Friday, November 5, 2010

Week of Weird Weather and Wonderful Wildlife

Nope, I didn't see a grizzly with a pumpkin on
the streets. This is Keema, a grizzly who lives
at the zoo, safely behind thick glass.
Typical Pacific Northwest damp fall weather took a holiday on Halloween this past week and also called in sick on several other days, perhaps having exhausted itself by pulling out all the stops on Monday with a record-setting rainfall.

But most surprising was the wildlife. The city gifted me over the past few days with an abundance of sightings, including some critters I'd never glimpsed in our streets before. (And I don't mean the two-legged cows, miniature unicorns, Godzillas, and oversized bees wandering on Halloween night.)

First, there was the bald eagle, sighted on Sunday, a day that was true to its name--blazingly sunny and balmy atmosphere. That day, we decided it was time to tackle the dreaded task of cleaning the gutters. Which we hadn't done in a decade, at least. But when we saw six-inch-tall plants sprouting from the southernmost gutter over the back of the house, we knew we couldn't avoid it any longer.

While teetering atop a ladder scooping up muck and lime-green moss, I chanced to look up and spied the eagle wheeling over our house. Chocolate-brown body, bright white head, spiraling against a turquoise blue sky. It was a fine reward for grubbing about in the gutter.

Bald eagles aren't an uncommon sight in the city--there are even several pairs nesting within its limits. But they never fail to amaze. A Cooper's hawk, on the other hand, is harder to spot. There are probably plenty of them living in city limits, but being smaller birds accustomed to hunting at lower levels instead of riding on rising vortices of warm air, one doesn't see them as often. But this hawk streaked across the road ahead of me as I walked the dog that day. Typically when I've seen a Cooper's in town, it's being chased by crows, but this one seemed to be flying below the corvid radar.

That night, while my dog and I accompanied a large duck, a nun, a witch, and a can of soup on a trick-or-treat tour of the neighborhood, we spotted a strange animal that is scarcely ever seen in the flesh--and actually we're not quite in agreement as to which normally-underground beastie it was.

It was scuttling about near the curb under parked cars after dashing down a driveway. The witch thought it was a lost guinea pig, and rushed over in an attempt to "rescue" it, with the soup can and the duck in tow. But they backed off when the clearly-not-a-guinea pig trundled out from under a car and bored its way back up the driveway, seemingly oblivious to onlookers.

It looked like a very determined fur-covered butternut squash. Luna (the dog) was flabbergasted as the thing practically strolled right under her nose. Normally she lunges at her leash to try and chase squirrels; now, with a squirrel-esque summer sausage practically on her paws, she just gaped in amazement.

A young mountain beaver
(from a U.S.G.S. photo)
I'm thinking it was a mountain beaver, judging by its size, shape, relative speed, and apparent lack of a tail. The soup can is more inclined to the view that it's a Townsend's mole. Both animals are often active at night--the mountain beaver gathering plants, the mole hunting worms or gathering nesting material.

Midday Thursday, I spied another small scurrying scamperer I've never seen in the streets before (though I know they live in the parks): a chipmunk, species unknown. It was skittering about in the yard and on the sidewalk in front of a house one block over that was built to very exacting and expensive "green" standards. Which makes me wonder if all newly built "green" homes come complete with adorable chipmunks.

Weather-wise, the week's wonders included Monday's rainfall of 1.56", a new record for November 1. And Wednesday boasted a high of 74F, the record high temperature for November 3.
If I were superstitious, I'd be looking for signs and omens in a Halloween week of weird weather and wildlife. But, oh, maybe it's just climate change.