You might think that living in the country one see a lot of wildlife. Not so.
In the beginning of our stay here we often spotted deer at the far end of our property. My dog, Rocket, was so stricken by these animals that if he spotted one from the house he would often burst through the screen of our back door to tear after it in lightning speed. Which we witnessed on behalf of both, the attacker and the attacked.
In the evenings or at night we used to hear deer communicate with each other through their otherworldly language which often sounded like “Kra-kra-kra-kra-gurgle-gurgle-gurgle-hoo-hoo-hoo!” leading us to think that deer are much smarter than we take them for. (One of my neighbours once told me that he believed that deer are stupid animals because they seemed to mistake him, when he would place his hands over his head and spread out his fingers like horns, as another deer.)
Nowadays, sadly, we do not see deer like we used to. We no longer have a dog to scare them away so where have they disappeared?
Sometimes we spy wild turkeys off the side of the road. The wild turkey is not the most beautiful animal in the world, but for some reason my wife loves them. They are large and black and move awkwardly. They also don’t seem like the ‘cleanest’ beast in the wild but maybe it’s just their dark colour. Their numbers around here are either stable or growing which brings home the point that natural predators like wolves or cougars are in short supply in the Eastern Townships.
I once trapped a skunk in a cage hoping to catch one or more of the squabbling raccoons that were fighting over sunflower seeds we had put out for birds. Getting the skunk to escape without getting sprayed was a challenge I wasn’t quite up to but there was no one else around to liberate it. I threw a blanket over the cage, clumsily opened the door with that nasty spring on it and ran the other way once I dumped the cage on the ground with the door side open. It ran one way, I ran the other, and my history of close encounters with wildlife abruptly came to an end. Thankfully.
We often have little field mice in the house, if you can call that a “close encounter”. Mice are cute but unwelcome in our house and sadly for them, their stay in our house might be warm for a while but usually lasts only a very short time…
In the early days of living here we spotted grey herons landing on our small pond but, like the deer, their visits are more and more rare. We once spotted a moose right outside our house. It was spring and this young moose looked like it had just been liberated from a moose concentration camp. It’s fur was scraggly and patchy; it was very thin and had a wild look in its eyes. Was winter that hard?
Every spring and fall, of course, geese and duck land in abundance on our pond. Ho-hum.
And then just the other day, just feet from our back porch, we saw a creature for the first time in fourteen years — an owl.
Owls are not the wise cartoon characters we remember from elementary school; you know, the bird standing by the black board with the professor’s gown holding a pointer and saying something “wise” about studying. Owls are in real life mysterious, large, skillful, and wonderful and wondrous creatures.
It happened at dusk. I was close to the back window when, at the corner of my eye, I noticed a large wing pass by. That’s a very large bird so close to the house, I thought, and peered out the window. Its back was facing me. “Come here,” I excitedly called out to my wife. “Look at that bird!” Felicia came to the window, put the binoculars to her eyes and cried out, “It’s an owl!”
Then it turned its head – yes, they do turn 180 degrees – and we both got to look at those large black eyes. Later we learned from Wikipedia that this bird, the Barred Owl, has vision that is 100 times more powerful than a human’s and is also equipped with super hearing abilities. There was something almost sinister about that face in the darkening gloom; an owl isn’t ‘cute’, (yet that is exactly how Felicia described it to her friends) but of course how you appreciate a face, or not, animal or human, is completely subjective. One thing is true: the owl’s face is completely unique in the animal kingdom.
True to form, from its perch on the tree limb, the owl swooped down, picked up something in its claws –we assume a mouse –and flew to another nearby tree. In a second it was gobbled up; the poor mouse was history, and one of the most formidable predators in the animal kingdom had just given us a personal demonstration of its powers.
From this second tree, the now sated owl stretched it wings and flew away, over the half-frozen pond by the house, and to a tall walnut tree on the other side of the property.
The following morning, I stared out the window pining for Hibou, the name I had given “my” owl. I know that these beasts mostly hunt at night which would explain why, in the course of 14 years, we have only once seen one. Still, before we move, I would love to see Hibou, or one of his brothers or sisters, again.
What a strange, delightful and exotic animal, right in our back yard!