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Encounters with critters

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POSTED August 20, 2012 12:19 a.m.

In the last few weeks, I have read news articles about a possible mountain lion sighting in the community of Mountain House, west of Tracy, about a moose whose antlers were caught in a backyard swing set in northern Utah, and about a Boy Scout leader who was attacked by a rabid beaver while swimming in New York State. 

In recent years, I’ve personally seen lions in Calaveras County, Tuolumne County, and even seen a mountain lion in San Joaquin County in the foothill canyons west of Tracy.  Mountain lion populations have grown astonishingly in the last 20 years. One estimate from a veteran game warden placed the existing statewide lion population at approximately eight times as many lions as we had in 1970. Quite truthfully, it wouldn’t surprise me if more lions were spotted in the area.

The moose in the swing set incident of Aug. 7 was chronicled by Agnieszka Spieszny in Outdoorhub.com and notes Weber County Sheriff Sergeant Lane Findlay risked his life using bolt cutters to free an adult moose who’d gotten his antlers caught in a back yard swing set.  It’s an article and video clip that is both fascinating and heartwarming. Check it out at Outdoorhub.com or on You Tube. You won’t regret it.

While urban lions and moose caught in swing sets make the headlines and You Tube, there are a host of other wild critters that are increasingly being found in cities and towns all over North America. Last year I was up working late at home when I heard an odd sound. At first I thought it might have been my son lifting weights in his room, but still 1:30 in the morning was a bit of a strange time to be lifting weights, so I decided to investigate. My son was fast asleep in his bed. The odd sound continued, and I decided to check out the garage along with my faithful hound, Buddy. When I opened the door, Buddy made a beeline for the corner of the garage where we feed the cats. All of a sudden, there was a terrible commotion and a large, economy sized raccoon with a dog in hot pursuit raced by me on his way out of the garage!

I wondered why the cat’s food dish was always empty and yet the cats were always begging for more food. That crafty old coon has probably been helping himself to their food for some time now. I have now set a cage type trap that catches critters live. We’ll see if an old outdoorsman can out-smart an urban raccoon. Of course, I would be really embarrassed if that coon outwits me. Stay tuned for further bulletins.

Another neat example of wild critters that live inside the city limits of many communities is the beavers that make city waterways their home. I happen to live a few hundred yards from the Stanislaus River in Ripon. I chose to live there exactly because of the river and the critters that call it home. Often times if I walk quietly down to the river at dusk, I’ll spot a beaver cruising quietly along the river. Once, when I was wading in the river and fishing about dusk, I stopped to change flies. I looked up from my fly just in time to see a beaver approaching from about 3 feet away. I stood still to see what would happen and lo & behold! The near-sighted beaver ran right into my leg, backed up, and swam around me. I never moved and I don’t think the silly beaver ever knew he’d run into a human. It was a pretty cool encounter with wildlife that was up close and personal.

If you keep your eyes open you can see other examples of wild critters right in the city limits. Since wild animals usually tend to shy away from people, if you’re going to see them, you should keep a special eye out at night and during stormy weather when human activity is at a minimum. I have seen numerous foxes at night both in the nearby park and in the residential neighborhood nearby. One rainy afternoon I happened to spot a coyote trudging across the sand volleyball pits near the Rotary Gazebo.  If you’ll look closely at the sidewalk about 50 yards from my house, you’ll see possum tracks in the concrete of the sidewalk.

I don’t know about you, but I really enjoy seeing our urban wildlife. Keep your eyes open and let me know if you see them too.

Until Next Week,

Tight Lines

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