Thursday, June 13, 2013

THE WOODLAND RACCOON

There were some nasty storms predicted today and I stood on the parking area at Beech Creek and peered down that waterway toward the Holston River and wondered If I ought to blow off this morning and just go home.  The sky was very dark to the Northwest which is an oddity.  I never saw bad weather coming from that direction.  The word tornado was mentioned.  I like bad weather and fifteen minutes later I was cruising down Beech Creek toward the Holston.  All my life I've always figured I could deal with whatever came up weather on a motorcycle or a boat.  I saw a truck with a boat pull in as I was leaving and he just pulled right back out and left.  Guess he didn't want to deal with the wind, which was brisk.

The sky was very dark and gray and I didn't want to dabble with scenic photography as I already have some really nice photos of this entire river section.  I wanted to run my section, get the job done, load back up and get out of here.  Maybe I could beat the bad weather that was surely on it's way.

I set the throttle a bit faster than normal and dodged the floating trees that were coming down the river.  Someone far upstream got hit hard to put all these broken off trees on the water.  I drove past the little beaver dam and noticed a movement on shore near some tall grass and overhanging tree limbs.  It was a raccoon.  I glassed the water for angler boats and there were none.  What the heck - I'll mess with the little raccoon for awhile.  Maybe a boat or two will launch in the meantime.  
He was a young fellow and not very old with a lean figure.  Woodland raccoons really have to work for their meals, unlike those members who live near human habitations such as farms and homes that set out cat and dog feed for their pets.  Raccoons living in close proximity to humans are apt to become obese from over eating.  Not so this little guy.  He was foraging in the daytime and placing himself in harms way by being visible to any predator including large raptors.  Raccoons are really nocturnal and do most of their foraging at night.  Hunger has driven this scrawny raccoon to hunt by the light of day.

The engine was shut down and the electric motor driven prop was eased into the water.  He never saw or heard anything.  The light was terrible as the fastest shutter speed I could get was 1/250th and that was rarely.  He was ambling down the side of the river at an easy pace and I got the idea to follow beside him and observe him doing his normal, daily or nightly routine.  Think of that a moment.  I have the opportunity to follow "beside" this wild creature as he goes about his life on the edge of this river.  Is that not wild?!  I took over 200 shots of him.  Oh, don't worry.  I only posted a few.  Well, more than a few.  If you get bored you can just hit the off button or use the clicker.


As you click on the pictures - take note to the little things about him.  Look at his feet and notice the length of his toes.  Watch his front paws and where he puts them.  Did you know that a raccoon can rotate his feet backwards when climbing "down" a tree? Their front paws and fingers are very dexterous too.  Take note that in some shots his front feet are in the water.  He is feeling the bottom and grabbing with his fingers looking for crustations, worms,  or any other food item that may be at hand.  Their fingers are sensitive and they can identify food items by touch without ever looking at them.
 In the above shot he has poked his paws into a hole in the bank.

He's looking directly at my boat but can not notice the detail about it because of poor eyesight.  If I make a sudden, quick movement he will catch it.  The boat is just something floating down the river to him.  And he moves on down the shoreline.

He suddenly stopped and glared in my direction.  I held the boat in the current with the electric motorized propeller (trolling motor).  I'm sure the white color of the boat has his attention.  His curiosity is peaked but he is not frightened.   White is not a color he sees often, if at all.



He stopped under a tree and felt around in the water and came up with a craw-fish.  A pause was made in his travels to consume it.

Bored yet?


"What is that big white thing floating down the river?"
Their eyes aren't the best but there's nothing wrong with their ears or sense of smell.  The wind is blowing directly up river and he'll never get wind of me.



He tried his best to stay at the water's edge but, at times, had to climb the bank and travel along on top through the grass.  He descended to the water at the first possible opportunity.  That is where the food opportunities are.




He walked, at times, in the water all the while reaching beneath the surface to squeeze the muddy bottom in search of food items.  His little hands reached into any holes in the bank as well as under logs and stones.  Every move he made was directed toward finding food.  He's not walking in the water because he particularly likes the feel of water.



He appears to be more aware of the big white boat floating beside him.  I'm getting more and more attention from him.  
Humans have the perception that raccoons wash their food before eating.  They hold it in their paws and swish it in the water to clean it.  Not so.  They are feeling the food item to determine if it's indeed a food item.  Raccoons can determine the if objects are food or not through the use of sensitive hairs located at the base of their claws called vibrissae.  Water makes the hairs soft and more sensitive which gives more positive feedback to the raccoon's brain.  Read about it below:

Vibrissae (singular: vibrissa), or whiskers, are a type of mammalian hair that are typically characterised, anatomically, by their large size and large and well-innervated hair follicle.[1] Functionally, they are generally understood to be specialised for tactile sensing (other types of hair also operate as rather more crude tactile sensors). Vibrissae grow in various places on most mammals, including all primates except humans



He is really putting intense effort into his hunting as he is stopping frequently to probe under every piece of wood and thrusting his paws into every tiny hole in the mud bank.  I think he's looking primarily for craw-fish though.



The above shot shows him grabbing the mud on the bottom.  I wouldn't think that would be very profitable for him.  I guess he knows better than me.  He makes his living at it.


Everything in the natural world has a purpose,  and so does the raccoon's mask.  It is thought that the black mask surrounding his eyes reduces glare allowing him to see better at night.  It would also reduce the sun's glare during daylight foraging periods.
 






Look at those feet.  Funny!  Raccoons can live to be 30 years old in the wild and away from human intrusion.  When living near humans - 2 - 4 years is the life expectancy due to the available diet and death by car squashing.  Diets of cat food, which is bad for them, and other human introduced foods can cause gout, digestive problems and bloating, all of which will lead to an early demise.  They can actually enjoy the smorgasbord provided by careless humans to the point of total dependence and will give up looking for their natural foods.  This is when they get in trouble with humans.  It ain't their fault folks.



I followed him long enough.  I didn't want to wear out my welcome.  He was turning to climb the bank and disappear into the grass above.  What a great few moments living with this wild raccoon.  I have a much greater understanding of this fascinating creature now, first hand.
 I watched him disappear and felt privileged for the few moments spent with him.  "Good luck little fella."

So, there ya have it.  I still was the only boat on this water.  I guess everyone else knows about the storms that are bearing down here and decided to stay home.  The first "big" drops of rain started falling and I made for the boat ramp in haste.  As it worked out, I beat the rain thanks to a phone call from a friend who gave me a heads up.  That river is surrounded by mountains and storm clouds can sneak up without being seen.  Not good.  I hope I didn't bore you with all the raccoon pictures.  I just like critters a lot and sometimes get carried away with the camera.  I appreciate you very much and hope you stay in tune with the blog.  Thanks again.