Tuesday, December 10, 2013


The weather has been solid, heavy, cold rain for the past two days and nights.  I left for the lakes very early in the morning, before sun-up yesterday and I was driving down my 600 foot long wet drive that is bordered by a row of bushes and trees when the headlights illuminated a little bundle of action in a puddle directly in front of the truck.  What was that, I thought?  The front of the truck stopped approximately fifteen feet from the action in the puddle.  A tiny owl was splashing in the puddle appearing to have a great time.  He was tiny and appeared to be gray in color but, that was due to the headlights making his wings seem translucent.  The little owl was a blur of movement, fluttering his wings non stop while turning circles in the puddle and plunging his little head straight down into the water only to pull it back out, face the sky and shake his head.  He then jumped out of the water onto the edge of the puddle and extending his wings out to the side, jumped directly into the center of the water and repeated his excited exercise.  It was impossible to even consider getting a picture of this little guy but, I excitedly tried to get the camera case open and couldn't because of a jacket and other stuff laying on the lid.  I looked up just in time to see the little guy launch from the shoreline of the puddle and disappear into the dark.  What an experience!  It might not sound like much of an adventure but, those few seconds with that little screech owl was a unique experience that may never occur again in my life.  Those tiny owls are very secretive and its really a privilege to be able to witness their activities.  One never knows when a unique wildlife experience will pop up and it's best to be prepared, which I'm not at 4:30 AM.
I've been thinking about the places I've been to and the wildlife scenes I've been privileged to observe and I realize the impossibility of trying to remember all the unique sights and sounds I've witnessed and heard - hence, the camera.  There's something more to it than just enjoying the wildlife views - something that I never really thought about much or at all.
I've always admired wildlife professionals who are out there with boots on the ground doing their best to protect the wildlife habitat for the creatures we enjoy.  They've spent a lot of time gaining degrees in fields relating to our critters and I think that is a commendable vocation.  I was talking to a wildlife professional the other day about the beavers and otters on the Holston River and how the human presence in boats and trapping efforts were affecting their habitat and existence.  
The interesting thing about the conversation was that he could not tell me what the populations were of those two animals although, how could he unless he made an effort to find out?  No one can know the populations of all the animals in all the areas at any given time.  That's impossible and not to be expected.  The point is that I do know the population of those critters on that section of the river because I've observed them almost every day of the year both mornings and afternoons.  I thought about this one quiet and boring day while on the boat and came to the conclusion that I hold valuable, first hand information about these animals and their habitat as well as the actual movements of beavers and otters to include how they conduct themselves in their day to day jobs of staying alive in the wilds.
I've even watched beavers sitting on their tails at the edge of a muddy bank moving their paws over their entire bodies spreading water proof oil over their fur.  I know their favorite plant foods and I've seen them carrying the inch diameter sticks to their lodges.  I know what plants they line their beds with and also the ones they love to sit in the sun and rapidly chew the thin stems into tiny morsels while swallowing the succulent greens as fast as they can chew.   I know their tolerance levels and what they do when frightened and I know where their lodges and dens are and what times of day they will appear.  The same holds true for otters.  Right now there are only seven otters on that end of the river and twelve beavers.  There used to be more but, trapping has reduced the population and will no doubt reduce it more this year and the otter, I fear, can not stand another season of trapping.  The information about trapping is just information and personal opinion but I thought it pertinent in a small way to this little article.  The professionals have everything under control or, do they.  It's difficult for a casual observer to influence the opinions of a professionally educated wildlife individual while after all - he's put the time in college to gain the degree.  I only have been observing critters for fifty years.  But then, what can I know?  It's all just something to talk about but for now,  I think I'll find a dry, quiet place to sit and just look at things through the drizzle.  Ah, I think I've found it.