Where the Wild Things Are

Eagle vs. Heron

Earlier in the spring, I joined a few friends on a beach vacation at the Gulf of Mexico. I love to sit and watch the waves. I can do it for hours. During this particular visit, I was often joined by a Great Blue Heron who would chill behind the fishermen all day in hopes of catching their catches.

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Pretty sure the Great Blue Heron is my spirit animal.

I also love seafood and so eat as much as possible while I am at or near the coast. A few days into our vacation, we were at a fresh seafood restaurant on the bay when wildlife excitement unfolded.

We were sitting out back on the patio facing the bay. Just after we placed our orders, we heard a squawk and looked over at a marshy spot in the water to see a Great Blue Heron eye-balling a Bald Eagle while all the other birds flew away. The heron was in the water while the eagle trotted around on a small island pretending to hunt.

After a few minutes, the heron began to fish. As soon as that heron had a fish in his beak, the eagle took that opportunity to fly up towards the trees and with a great eagle yell, he attacked the heron’s nest only to find another heron guarding it.

So it seemed he did not get what he was after. But my oh my, the experience was amazing! I never in my life imagined I would be witness to such a wildlife adventure, but I am so fortunate I was able to see it.

Later that week, we saw a couple of eagles flying around the beach but the seagulls quickly ran them off.

This adventure just goes to show that wildlife adventures are everywhere! Pay attention! It is worth every second.

Winter Woodpeckers

I started this post a while back but got distracted. Yesterday’s snow (3 days after hail) the day of the time change reminded me that winter is just about over so I figured now or never.

It took a while for the woodpeckers to start showing up at my feeders. Initially, I would have to spot them in the trees. For instance, the only time I’ve seen a Pileated Woodpecker in real life is when I was looking out one of my front windows and saw this GIANT guy in the walnut tree out front.

Until that point, I always thought Woody the Woodpecker got his name from an exaggerated version of a Red-headed Woodpecker. Not the case! Needless to say, this guy soon became known as “Woody”. Unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity to see him very often but they are supposed to be permanent residents of the state, so I keep my eyes pealed.

On another occasion, one of the trees out back had a bird in it I didn’t recognize. It showed up a day or two in a row, so I was finally able to see it with the binoculars. Still, it took me a few days to identify it. I had never heard of a brown, spotted woodpecker. Apparently, they are called Northern Flickers. Just the other day I saw two, a male and a female, in my side yard. While I do occasionally see them on my back hill, lately I’ve seen them in my side yard more often. I suspect there is a nest somewhere close.

Once it got colder, I began to put out suet to see how the birds liked it. Well, they didn’t… at first and for a while. Eventually, the birds became quite enamored of the suet. I had experimented with different kinds and try to keep the rendered beef fat and nuts as the main ingredients. They seem to appreciate that, especially the Hairy Woodpeckers (and occasionally the smaller Downy Woodpeckers). They visit the suet feeders the most often.

One morning, I was making coffee and glanced out the kitchen window to the front feeders and immediately starting giggling. There was a very large (Red-bellied) woodpecker hanging tight trying to get to the seed. I had seen her in the trees in previous days, so it was really exciting to see her at my feeder.

Not long after, I noticed a rather large tail on the underside of the suet feeder. After watching for a while, I realized it was a Red-bellied Woodpecker like I had seen out front. I knew at that point that they quickly learned the location of ALL the feeders. It seems the female likes the front feeder and  both the female and males like the back suet feeder.

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For a while, I would even see the Red-bellied Woodpecker on the ground below the feeder in my side yard, but that feeder recently broke so I have one less bird-watching location until I can replace it with another large and sturdy feeder.

There are other woodpeckers in the area, but I haven’t seen them at the feeders… yet. I await them with bated breath.

Good Buddies and a New Visitor

Remember how I said the first birds to the seed feeders were the chickadees and the first ones to the sugar water feeders were the wasps? Well, I guess that also extends to ground grazing. Where the possum goes, others soon follow.

I first started seeing the possum around my front yard feeders. He would graze slowly, not caring whether or not I was there.

One night the lights were off and I *thought* I saw him but the movements seemed a little different. A little faster paced or something. Turns out, that probably wasn’t the possum.

Early one morning as I was opening my blinds on my windows that point out back, I caught a glimpse of the possum in the woods. I ran and grabbed the binoculars and he was gone… but there was a skunk not far behind him. My cat saw this skunk, too, and seemed quite enamored as he scratched at the window meowing amorously. I immediately thought of a reverse Pepe LePew scenario.

Not long after, the possum was grazing out front for quite a while. I came back out after I had been inside for a bit and he was still grazing. Apparently, my entrance onto the porch startled him and he started walking away until I said “Hey there, you can stay and munch. No worries.” This guy turns around, looks at me, and hesitates until I say “It’s okay”. He then returns to his spot under the feeder for a bit before meandering nearer my house then wandering off down the creek. It’s like he knew I meant him no harm.

Later that night, I come back out and something is again grazing under the feeder, so I assume it is the possum, but the white on this animal combined with the more erratic nature of his feeding told me it wasn’t the possum. Once I realized it was probably the skunk, my first instinct was to go back inside. I did NOT want to get sprayed. But this guy was out a bit and he had space to run away (my assumption being that spraying me would be a last resort), so I watched him for a bit. Sometimes when he turned, his white V pattern made it look like a possum’s face so I wonder if that similarity is why he’s following him around.

Then my large side-yard feeder broke and spilled sunflower seed all on the ground. Over the course of the next few nights, the skunk and possum couple were joined by other possums, only one of which the main possum ran off.

The skunk seems to be digging holes around my yard, maybe getting ready to nest since it is mating season. I read that they  are nomadic, though, so hopefully this one will not live here forever. It would be cool to see some offspring.

In Tennessee, if a skunk is trapped it must be euthanized by law. I don’t want the poor skunk to die unnecessarily, so I won’t be trapping it unless it seems rabid.0214172033a

I haven’t seen the skunk lately, but the possum still hangs around. Now, if I startled him he crawls up into one of the trees near the creek until I leave.

There is also a new animal… a raccoon.

Just the other night my cat was scratching at the window so I turned the light on for him and saw the raccoon reaching for the seed feeder around back.

He ran off for a minute so I was watching the cat that was up there with him hoping the cat was catching any mice that might be in my garage. The raccoon soon returned so I was able to take few pictures of him at the feeder tilting it back as if it were built just for him. I knocked on the window to get him to cut it out, but he just waved and kept eating! I eventually had to step out the back door to get him to stop. Ha!

He came back the next night but I had moved the feeder. Animal-lover thus sucker that I am, the next day I moved it back because it is hilarious to watch thus worth the money on more seeds.

The adventures continue!

Wild Things (Rabbit & Snakes & Hawks, Oh My!)

Although this is officially metropolitan Nashville, I live far enough away from downtown that wild animals roam rather freely.

You may have already read about Chuck, the groundhog, and the other variety of squirrels, but I have also seen snakes, rabbits, opossums, and deer roaming through this property on a fairly regular basis. As I see new animals, I try to do a little research on them and end up learning some pretty cool things.

Elusive Creatures:

Bunnies

There must be a rabbit hutch in the thicket close to the creek down my driveway because when I first moved in, every time I pulled in or left I saw a fat gray rabbit hopping towards the trees. He was cute, but I was never able to get a good picture of him. I figured I’d see him again later, but I have not seen him in a while. My sister caught a glimpse of him as she drove up my driveway on Christmas Eve, though, so it is nice to know he (or she) is still around.

Hopefully, my camera will soon catch the rabbit and what appears to be a raccoon who has been trying to get into my garbage bins or the coyote who might have marked my garbage bin as his own territory.

Coyotes

Yep, I said coyote. I was wandering around my house talking on the phone a few weeks ago when I noticed my cat acting funny. He led me to the back window nearest the hill and was meowing. I looked out and saw very furry, pointy ears. I thought it was a fox but then he moved and I realize how big he was. The fat, happy guy was almost as large as a German Shepherd! He was watching something on the neighbor’s property but I guess it spooked him because he ran on up the hill back into the woods. It was a few days after that when I noticed wet “tag” marks above the raccoon prints on my garbage. I figured the coyote might be trying to mark his territory.

Snakes

Toward the end of summer, I was in my office working and noticed something strange in the grass. It looked like a large, white leaf or feather or something.

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See the large white thing on the bottom left?

Peering through the binoculars, I could see scales and realized it was actually a snake skin. Yikes!

Of course, I immediately went outside to check it out. As it turns out, it was very fresh. Very!

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very, very fresh

I used a metal steak  to pick it up and carry it over to my patio. Then I gently unwrapped it. It was still wet so I was able to stretch it out to full length and measure it. It was over 3′ even with its tail piece missing.

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39″ and it’s missing everything past the reproductive parts (which also prevented me from telling what type of snake it is)

After I stretched it out so easily, it occurred to me that what I saw through the binoculars may well have been the snake coming out of its skin. That is how fresh the skin was. I left it stretched out on the patio and it was dry as dust in less than 24 hours, so when I picked it up, it was very, very fresh.

Needless to say, I watched my step around the yard after that. I had seen a small (baby) snake in the creek out front not long after I moved in. More recently, I was checking on the bird feeder out front and saw what appeared to be another small snake (or salamander) sliding down the hill back to the creek. I guess we are both doing well at keeping our distance from each other.

Hawks

I guess I found the culprit to all those dove feathers still piled up under the feeder from the other day.

Not long ago, as I was working I glanced out the window just in time to see a hawk take a swipe at the birds on the side feeder. I guess he missed because he stuck around for a bit looking for a better angle until he saw me trying to get a photo of him. He stayed nearby for a while, though.

He or she was a smaller hawk with a rounded tail because I first thought he was a large dove, but doves don’t dive-bomb other birds. My guess is a Cooper’s Hawk. One day I will have a camera with a great zoom and so will have a better change at capturing him or her.

Frequently enough I see the larger hawks flying around outside. Just the other day, I watched a hawk land in a huge pine tree across the street. He had a large, white chest and was a very big bird, much like the one I got a photo of in Bird’s Abound:0729161515a

Since he was so large and I have no idea what he’s really after, I was preparing to spook the birds that were taking turns at my feeder so they might escape. Fortunately, he ended up flying around the side of the house. He sometimes perches in some of the trees in the back but as soon as he sees me watching him, he flies away.

I am sure the upcoming colder months will provide hours of new entertainment. I wonder what else is out there that I haven’t seen yet!

Gobble, Gobble!!

Not long after I moved here, I caught a glimpse of what appeared to be a mature turkey with a number of smaller turkeys walking into my woods. I figured it was a mom and her babies. I tried to get a shot but they didn’t give me much time.

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Mom and babies?

I figured it was a fluke until a few weeks ago when I finally got a chance to start opening up some paths in my forest. My mom, sister, and some other friends joined in so we were able to get to the first plateau pretty easily. Beyond that it gets fairly steep.

A couple friends arrived later so I was showing one the path up that hill and we just kept pushing a little further up. He stopped and stayed at a fallen tree but the top seemed so close, so I kept climbing. Granted, I had to use smaller trees to help pull me up in some spots but I just could not stop since I was so close to the top.

As I got nearer and nearer, I heard something fly into a tree. I looked up and saw a turkey peering at me from the branches. That was just the energy boost I needed. I yelled down to my friend that there were wild turkeys and kept climbing. By the time I got to the top, I heard them… and they heard me. They kept moving to the other side of the hill and I did not follow. It was getting later so I just took in a few beautiful views of the treeline down the back part of the hill and tried to get back to my friend and find the path down the hill. I couldn’t find the path and my friend had already started down so I kind of slid most of the way to the plateau, but I made it out of the woods before dark. Ha!

I told everyone about the turkeys, but I had not brought my phone with me so I had no pictures. No worries!

I visited their home, so it was not long before they visited mine. I saw them on top of the plateau nosing around the next day after we had been making the trails but they did not come into my yard.

A day or so later, they did. Half a dozen turkeys came for a visit.

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They kept puffing up to each other.
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All of them had beards. The little one to the right was the trailblazer.

I watched them wander around before slowly making their way down the hill and then across the street. It took them two tries to make it across the street. They were rightfully scared of the traffic.

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Why did the turkey cross the road? Probably to escape Thanksgiving dinner…

I went back to work, but a little later in the afternoon I glanced up and saw the smaller lead turkey. This time, he was under my bird feeder!

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Black-oil sunflower seed really does attract the most variety of birds!

I looked around but did not see the others. I guess he just wanted to fatten up in case he became someone’s turkey dinner? I’m sure that would be tastier than the frozen turkey I bought and cooked, but they are so peaceful in my yard. I have a hard time thinking of them as anything but my neighbors.

My Dear Deer

White-tailed Deer

One late-summer Friday, I was relaxing with a glass of wine after work when I noticed a buck grazing on my back hill. I immediately grabbed my camera to take a few shots.

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Pretty little 4-point buck

As I was taking a few pictures, I noticed he wasn’t alone, so I spent a good 30 minutes just drinking wine, watching, and taking a few photos of them grazing in my yard until they eventually moved on down the driveway. It was a beautiful evening.

On at least two occasions, I was sitting on my front porch when I saw a doe cross the street right in front of me as if she had just walked out of my side yard. She would cross over and walk along the hay line and up the hill towards another forest. Once she was out of sight, a buck could be seen following her exact trail as he sniffed it out. It was pretty cute.

Right around the beginning of fall just after dusk one evening, I was walking down my hallway when I glanced out the back window. Petal, the goat, had not yet been re-homed so at first I thought I saw her grazing on the other side of the fence, but I did not see any horns. Just then, I realized there were two smaller animals grazing in my planter boxes. It turned out to be a doe and her two babies. To be fair, these babies did not have spots so they were probably more “youth”. In any case, it was adorable so I watched them graze until they were out of sight down the driveway.

The dogs, again

You might have read in a previous post about the dogs who chased the goats. Lately, they tend to be a regular topic on the infrequent occasions that I speak to my neighbors. On one occasion, a neighbor mentioned that her husband had seen the dogs “running a deer”. For those of you unfamiliar, deer can be run to death. Hunters do NOT like this because it takes away from their game for the year. Just after that conversation, I had seen both dogs run out of my forest down the back hill as if in play mode, but I never saw if they were chasing anything. In any case,  I had that on my mind most recently when I was drinking my coffee watching for the birds one morning before work.

Young Bucks?

I saw the two young deer grazing on my hill. My first thought was “where is their mom?” That question has yet to be answered (Did the dogs chase her to death? Was she hunted? Has she turned them out?). But they are not too young and can therefore probably take care of themselves and each other, at least I hope. While it seemed a little late in the morning for deer to be out grazing in “public”, I watched them graze until they left. They stayed at the top of my hill and then returned to the forest rather than following the driveway as all the other deer had done before. I am glad they feel safe enough to come out and graze but I was worried about the dogs coming to chase them the whole time I was watching.

As if on cue, by lunchtime I received a text from the dogs’ owner. Both dogs had run off earlier in the week, but only the dark one (the one they’ve had for a while) returned. She was concerned that one of the other neighbors might have “taken action” with the other dog, who is notably more aggressive toward animals. I had not seen either of them since I saw them running down my hill and told her so, but I do partially suspect that the more aggressive husky might have been dealt with as aggressively as he chases/chased the local animals.

So it seems unlikely that the two young deer will be bothered by those dogs anymore and part of me is relieved by that. I hope to see them again soon and often. It is usually the highlight of my day when I get to watch those beautiful animals graze on my hill.

Hunting Season

And now hunting season is upon us. While I love the taste of venison, I do not love the thought of killing and shooting a deer (unless it’s life or death or zombie apocalypse, of course) nor do I cherish the thought of field dressing one.

I absolutely respect the right to do so, as long as the hunt is for more than just trophies. But what beguiles me is how the rules have changed so much since I was a child. It seemed to me that back then you could kill just about as many buck as you wanted, but you could only kill doe on Doe Day which was once per season.

But the rules I just looked up for Tennessee seem quite the opposite of that. Did I read it wrong or does it say that you can only kill 2 buck per season but you can kill 3 non-antlered deer PER DAY during the other parts of the season?

I hope the deer quickly learn that they have a safe place to hide on my property… as long as the hunters respect my property lines.

Squirrel Varieties (more than you think)

Before I moved here, I had no idea what a variety there is within the squirrel family. I suppose if you think about it, it makes sense, but it’s funny to think something as large as a groundhog is a cousin to something so small as a chipmunk.

Chipmunks

For instance, did you know that chipmunks are ground-dwelling squirrels? I didn’t until I starting learning about chipmunks.

The first chipmunk I saw here was roaming around my back patio. He would show up occasionally and I would try to snap a photo, but he was so small and my camera’s zoom is hardly adequate.

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The best shot I could get

Then he disappeared for a while so I wondered if he had moved on. Nope.

I began seeing him in the mornings under the bird feeder in my side yard. He would stuff his cheeks as full of seeds as he could and then hop back into the underbrush and disappear. Because he always looked like he’s overstuffed, I named him Theodore (via Alvin and the Chipmunks)

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Theodore!!!!

I haven’t seen him lately but it is getting cooler, so he may be hibernating.

Eastern Gray Squirrel

So now that we know groundhogs and chipmunks are both in the squirrel family, it is less surprising to learn about the various types of tree squirrels in the area. A little more surprising is that for most of the summer, I did not see any Eastern Gray Squirrels which is the most frequently seen squirrel in most cities.

But as the days grow cooler, I have seen a few along the forest edge trying to shake free some walnuts. One day, I even saw one in the walnut tree in front of my house.

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I wonder if this is the one who sits in the road a little further down and tries to play chicken with the cars.

Most recently, I see them jumping quickly through the tree branches in the back or side forest.

Eastern Fox Squirrel

One day I was walking to the back of the house and glanced out the window to the wooden fence separating my property from my neighbor’s. Low and behold, there was this reddish squirrel with a tail as long as its body sunbathing on one of the rails. I knew I had to act fast, so I grabbed my camera and took a few shots from the closest window (which was kind of dirty).

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Excuse the spots and poor zoom, but Wow! Isn’t he a character?!?

It was not long before he jumped down and started grazing in the yard with his tail doubled over his body as if it were some sort of protection. I grabbed the binoculars and checked him out more closely. He had a square, white nose but the rest of him was this red color. I thought because of that maybe he was a Red Squirrel but considering his nose and really long tail, I found he was a red Eastern Fox Squirrel. He was fun to watch!

Unfortunately, I have not seen him much lately, but that was definitely one of the coolest sightings to date. I’ll keep you posted if I see him again.