I love watching raccoons eat. It’s the use of their paws like hands that fascinates me so. It’s this dexterity that allows them to get into all sorts of mischief, from opening containers to unlatching windows. It also gifts them with that most enviable of skills amongst mammals: climbing down head first.
This video is of a troublemaker. It occurs to me only now that, after having watched her for some time, she lacks a significant fear of humans. It’s that simple. She has consistently been lacking in fear of me since she began visiting. I try not to interact with them except for standing on the patio watching when the opportunity presents itself, yet she always shows an interest in me, in what I’m doing, and shows no significant distress at my presence. I can talk, walk, go in and out, and she carries on with no more than a glance in my direction.
Her lack of fear makes her dangerous to the uninitiated. She readily approaches me, making me think she already associates people with eating opportunities, and that no doubt will cause problems for someone in the future. Not me, but someone.
I captured this video of her at the very onset of dusk one evening. After having spilled water in the cat food bowl, I tossed the wet food over the patio fence with full knowledge that it wouldn’t survive long with all the wildlife traipsing through. A few short hours later, the open windows allowed me to hear a bit of crunching outside, so off I went to see who was eating.
I stepped up to the fence and knelt down to get a good view. She glanced at me before returning to her snack. I turned the camera on, placed it against the fence to try and steady it, and proceeded to shoot some video.
She was about three feet (a meter) away from me. You can see how scared of me she is, right? She looks at me a few times. That’s fear, right? Not in her case.
In fact, I stopped the video when I thought she was leaving (when she walks out of the frame at the end), but that’s when she turned and came right to me. Not good.
Anyway, throughout her quick indulgence notice the tap-tap-tap tactile approach to dinner as she feels the ground for tidbits. That always puts a smile on my face as I watch raccoons eat.
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Obviously this is a raccoon (a.k.a. common raccoon, northern raccoon, washer bear, or coon; Procyon lotor).
I know she’s a female because she’s been around for about three years, I’ve learned to recognize her, and each year she spends part of her time coming through with children in tow.
This video was shot with a little point-and-shoot camera, so the quality isn’t great. Also, I had the white balance set wrong, and I know absolutely nothing about editing video, so the best I can do is WYSIWYG.
The title is a nod to my favorite e.e. cummings poem.
At the north end of my patio where the fence meets the wall, a tiny space only two inches/five centimeters wide and four inches/ten centimeters deep rises from the ground to the top of the fence. It’s the space between the last fencepost and the joist. Because it’s nestled behind a thick hedge and sheltered from the elements, all manner of critters find their way into that minuscule crevice.
I’ve been forced to evict paper wasps who wanted to nest there. I’ve seen spiders chase each other and prey through the shadows. I’ve watched mud daubers find the tiniest cracks where they could climb inside the wall and hide their offspring. And the anoles long ago found they could live inside the wall by navigating through those same cracks.
Given the narrow yet deep shape of the recess, I’m often left with no option but to watch whatever is in there rather than photograph it. Because none of my lenses fit through the opening, and having the wall on one side and the fencepost on the other makes positioning a camera an exercise in frustration. The only pictures worth keeping are those taken by standing back and zooming into the dark abyss.
On a warm afternoon not too unlike the past few days, I noticed something hidden in that spot, something that demanded my attention. Because whatever it was, it remained in a perpetual state of motion. Being a fan of natural light, I fired off a few shots knowing precisely what I would get.
The blur does little justice to how fast this insect was bouncing up and down. To my eye, it looked like an ethereal shadow hovering just above the wall, some dark specter made of smoke and whispers. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s a video to show you what I’m talking about.
Wicked fast, eh? But blurry photos and videos don’t answer the question of what it was. Yet the behavior and shape go a long way in answering that question. Were I to guess based only on that evidence, I’d say it’s a crane fly. Everything about the body matches, and crane flies notoriously use the rapid push-up maneuver as a diversion against predators.
But only a clear image of the beast would be definitive, so out comes the flash for an awkward attempt at capturing a picture.
Despite having to step away and zoom in just to get the flash to light up the space, it seems obvious my assumption was correct: it’s a crane fly.
I know what you’re asking. But what about that long proboscis? Yes, it threw me for a loop when I first looked at the photo. Crane flies generally have a small proboscis, yet this creature has one that would terrify anyone frightened of biting insects. In fact, it looks more like a giant mosquito with that menacing mouth. So what gives?
Well, there’s a handful of crane fly species with the elongated proboscis. It’s not common but it’s not unheard of.
And since its position kept me from getting any clear shots with details, I can’t pin down an exact species or genus. Nevertheless, it was cool to watch because I’d never seen one do that at such a high rate of speed.
Oh, and I was the threat the fly was trying to confuse. When I finally stepped away hoping it would calm down so I could get a better shot, it flitted out of the alcove and vanished in the bushes. Just my luck.
A few days ago I posted an image of an insect I found on my patio, a large creature the likes of which I had never before seen. You might remember I found it in this position just outside the bedroom doors.
It didn’t move as I snapped a few photos of it. I therefore suspected it had died, perhaps after flipping over and lying in direct sunlight for too long, perhaps after being abused by any of the local neighborhood cats who would undoubtedly find such a thing to be a perfect toy.
But whatever reason or reasons had caused it to wind up in such condition, I decided to turn it over so I could get some different views of it, something that would help me identify it later.
Its legs began flailing the moment I picked it up. Not so dead after all…
I placed it back on the patio floor where it froze. Posed, even, for the furry behemoth rested in sunset’s direct light where I could snap some respectable images.
The first to show its strangely colored and swollen abdomen.
At 2.5 cm long by 1 cm wide, with most of that girth and length in this rear section banded with green and orange separated by tortoiseshell hairs that appeared dark gray from a distance, I felt the poor thing wouldn’t be able to move for having to lug around so much extra baggage.
The fact that it never flinched as I got in close for more pictures seemed to confirm it was too heavy, too bloated to get out of the way.
The more I looked at it, the more I assumed it to be a moth. Probably a female given the antennae. But where were its wings?
That’s when I noticed two stubby projections on each side of the thorax where a flying insect would have wings.
Was I looking at a moth whose wings had not yet unfolded? That seemed unlikely at best. These little nubs were too small to unfurl into wings large enough to carry this massive insect.
Regrettably, the more I looked at it, the more I became confused about what it might be.
As I sat near it staring in confusion, I suddenly found my original concern about it being too heavy to move had been premature and incorrect.
Tiny when compared to its enormous abdomen, amazement washed over me as those six legs kicked into high gear and began carrying this mystery across the patio toward the fence. Quickly, I might add.
It skirted the bottom of the fence for some time. Eventually it turned, climbed over the wooden base, tumbled down the other side, and reversed course back along the fence.
Its abdomen dragged the ground the entire time, a mass of insect flesh too large and heavy to lift. It didn’t seem to notice, though, and it certainly didn’t cause the critter to be slow. Not by any stretch of the imagination.
Once it reached the center column of the fence, the ligneous support that stretches up to the roof, it began climbing.
That shocked me. Tiny feet on painted wood found both the strength and grip to lift that bulging bottom straight up the pillar.
I watched it for some time as it continued upward. When finally it paused for a few minutes, I decided to leave it in peace. It was gone when I returned an hour or so later to check on it.
My investigation into its identity helped me learn something I never knew before.
You see, originally I felt it probably was an immature moth whose wings had not developed (or unfolded, assuming that the tiny nubs could somehow unfurl into large wings).
I was wrong.
This is in fact a fully mature, fully developed female moth, one whose abdomen is so full of eggs that it appears distended. She is also a flightless moth with vestigial wings. Only the males of her kind have wings and can fly.
Assuming my identification is correct, something I’m confident in but not definitively sure of, she is a very pregnant Lycia ypsilon. The most widely used common name I could find for the species is woolly gray moth, but they are sometimes referred to as pine barrens lycia.
And finally to prove I didn’t pose a dead insect just so I could post cool photos of it, here’s something I’ve not done in a while: include a video. As I pointed out earlier, she ran along the bottom of the fence once she finally got going. And go she did.
Please note I wish the video had translated better to YouTube. The original, in all its 640×480 stereo glory, is rather nice for a macro vid (the first I’ve ever tried to capture). I may tinker with it and try uploading it again to see if maybe a different format works better.
Anyway, for now, here’s my huge, bursting with eggs, flightless female moth scampering across the concrete for all the world to see.
With all the recent talk—and even some photos—of the northern mockingbird parents in the tree outside my patio, I wanted to share something far less depressing than has been the story of their offspring. Too many losses, I say, and too many tears.
So let us then turn our attention to the more entertaining side of mockingbirds.
You know Larenti visits often. She now spends a great deal of time on my patio.
Surprisingly, I’ve discovered al-Zill also finds the veranda a great place to rest and relax, not to mention to grab a bite to eat.
A few days ago when I stepped outside, I found this most recent feline discovery enjoying a midday meal as Larenti lounged in the intermittent sunshine that dappled the concrete floor each time the clouds broke.
I snapped a few photos of the pair (to be shown later). As I stood there, however, someone else came into the picture.
It was one of the mockingbird parents.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not surprising to have one or both birds launch an assault on any feline visitor. For that matter, they yell at me and threaten me with their aerial acrobatics, so a cat certainly should expect a challenge.
The moment the bird instigated the encounter with al-Zill, the cat stepped away from the food, walked to a position near the fence, and lay down in such an uncaring manner as to insult the winged parent with complete disregard.
That’s when I switched the camera to video mode, aimed, and began shooting.
Keep in mind I was on the opposite side of the patio and didn’t have enough time to really zoom in. I didn’t want to miss any of the verbal abuse being heralded at the felines—especially al-Zill.
Nevertheless, you can see how brave the mockingbirds are. Remember they hit me in the head several times while making runs at Vazra before I rescued him, and he was sitting on the fence when that happened. A cat on the ground is a safer bet when you keep your distance and throw nothing more damaging than avian insults.
In early morning gloom worsened by heavy clouds impenetrable to all but the smallest amount of light, I knelt by the shore after having enjoyed some time with the mallard duck family. The entire sord already had wandered off through the water. Why I remained in my crouched position is anyone’s guess, yet there I sat watching the other wildlife growing increasingly perturbed with the loud noise and disruptive mayhem being caused by the surging crowd of people congregating nearby for the morning’s ninth annual White Rock ‘n’ Run.
In fact, one of the bands began warming up a short distance behind me. Their loud speakers and squawking feedback all joined together in causing even more disharmony among the lake’s official residents and true owners.
But I remained, letting my eyes take their fill of beast and fowl, of water and air, of light and dark.
Being low to the ground as I was meant I hoped I posed little threat to anything that might wander by. This seemed proved by a handful of ducks preening less than a yard (a meter) away from my location. They would occasionally glance at me to ensure I hadn’t set my predatory sights upon them, and then they’d turn back to their morning baths.
A raucous group of white and brown Chinese geese (a.k.a. swan geese, Anser cygnoides) came ashore near my favorite pier and headed in my direction. With ample room for them to veer around me, I thought nothing more of it.
That was a mistake.
Still knelt in the wet grass and mud as I was, my figure stood no higher than the medium-sized members of the gaggle. The larger of the group easily towered over me, large birds as they are.
I offered them only cursory glances while they made their way in my direction. It was only when they came within six feet (two meters) of me that I realized I had erred in assuming they wanted nothing to do with me.
Sure, I was there first. And I wasn’t bothering any living thing in the area. I remained quiet and didn’t look at them directly lest it be seen as a challenge. Instead, I slowly pivoted the camera on my knee and snapped photos of this and that, all the while looking through the LCD screen so I wouldn’t have to raise it and appear threatening to anyone—or scare them with unnecessary movements.
Do you think the geese cared for my intentions? Do you think they respected my tiny spot in their world?
Of course not.
With only the tiniest of gestures, I switched the camera to video mode as the gaggle surrounded me. I felt they were journeying around me, giving me just enough room so we all would feel comfortable, and would trek on along the shore once they made it past me.
Remind me once in a while that I’m no expert when it comes to wildlife. I’m learned, yes, and quite so, but that doesn’t mean I’m precognitive when it comes to the beast’s nature. Although I’m successfully predictive in that manner only insomuch as it boils down to general behavior and probable outcomes, I’m a fool for thinking such specific and extraordinary circumstances would somehow fit in a mold meant for natural theater rather than man’s unnatural and cacophonous disorder that was in place that morning.
I quietly pressed the button to begin capturing some video of the geese as they moved around me. To my right, I was peripherally aware of several who continued inching in my direction, and more specifically, I was increasingly cognizant of one specific and very large avian tenant who seemed quite lacking in any fear of me.
The camera swung carefully in his direction, which gave me a chance to look at him directly without looking at him directly. I saw no imminent threat, so I began to pan the video back in the opposite direction where one particular goose stood nearly motionless as it watched me. As I swung my gaze away from the intimidating creature who continued to edge closer and closer, I saw from the corner of my eye what my mind’s eye had only just revealed: I was about to get my butt kicked.
Sure enough, just as I swung the camera back in his direction, he stepped forward and lowered his head.
Now is a good time to reveal I was not exactly on sure footing, what with being knelt on one knee and one foot, holding the camera steady on one knee, and being quite in the middle of a muddy patch of grass on the shore. If I made a sudden movement, it was me who would end up lying flat on the wet ground.
Of equal importance is that I was wearing shorts and a tee shirt. That meant I offered a tremendous amount of exposed skin. Even a duck can tear flesh if given enough access and a sure enough grip, so a large goose could inflict far more significant harm with all the skin I was showing.
Finally, keep in mind that Chinese geese are very large—the largest being comparable to an actual swan—and that swans can break human bones. If a large enough goose made a strategic move, especially with my limited ability to react in the position I was in, I felt I could be in a great deal of trouble.
So there I was…
The camera pivoted sharply back to the right as I twisted my entire frame. I wanted to face directly the threatening bird. And crouched on the ground, he was taller than I was.
The moment I turned in that direction, he stepped forward, lowered his head, and charged me.
That’s where the video ends. I saw the attack coming and hit the button so I could focus on other matters.
You know, like getting the hell out of the way.
He closed the distance quickly but paused when I stood. No longer was it him towering over me; it was the opposite. That moment of his indecision gave me enough time to drop the camera in my pocket and back away at a steady clip.
Then, with me no longer invading his personal space (regardless of who approached the other), he suddenly felt at ease. The entire gaggle milled about for a moment, made a tremendous amount of noise, and moved on down the shoreline. Still within an easy stone’s throw, they all clamored into the water and swam away.
You’ll have to watch carefully because the video ends just as he lowers his head and begins his approach. Sorry, but I had other matters to attend to.