Saturday, July 17, 2010

Tragedy Strikes

I've seen some tragic wildlife moments lately. All seem to involve young animals.

The First One
On Sunday I decided to hit the Farmer's Market in Keene Valley - always a good time. I headed up the Blue Ridge Road, a scenic drive between two wilderness areas (the High Peaks and Vanderwacker). The first part of this road is windy and hilly, so the smart traveller drives slowly. This usually frustrates the idiot traveller, who just wants to get where he/she is going. So, of course, I had an impatient driver behind me. As soon as we hit the more open and straight section of the road, this car blew by me. It was less than a minute later that it happened.

I saw a small mink emerge from the left shoulder of the road to make a dash across the macadam. I watched in horror as it was just missed by the front left tire. But as it passed in front of the front right tire, it disappeared from view, only to reappear in a flash, tumbling tail over tea kettle and into the grassy verge. The car sped on, oblivious.

To the left, I saw two more small minks stick up their heads from the roadside. Where was their compatriot? I pulled over, thinking that I'd forego the Farmer's Market if I found the injured animal; if it lived and looked like it might survive, I'd drive it to our local rehabber. I searched the grasses but found no sign of the animal. Hoping it was only bruised and battered, but not mortally wounded, I climbed back in my car and pulled away.

I had Toby with me, and we hadn't gone but a few feet when he had his nose sniffing out the front window. Then I smelled it, too - the unmistakable musk of the weasel clan. Either the animal had indeed been injured, or it had been frightened by its flight through the air. I didn't stop. Maybe it lived, maybe not. I don't think the people in the other car even saw it - too busy chatting and not watching the road.

Incident #2: The Bluebirds
Last night Toby and I walked the golf course again. I decided to check the nestbox that had the four fledglings earlier in the week. When they reach about a week and a half to two weeks old, one shouldn't check the nest box in case one forces them to fledge too early. So, I figured I'd just scope things out, but wouldn't open the box.

When we arrived on the first hole, I saw one of the parents sitting on top of the box. It seemed the young were still inside. I tapped gently on the side of the box to see if this would get a reaction. Nothing. But it didn't smell good. Something was wrong. Carefully I eased the nail out of the door and lifted it open. One small chick stood in the box, trying to vanish into a corner, while under its feet were the rotting corpses of its three siblings.

What had happened?!? They were all fine Monday! They had survived the heatwave of the previous week. Sure, it had been hot and humid this week, too, but not quite as bad. Whatever the reason, they had perished.

I couldn't leave the lone chick standing in an abattoir, so I reached in and lifted it out. It didn't struggle at all. While holding it (and the dog's leash), I pulled out the soiled nest and lobbed it into the woods. I needed some dry grass to refill the nest box, but that is difficult to come by on a golf course, especially yesterday, when we'd had over an inch of rain. Leaving the door open, I carried the chick across the fairway to some tall grasses. They were relatively dry, so I grabbed a handful and returned to the nest box. One of the parents was again sitting on top and flew away as I approached. Had it seen the box empty, and me carrying off its offspring?

I wrapped the grasses around my hand (not easily done with a chick and a dog occupying the other hand) and stuffed them into the box, making a substitute nest. Then I placed the chick inside, closed the door and replaced the nail. Toby and I retreated up the cart path. I wanted to wait until I saw one of the adults go into the box, because I was concerned that they might abandon it, having already seen it completely empty while I was scrounging for nest material.

I watched as the parents flew around, catching insects on the grass, perching in the trees or on posts to eat them. It seemed like forever, but was likely only a couple minutes, before one of them flew into the nest box and was greeted with the high-pitched chirps of the baby. All was well.

I hate to disturb them again, but I may check the box this weekend just to be sure that Junior is still doing okay. Maybe I'll bring the rest of the mealworms I have in my fridge. (Hm...wonder if they are still alive!)

Incident #3: The Deer
This one isn't quite so tragic. This morning T and I were walking along the highway when I heard a metallic ringing noise, like someone was rattling chains. As we cleared the shrubbery, I saw the source: a young deer had found itself "trapped" on the ball field. As I watched, it repeatedly flung itself into the chain link fence that wrapped around the outfield. The fence doesn't surround the whole ball field, but the deer didn't know this. I thought for sure it would break a leg, or even its neck, in its panic.

On the other side of the fence, were a doe and a buck. They stood there and watched as the young one tried again and again to jump through the fence. Finally, it found the end and took off across the side road, disappearing beyond the community garden.

Toby had discovered the deer by now and was barking furiously, which probably added to the stress of the young one, spurring it to flee along the fence to freedom. The two older animals simply ignored him. After the young one had vanished, they continued to stare through the fence as if to say "Where did it go? Should we keep waiting for it?"

Toby and I continued our walk, and turned the corner, passing the route the young one had taken in its flight to freedom. I kept an eye on the adults to see what they were going to do. They decided to cross the highway. Bound-bound-bound, and the doe was across. Bound-bound, the buck crossed, too. Then, out of nowhere, a third deer, either a doe or another youngster, made a mad dash across the highway to join the other two. The young one who had difficulty with the fence had disappeared in the other direction. Would they eventually all meet up again, or had the family unit given it up as lost? I'll have to keep my eyes open for the Winebrook deer herds to see how this saga turns out.

It's a rough life out there in the wild. We humans, and our pets, should really appreciate how easy we have it.


  1. You're right -- it is hard out there. Sometimes it breaks your heart. Hope the little bluebird makes it!

  2. Oh dear. I guess that those of us who love the wild know that we are going to see these things every now and again. It doesn't make the sadness less, however.

  3. It is hard for wild animals, though sometimes we humans make it harder with our cars, fences, etc. The good thing is that some people put forth lots of effort on bluebird trails and just increasing awareness.