, hence the name Slider for some species (the Red-eared Slider is common here).  I’ve never seen turtles fight with each other, the way ducks do, and they seem to share their logs in a quite neighborly fashion.

(In case you were wondering, credit for this picture and those below goes to Draconis.)