Thursday, November 01, 2007

That's No Bunny!

As I often get a Cottontail visitor to the feeding area around midnight or one, I rather automatically while thinking about something else, flipped on the back light and looked out to see if she was there. YOW! That's no bunny, that's ah...that's an Opossum! Yes, there unconcernedly chewing bird corn was an example of North America's only marsupial, Didelphis virginiana.

Possum just looked up with his black shoe button eyes and kept chewing completely unfazed about the light or me looking out the door. I dropped the drape, turned out the indoor lights, grabbed the camera, and then crept slowly back under the drape to try for a photo. Possum looked up and then utterly ignored me.

I'd never realized how lush a possum's fur is. It looks wonderfully soft. I had a real urge to feel it. I said urge, not irresistible impulse. That was stayed by the fact that opossum have 50 extremely sharp teeth and when unhappy show said teeth while hissing and drooling at the same time. I think not.

Okay, you know how I am about avian feet so I had to find out about our only marsupial's feet. Hmm, rather fascinating but not nearly as cute as bird feet even though these are pink. Turns out possums have a number of "onlys" in their arsenal. They're our only North American animal with a back toe that works like an opposable thumb. Peculiarly the thumb toe doesn't have a toenail like all the others in front.

Suddenly it struck me, this is the guy who's been eating my cantaloupe off the vine. Ditto, for all those tomatoes, green pepper, and watermelon. THIS is my fruit and vegetable thief!

When it comes to food, possums are not picky. They'll eat mice, birds, worms, garbage, carrion, whatever is handy, and as said above, a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, including bird corn. Corn being a winter staple for them around here. Carrion, as in roadkill, is what gets them into trouble with cars. These guys don't move very fast. And then of course if they don't run but "play possum" it doesn't work too well either as a strategy. Though it's best to miss them if possible for more than altruistic reasons. When they go into their death mode strategy, besides the glazed eyes, insensibility, and tongue hanging out, they emit a horrendous odor. I always wondered why animals who don't eat carrion wouldn't eat these guys anyway. Hey, they're still fresh. They may be but they sure don't smell that way.

Between the position of the back patio light and the spattered glass door, my pictures are dreck. I decide to carefully slide the door open. He doesn't even look up. I take a few photos. No problem. I'm only about 7 feet away and he doesn't seem to care. Perhaps I could get a foot closer and a better angle?

I crossed the invisible boundary. Not that opossum scurried or anything. He just slowly turned around and began waddling. First behind the planter, waddled back into view, then waddled behind a tree, back out again and kept going. All I could think about after getting over the exceedingly slow retreat was that his tail looked a whole lot like a big carrot in this light.

Speaking of his tail, it's another "only". It's prehensile like a monkey's . The possum can use it for climbing purposes. Young OP's even hang by their tails, but after putting on enough weight, a mature possum is 6 to 15 pounds, they get too heavy and if they try it, promptly land on their heads.

They aren't picky about habitat either, though they'd prefer a nearby source of water. I begin to wonder if he's taken up residence in my brush pile. Brush piles being a favorite place to get out of the weather as opossum don't hibernate in winter. Rather they'll just hold up somewhere when things are particularly inclement and mosey back out again when it calms down.

Well, as my fruits and veggies have been disappearing all summer, he may just have taken up residence under all those branches stacked up next to the house. I thought I'd made cover for birds. Well you just never know with nature do you?. I'm going to keep an eye on the brush pile and see what else Mr. Opossum may be up to.

Donegal Browne

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Rhythm of a Symbiotic Relationship

Driving along a county road, sweeping across the sky above a field is a flock of gulls. Just as gulls were more rarely seen in urban areas forty years ago, so also were they rare in rural areas far from large bodies of water.

As the Killdeer and other grassland birds become more and more rare the gulls have moved into to occupy their niche. And that niche is to be the benefactors of the feast exposed as the farmer turns over the soil. And in turn the birds deposit rich organic matter to help fertilize the fields for next years crops.

Notice the several runs have been made from one side of the field to the other discing the dirt. Look carefully. The gulls are grouped along the far edge of raw earth, working the furrows of the latest run.

The gulls at the far end of the field have taken to the air displaced by the oncoming farmer.

The flock who had been working the fresh area, wheels round. And just as in the case of the gulls foraging in the wet parkland for worms, there are separate groups working in turns.
There is already a group just standing in the unworked area on the far side of the field.

The gulls fly to the far edge. Some land and some from the ground take flight.

The farmer and tractor rumble their way nearer.
And like steps in a dance, each group knows what the other is doing as they also take into account the pattern of the tractors movement. Gulls glide over the tractor and behind it to grab the invertebrates before they have a chance of wiggling back into the loosened earth.

And there on the far side of the field, is the group of gulls...resting ? Waiting their turn?

The tractor turns and the dance continues.

Foot by foot the gulls peel out of the way in steady rhythm.

They fly back over the tractor once again and begin the ribbon of gulls from the earth to the air to the earth again in the other direction.

And for whatever reason a new grouping spot of gulls has begun in the next field over which looks to have been disced earliecr in the day.
The waiting group in the old position is still in place but perhaps are a different set of birds. The gulls in the furrows feed and forage, aware, alert, and waiting for the next turn in the dance.
Donegal Browne

Monday, October 29, 2007


Even Woodpeckers need a drink now and again. Particularly after pecking the sunflower seeds out of the Nuthatch's stash spots in the sides of the Goodie Stump.
A Link From Longtime Hawk and Sky Watcher, Kentaurian:

Summary: Comet 17P/Holmes shocked astronomers on Oct. 24, 2007, with a spectacular eruption. In less than 24 hours, the 17th magnitude comet brightened by a factor of nearly a million, becoming a naked-eye object in the evening sky. Look for a golden 2.5th magnitude fuzzball in the constellation Perseus after sunset.
Four">Pages of Images, Links & More at ::"> -- penned by Dr. Tony Phillips

And From the New York Times Link Man, Bill Walters:

NEW YORK REGION / THE CITY October 28, 2007

In a town where pigeons have long been relegated to the status of pest, Eduardo Urbina is part of a loose cadre of New Yorkers who see the birds as gentle, misunderstood creatures worthy of protection.

NEW YORK REGION / THE CITY October 28, 2007
F. Y. I.: Pole Critters By MICHAEL POLLAK

How can a squirrel climb a hard smooth foul pole in a baseball stadium, as I saw happen twice at Yankee Stadium?
Donegal Browne