Friday, August 05, 2005

more night critters

I feel so privileged to be able to observe the night life of so much wildlife this summer. I wouldn’t mind spending a lot more time observing the animals and learning more about their habits. Of course at night you can’t see very well and that makes it hard to positively identify particular species. We have yet to figure out if we’re seeing barn owls or great horned owls. I know there are barn owls in the area because I saw one as I headed home after a long night and my tired brain freaked as a ghosty face floating atop a street sign turned and stared right at me.

A few nights ago Ed & I saw an owl swoop down to snatch something in its talons from the parking lot. That was a pretty sight. It may have got a mouse but we’ve never seen any rodents on our nightly nature walk (unless you count bats). Last night we watched for several minutes as an owl swept back and forth across a recently mowed field and finally perched momentarily on a post within 30 yards of our position before heading for a rabbit hangout. We never hear these owls. They fly in perfect silence.

The more I watch these critters the more questions I seem to have and I’m disappointed at how little information there seems to be their life habits. For instance most of the info about skunks focuses on their spraying abilities; how far, how accurate, how to get rid of the smell. There’s only sketchy information about what kind of lives they lead. Supposedly they can live ten years in captivity but only live 5 or 6 in the wild. Behind foxes they are the most likely wild animal to contract rabies.

Opossums, on the other hand, are the least likely wild animal to contract rabies. We saw a juvenile possum a few nights ago. Most of the possums look pretty scraggly but this one was awfully cute. I was bad, I chased it to see if it would lie down and “play possum”, feigning death, but it headed for a tree. It looked so comical as it leapt onto the tree and started to slide back down; it couldn’t sink those extra-long claws into the bark. It ran to another tree and succeeded in climbing up to a crook about eight feet off the ground. It pressed itself close and looked like the veritable bump on a log; if you didn’t know it was there you would have been hard-pressed to find it. I could have reached up and touched it with my flashlight but I didn’t. I just got a good look and walked away.

I once did see a possum do its playing dead act. My dog, a whippet named Devo, had gone outside about 2 a.m. and began to bark at something between a tree and the garage. He was usually a quiet dog but that time o amount of calling or whistling would deter his racket so I went out for a look and there was a possum lying on the ground and stiff as a board. I thought Devo had surely killed it so I pulled him away and put him back in the house. I came back with a flashlight to examine the possum. I saw that it was breathing ever so slightly but could see no blood or obvious injury so I left it alone, but I was able to watch it from inside the house. After a few minutes I saw it lift its head, look around, and then faster than I thought possums could move, it ran to and clambered up the chain link fence to end up in my neighbor’s yard.

At the same time we’ve been watching all these fascinating creatures at night, on my way to work in the afternoon I’ve been watching bulldozers and backhoes scrape most of the vegetation from a large piece of land that lies across the street from the warehouse, maybe five to ten acres, and I can’t imagine how many animals are losing their homes. I know the turkey vulture that used to perch almost daily on the tallest mesquite tree there has disappeared. And last week for the first time this summer we saw four cottontail rabbits foraging in the brush adjacent to the warehouse parking lot.

These fields lie at the edge of the Blackland Prairie and where it’s still undeveloped is mostly tall grasses with some scrub trees with a lot of juniper and patches of prickly pear cactus. Not what most people would consider scenic but to me it’s preferable to the glass and concrete surrounding it.

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