Thursday, April 16, 2009

Wild Kingdom

Here in suburbia we have the typical collection of wildlife: squirrels, rabbits, possums, small birds, and the occasional fox. The fancier neighborhoods have deer. I wouldn't say we have a good relationship with our animal brethren. Animals living in suburbia cause problems, and as a result, cause people to do strange things.

Jane has a fascination with flora and fauna - especially flora. She spends hours in the garden making everything just so. She takes pride in it. At the same time, she makes it a point to keep the squirrels and rabbits well fed by planting things in the garden they love to eat, and putting out seed for the birds by the ton. I guess you could characterize it as a sort of a love-hate relationship.

The love side of the relationship gets us endless colors and textures of flowers, all tiered amongst the ornamental trees and grasses, arranged with attention to when each variety matures, so that no part of the garden is without a blossom. There are are also herbs for fragrances and cooking (nothing, and I mean nothing, can beat fresh basil for pesto in the summertime). And there are the birds: wrens and hummingbirds, robins and cardinals, sparrows and finches and doves. There are six bird houses scattered around the yard for accommodation, all of them occupied by early spring. Those that arrive too late for housing roost in the bends of the rain gutters. Robins first, then doves, and finally pigeons; the occupancy changes marked by the size and color of the discarded egg shells that land on the walk.

The yin to the garden yang is another battle of wills. Over the years we've invested in no end of squirrel-proofing gadgets, none of them actually squirrel-proof. I've seen the little bastards shimmy up and down greased poles, unlatch locks, defeat counter-balances, chew though screen, swing over barriers like Chinese acrobats, and move heavy weights. The rabbits are nearly as cunning, and the kids have the gumption to think they're cute.

The best deterrent we ever had was a wrong-way hawk that crashed into the side of the house one afternoon. He managed to knock himself out good. At first we thought he was dead and wondered what to do with him. Then, being suburbanites, we frightened ourselves into thinking we'd run afoul of the Endangered Species Act, or the Bird Of Prey Rams Your House Act, so we left him laying on the patio. Surely there must me some law governing the disposal of dead hawks. A few panicked phone calls to the Wild Bird Sanctuary later and we found ourselves in the clear, but stuck with a hawk carcass.

He was a massive bird - almost as tall as my arm is long. The beak and the talons looked really menacing. And he was in the way. I donned my thickest pair of leather gardening gloves and prayed hawks didn't have some type of death-bite reflex. Just about the time I was reaching for him, he came-to, jerked around and stood up. His eyes looked really glassy, and he ruffled his feathers and cocked his head from side-to-side to shake off the collision. Then in one huge movement he extended his wings and launched himself up on to the the edge of the gutter. We just stood there and marveled. Then we went inside for lunch.

After lunch, Jane and I worked in the yard the rest of the day - coming and going, in and out of the house. The hawk stayed perched on the edge of the roof the whole afternoon, watching. The first thing Jane noticed was the general quiet. Then she realized that every animal within a two or three house radius had cleared off. Light bulbs appeared above our heads, and we offered the hawk everything we could think of to hang around. He was having none of it though, and finally gathered enough of himself to move on. About three or four days later, the squirrels had enough gravitas to start raiding the tomatoes again.

Lately, the squirrels have figured out how to completely detach the feeder tubes of the latest squirrel-proof bird feeders from the hangers, dropping the whole apparatus to the ground and spilling the contents. Some mornings I watch the goings-on from the kitchen window and wish I had a pellet gun. Imagine my surprise when I looked out the kitchen window and saw a flock of turkeys pecking at the ground under the bird feeder.
"Turkeys??" you might ask with a certain amount of incredulity.
Yes, I'm serious: turkeys.
You might also ask: "Where did they come from?"
I don't know. I was astonished. There were eight of them. I think seven hens and a big tom. The first thing I thought was to get a picture because no one would believe me otherwise.

One thing we're not short on in my house is cameras. I kid you not, there's a drawer full of them in the kitchen next to the sink. I flung open the drawer and grabbed a camera. Crap! Dead battery. I grabbed another. No battery! I grabbed a third. It powered up but the memory card was full! Double crap!! I looked out the window: yep, they're still there. I checked the contents of the memory card and it looked to be full of something Ben was working on, meaning it was probably worth saving. Triple crap!! I snatched the USB cable from the drawer and fired up the laptop. Once the camera was connected and downloading I checked the yard again. The turkeys were looking in the house with a sort of impatience (turkeys are said to be smart).

Finally the memory card emptied. I turned the camera on and quietly opened the back door. The birds didn't notice and kept pecking. I raised the camera, waited for focus, and took the first shot. When the picture snapped, the flash went off and the birds scattered. I got a black exposure. Quadruple crap!! I looked at the LCD again and realized Ben had enabled every possible setting on the camera- seeing all of the feature icons dotted around the edge of the screen. I turned off the flash and tried another shot but got another black exposure. I disabled a few more settings and tried again. And again. Then the birds were gone.

In all I got two "viewable" shots out of four. The best one is published above. If you look closely, you can just make out three of them under the feeder, and a few of the rest scurrying away in the neighbors yard. I felt like I was taking pictures of a Sasquatch. Really, how many turkeys can be living in suburbia? When I told the story to Jane she asked "why didn't you use the camera in your cell phone?" Silly wife.

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