Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Wild Life

When you have an average of 80 deer per square mile, seeing deer up close isn't such a big thing.

We were at a friend's house the other night.  They live in a duplex, which has a smaller yard that ours - maybe 30 feet between their house and the neighbor.  As we sat there drinking wine and chatting, about ten deer walked between the two houses, most of them about ten feet from us.   They studiously ignored us, and we pretty much ignored them.  After a while you get used to seeing deer up close, so it is not a big thing.

On the way home in the golf cart, driving by the golf course at night, we thought we saw a downed branch on the road.  It was a baby alligator, maybe three feet long, enjoying the residual heat on the roadway.  What a weird place to live.

It is breeding season for the deer, so we are seeing a lot of tiny fauns on the lawn at our house and elsewhere.  If you see one, leave it alone - it is not "abandoned" but waiting for its Mom to return.  We had the same issue when living on the aptly named Deer Trail Road in New York.  I almost ran over a faun with my tractor, as I thought it was just some dead leaves at first (good camouflage!).  But I quickly backed away and left it alone.

In New York, or most places up North, if you saw a raccoon during the day, you'd run screaming in the other direction as it likely would have rabies. In most places, raccoons are nocturnal animals and only come out during the day if they are sick or something.

Not here.  Not only are they present during the day, they are quite tame and not afraid of people.  I still give them a wide berth anyway.  Funny thing about raccoons, is that they always take the same path, and have worn a narrow groove in our lawn as they walk to the bird bath to bath every evening.  They never deviate from this path, either.  It's a raccoon thing, I guess.

So is making a mess of the birdbath - leaving black sand and mud in it after they've climbed into it to wash off.  I've watched them eating crabs down by the creek, and they get pretty muddy in there.  A neighbor says they've been known to shit in the birdbath, but I've never seen that.  They do shit on my fence though.  Nice.

And of course we have the usual collection of squirrels, moles, mice, rats (ugh!) rabbits (also so tame you could almost pet them, but don't) and possums.  One problem with all this wildlife is that we also have ticks, and ticks spread diseases.  If I walk through the woods, or even when trimming the shrubs in the back yard, there is a chance I'll come back with a tick.  And they are not only gross, they can make you sick.  And once you have one tick, well you start to think you have 100 of them, as every itch and scratch on your skin feels like a tick crawling on you.  Must be what it's like to be a meth head.

Of course we have birds, too - from the usual song birds, to water birds such as pelicans, terns, seagulls, plovers, egrets, herons, eagles, and ospreys.   We have woodpeckers and hawks and the turkey vultures that will be happy to clean up whatever it is you decide to run over.

Speaking of which, after seeing the gator baby, we were almost home when a young faun ran out in front of the golf cart.  We missed it, but a speeding car coming the other way nearly hit it - missed it by feet!  That's why we have such low speed limits on the island.  And even a small deer can mess up your car!

It's funny, but occasionally you will see cars slowing down or even stopping by our house and when we look out the window, we see why - there are a dozen deer on the lawn, contentedly munching on the "baby grass" we plant in the winter.  Folks from the city - or places where hunting is allowed - marvel at how tame the deer are - and how many there are as well.

But like anything else, you get used to it, and pretty soon, a herd of deer on your lawn - or walking right next to you, seems to be a non-event.  I mean, you've seen one deer, you've seen them all.

We did have someone try to shoot the deer once or twice.  Apparently, a couple of "good ol' boys" after a few beers (quite a few beers, according to the police report) decided to drive their pickup truck onto the soccer fields and blast away at the deer at point-blank range.  They were caught, careening off the island with several dead deer in the back of their pickup truck, one with his head poking out from under a canvas tarp.  Not very subtle.

We do live in a State Park, so they were arrested and went to jail.  Supposedly they had done it one time before without being caught.

Others have put out food (corn) for the deer so they will come "up close" to their house and entertain guests.  This is probably a bad idea on several counts.  First, it causes the deer to congregate by the road (they put up "deer crossing" signs but they still get run over) and second, it makes them dependent on humans for food.  Third, it increases the deer population even further, and quite frankly, we are awash in a sea of deer as it is.

There has been talk of culling the herd through relocation or limited bow-hunting, but this has been met with a hue and cry of "animal cruelty" - apparently letting them die of tick-borne illness is humane.  We have bobcats, too - or at least one anyway - and it was found paralyzed due to "tick paralysis." Some fun - I can't wait to get Lyme disease!

So while it sounds like fun to have all this tame wildlife, there is indeed a down side.  And it is interesting how various populations ebb and flow over time.  Rabbits were first spotted on the causeway, breeding every spring.  The hawks seemed to keep them in check.  But now they are appearing on the island itself and it is only a matter of time before they, well, do what rabbits do best.

I suppose I'll miss this place if we move away someday.  It is sort of neat to be so up close with wildlife and whatnot, despite the ticks and such.   But there is something a little weird and disturbing about how tame our animals are here on the island.  Rabbits, raccoons, deer, whatever - you can walk right up to them - be only feet away - and they just ignore you.  And it isn't as though you are harassing the wildlife, either.  Sometimes you'll be walking along and almost trip over some animal that you didn't see because their fur is so camouflaged.

Even dogs seem to ignore them.  We are dog sitting and took the dog for a walk and came upon a little bunny rabbit.  The dog was nonplussed.  "Rabbits, big deal!" she seemed to say.  She was more interested in going after Rickety Raccoon in the swamp eating crabs - but of course we would not let her.

I will have to get one of those "trail cams" and mount it on our bird bath.  We regularly get deer, possums, raccoons, squirrels, feral cats - and yes, even birds - coming to drink there.  It is a regular United Nations of wildlife.  It would be interesting to put together a compilation video of these buggers as they seek out clean, fresh water.

Such a wild life!