Slumber, Lumber Raccoon

Ungainly, clumsy, and cumbrous.

A raccoon exits our broken tree, and those three words come to mind. The animal’s slow, lumbering descent is unlike a nimble raccoon I watched three years ago.

This year’s raccoon has been climbing in and out of what’s been a nesting snag for woodpeckers, wood ducks, starlings, and squirrels. The snag is like a high-rise condo, with more than a dozen visible cavity entrances. Judging from the creatures’ in-and-out behavior, I believe many of the cavities are discrete–they don’t interconnect. The upper cavity, where the raccoon catches its 40 winks, doesn’t offer much shelter. Here’s what I mean:

Considering that broken top, I’ve assumed this is a raccoon snoozing spot and not the den of a nesting female.

But then… there’s that cumbrous descent. The animal’s gait is increasingly labored, and it reminds me of my own ponderous waddle decades ago, when my babies neared full term.

Is my masked neighbor a nesting mama, after all? Continue reading “Slumber, Lumber Raccoon”

Three Ducks

I thought she was wounded.

A female Common Merganser floated in a posture I’d not noticed before. A male was with her, swimming broad circles around her prone body. Was she injured? I grabbed my spotting scope to find out.

I watched as she floated, nearly motionless, elongated as though playing dead man’s float.

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Squatter’s Rights

A dozen doors and a skylight.

That’s the approximate count of cavity entrances in the old, broken snag outside my window. I love that ugly remnant of a tree! It brings a daily wildlife show to my front-row seat.

The tree has been occupied by Pileated Woodpeckers, nesting squirrels, Wood Ducks, European Starlings, and Red-Bellied Woodpeckers—several of them simultaneously.

This nesting season, I watched Juliet Squirrel quiver from her balcony in this tree, as she was courted by a Romeo. Soon after, I watched Juliet pad the cavity with leaves, a sure sign she’s expecting. I was looking forward to watching Juliet’s kits take tentative (and comical) first steps outside the cavity.

And then another creature exercised squatter’s rights.

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Shakespeare for Squirrels

Two Romeos, one Juliet.

See how she leans her cheek upon her hand.
O, that I were a glove upon that hand
That I might touch that cheek!

These are lines from the Bard’s most famous play, of course. The story came to mind last week when I noticed two squirrels engaged in a chase. As the critters careened through the trees, with their signature acrobatic leaps and hairpin turns, I couldn’t say who was pursuing whom. I thought initially—it being spring, after all—that I was watching a Romeo in pursuit of his Juliet.

But then I spied the true object of these squirrels’ desire.

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Good Morning, Geese!

Ubiquitous.

If there’s an apt word to describe Canada geese, that’s the one. They’re always around, sometimes just a pair, more often honking in what seems like the hundreds. I tend to pay little attention to these loud-mouthed creatures.

But a few weeks ago, I woke to an eerily beautiful sight—a line of languid geese seemingly also starting their day. The group was strewn across Lake Allegan’s February ice. The air was misty…almost ethereal.

I wondered … did the birds spend their night on the ice?

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Splish. Splash. Fish!

Mergansers are a common sight–pun intended– on Lake Allegan.

Common Mergansers, or Mergus merganser in ornithology-speak, are social creatures that flock in groups up to 75 individuals. I usually see about half that number, most often in late winter and spring.

These small diving ducks seem to prefer the main channel of our river-turned-lake. In winter, the water beneath our home will freeze. But the main channel’s deeper, swifter water generally does not. So, as the lake began to thaw after the recent polar vortex, I was doubly surprised to see mergansers close to our shore. Not only were they diving for prey in very shallow water, but they were also fishing beneath the ice.

Picture whack-a-mole without the whacking.

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Winter’s Stoic Eagles

How do birds stay warm in winter?

They huddle. They puff their feathers, tucking head and feet into the fluff. And they shiver.

I was looking for keep-warm behavior as I watched some Bald Eagles during a recent howling snowstorm. An adult and a juvenile flew nearby.

Our lake, an impoundment formed by damming a river, rarely wears a full blanket of ice. When the region’s smaller lakes freeze, Lake Allegan still provides open-water fishing. So, while eagles are a common sight, I was surprised to see how these two behaved in the frigid, snowy wind.

Their heads and toes remained untucked, and while likely parent and child, they were not in a huddle.

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Snowstorm Soliloquy

What a tale this fellow told me!

Or maybe it was his tail that told the story. I was seated in my usual weekday spot—two hands and one eye on the work computer; my other eye semi-focused on the outdoor goings-on. Which was pretty darn boring today, with all the creatures hunkered down in an eight-degree, blowing snowstorm.

Until that billowy tail caught my eye.

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A Thirst for Snow

It looked like a sno-cone.

Yesterday, I watched a squirrel make and eat miniature snowballs. As he ate, that frosty childhood treat came to mind.  Then I realized my neighborhood creatures are experiencing a drought. Our snowy Michigan landscape looks eerily beautiful this week, but Arctic temperatures have frozen all the wildlife water sources.

This fellow ate his sno-cone with seeming gusto, and I wondered: How do tree squirrels cope with bitter-cold weather?

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Over the Edge

There’s something remarkable in this photo.

At first, I didn’t see it. I was reviewing old photos and videos, and all I noticed here was the fungus growing inside the tree. Despite losing its top, this tree has provided nesting space for woodpeckers, wood ducks, and squirrels. But the fungus tells me our wildlife magnet is now so rotted, its shelter days may be winding down. So, the fungus inside the trunk is interesting, but that’s not what fascinates me about the photo.

Look carefully at the squirrel. He’s climbing head-first down the tree trunk. But what about the toes we see grasping the edge? Is that foot coming, or is it going?

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