Thursday, February 25, 2010

Why I suddenly feel like a Ringmaster ...

I've mentioned before the resurgence over the years of wildlife in the subdivision in which I live:  hundreds of 1960's homes, each built on smallish-but-affordable 1/3-1/2 acre lots, with the houses set about thirty feet apart.  Paved roads, electricity and city water and even high-speed internet; all the blessings of civilization. Not exactly what you'd call country living. 

We do live close enough to Missouri River bottom lands and lots of wooded areas that the occasional critter is likely to show up at the back door or chewing on the hedges.  Since the Flood of 1993, I've seen an increase in raccoons and opossums, we had a few years of an invasion by frogs (none of whom fared well when they faced the realities of lawnmowing services), even a few coyote (one which I spied just wandering down the street late at night, stopping occasionally to howl) and even the dreaded curse of the West County Deer, an issue which will have to be addressed in a forceful way sooner or later.

But yesterday was Wild Animal Wednesday.

STLMedia Watchdog Tasha let me know by licking my nose as I lay in bed that it was time for her to visit the Great Outdoors just before 7AM.  She stood at the back door waiting, I opened it and Tasha shot out like a rocket, barking and scrambling low to the ground in pursuit of...something.

Now, we get a lot of birds here.  But the wingspan of what I saw launching as Tasha approached was a LOT bigger than any bird I'd seen here before, including the Autumn that various ducks and geese decided to make our block's backyards a layover for their Winter trip South.  Whatever this thing was, it was HUGE!

An easily 4-foot wingspan flapped its way into the high branches of a neighbor's tree and planted itself to survey the area.  I couldn't see clearly, but it look squarish and owlish (I've been hearing owls around here for over a year) and that wasn't good because my neighbor has a small poodle (about 16 pounds) and that's about the right size to be a good lunch for a couple big, hungry raptor-ish owls.  I called and let them know not to let Ella outside.  I kept an eye on Tasha, she took care of her business and came in.

The Bird, whatever it was, stayed high in the tree, observing.  I pointed it out to Mrs. A and we both oohed and aahed at the wonder of nature and went on about our wakey-up business.

A couple hours later I looked out and saw The Bird again, this time on the ground at the base of one of the oak trees and pecking at what appeared to be the carcass of a recently "retired" squirrel.  I watched for a while and eventually it took off once again, landing in a another nearby tree, high up, sitting there for a while and then launching into the air to circle way above.  It looked to me, for all the world, like an eagle.  But what do I know?

Time goes on.  I'm on the phone with a friend in Illinois a couple hours later and Tasha starts barking, running to the back door, then backing off. I go to the door and see The Bird again, which has moved the carcass to the middle of the yard and is standing there, not 20 feet away from us, watching the back door, presumably because it hears Tasha's noise.  My Illinois friend on the phone asks "Is it an eagle?" knowing that we live close enough to the Alton Bluffs that it might be and, knowing that I own firearms, says, "Don't shoot it!"

Whew!  One round from the AK-47 and my yard is dusted with feathers!  But never a shot at a protected species.  That's jail time.

I look closely, remember the features and think, not an eagle, but certainly a bird worth respect.  I do the Google Images thing and discover what we've been watching is a hawk.  And a damned big one.

The Bird takes off and settles into another back-yard tree and watches.  Watches.  Watches.  Then it leaps from the branch and flies away.  It circles up and up and up, flapping and then soaring, a beautiful sight, really, a magnificent performance. Then The Bird is gone from sight, Tasha goes out, does her doggie thing and comes back in.  Apparently the sight of a bird so large has chastened her.  She's never seen anything like that before. I expect that come this Spring, when the smaller birds return, she'll give them greater distance and respect as she remembers their distant relative.

But wait:  there's more!

Son Jason shows up for his weekly visit/laundary chore.  We're talking, watching an episode of Dexter on Roku, and he goes into the kitchen for iced tea.

"Dad," he says, "You have a deer in your yard!"  I walk over to join him at the doors and, yup, we damned sure do.  A big one, and one I recognize, one of the yearlings who has been cruising through the neighborhood with their Mama Doe over the past months.  It's obviously lost and bleating for family to help but aware that it's been through this yard and neighborhood before, but with its siblings and Mom

I 'spect that now is about the time that Mama Doe sends her young'n's off on their own so that she and Papa Deer can make the next round of animal aggravation for us.

The young'n jumped a few fences as we watched and looked like it found its way out of the maze.

Later in the evening, Jason and I drove to the grocery store.  On the way home, we narrowly missed hitting the other two yearlings as they ran across the road in front of us.

So how was your Wednesday?

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