When is a blade of grass not a blade of grass

I have been happy to learn that we have lizards around our new house, just like the old one. I have been unhappy to learn that the cats still kill them. I saved what might have been an eastern fence lizard from Sylvester on Wednesday. Sly was casually lying in the driveway, not showing any real interest in the lizard lying equally motionless about 18 inches away. I wasn’t sure it was still alive, but I scooped it up in a plastic container and dropped it near a pile of rocks on the other side of the driveway. The lizard disappeared very quickly under the rocks. One lizard saved, but since I didn’t have a camera or my phone with me during the rescue, I don’t have any documentation.

After the rescue, I took the dogs down the driveway. At the bottom I noticed a blade of grass at the edge of the pavement. It wasn’t a surprise, since there is a fair bit of tall grass that has sprouted from the wheat straw I scattered all over the yard. When I got closer I realized it wasn’t a blade of grass at all, just a green anole pretending to be one.

Dos coyotes

Wednesday night when I took Zeke and Lucy out for their next-to-last walk of the evening, I saw two ghostly shapes down in the front of the yard. Zeke saw, smelled or heard them right after I did, and unleashed an unholy uproar of barking and lunging. Leah said Sam was inside pacing and whining as this was going on.

They were coyotes. I wasn’t too surprised that they were there, but I was surprised that they didn’t immediately run away. Zeke continued to bark and lunge. I was barely able to keep him from breaking loose from my grip or pulling me off my feet. Still the coyotes didn’t run.

Ordinarily I would have dragged Zeke back up to the house but this time I wanted to scare the coyotes away. It didn’t work. They paced back and forth staring, but didn’t retreat, even when Zeke managed to drag me 20 or 30 feet down the driveway towards them.

After about five minutes I gave up and pulled Zeke back up to the house. I got a big flashlight and a sturdy stick about four feet long, just in case, and then I went back outside. The coyotes were still there, watching. I advanced on them, shouting, “Get!” which I doubt they understood. I did expect them to figure out the meaning from my tone of voice.

They did finally retreat into the woods at the side of the yard, staying just out of sight. I banged the stick against a few trees, and I could hear them running around. Despite what you might think, wild animals make a lot of noise thrashing through the dead leaves on the forest floor.

I went back to the middle of the yard and shined the flashlight into the woods. I could see the coyotes’ eyes reflecting back at me. They circled around to the front of the yard where there is a narrow border of trees between the open yard and the road, and there they stayed. I gave up and went back inside.

It was too dark to take photos, and they were too far away for a flash to work. I might have been able to finesse it given time and a lot of cooperation from the coyotes, but that was not going to happen.

In my admittedly limited experience, coyotes do not stay around when humans appear. The first time I saw a coyote around the mountain was when I walked Zeke into the woods at the top of the mountain and let him run free. He disappeared down the side of the mountain for a while, and then came back up running side by side with a coyote. When the coyote saw me, he immediately turned and fled.

Another time I saw a coyote on Fouche Gap Road ahead of me and the dogs as we walked down into Texas Valley. It also quickly disappeared when it saw me. The next most recent time was about a month ago when I saw one running across Lavender Trail near the bottom of our driveway. It glanced at me and kept going.

One reason a coyote might not flee a human is rabies. Early this month a coyote attacked and bit a runner near Atlanta. According to news reports, the coyote tested positive for rabies. How did they catch it? The runner grabbed it and held it down until the police arrived.

I was pretty sure the two I saw in our front yard weren’t rabid. There were two of them, which I assume would be unusual if one or both were rabid, and they didn’t appear aggressive, only somewhat unsettled but hesitant to leave. My suspicion is that they have a den nearby, possibly in our front yard. There is a pile of trees left from when the building site was cleared, and I have seen (from a distance) a dark area that might be a recess or an opening into the pile. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) says that coyotes den in excavated holes or brush piles. One night a month or so ago I noticed two eyes reflecting back from the woodline at the front of the yard. I couldn’t tell whether it was a fox or a coyote, but now I suspect that it was one of the two I saw Wednesday night.

Coyotes are not native to Georgia. I never saw or heard, or even heard of a coyote when I was growing up, and we roamed the woods a lot. It has been only relatively recently that they began showing up, probably around the same time that armadillos began showing up as roadside kill here. According to the DNR, coyotes are filling an ecological niche left vacant when humans killed off the native red wolf. People, especially natural-world-challenged city people, are typically afraid of coyotes when they see them. They often panic and call the police. That usually leads to having some kind of animal control official trap and kill the coyote.

Since coyotes are not a native species in Georgia, there is no closed hunting season on coyotes. Lately the state has been encouraging hunters to kill as many coyotes as they can by offering a drawing for a lifetime license. The official entry is a coyote carcass. The reason for this is to try to increase the number of deer available for hunting in the state, although it does not seem that the deer population is threatened by coyote predation. In fact, according to the DNR, the deer population in Georgia is about 1.2 million. The DNR also says, “… deer densities in some localized areas have the potential to inflect significant damage to forestry, agricultural or horticultural crops, home gardens, and shrubbery.”

I have mixed feelings about coyotes raising a litter in our front yard. I actually like having coyotes around, just like foxes, deer, raccoons (not eating cat food), possums (not eating cat food), and other wildlife. It would be neat to see the pups in the front yard. But I don’t want to have to worry excessively about having a coyote take one of our cats, as we suspect happened with Zoe, our late white cat.

Maybe I don’t have to worry about that. Maybe they aren’t denning in our front yard. Maybe they were just thinking about it, and maybe all the commotion convinced them to move. The DNR says coyotes usually mate in late winter or early spring. That’s pretty much right now. That doesn’t give them much time to find a new home.

Turkeys in the yard

We often see groups of turkeys on the mountain, but we have never seen any in our yard. That changed on Monday. I looked out the kitchen window and saw four about 20 feet from me at the edge of the woods. I called Leah over and we watched as several more came up the side of the mountain into the yard. I took some photos of them through the window, which, unfortunately, has screens. It significantly reduced the contrast on the images, so I was pleased when they kept going into the front yard, where I could get a shot through a window with no screens.

As you can see, the tom was strutting his stuff.

The hen in front shows a slight iridescence. You can’t see the male’s iridescent feathers because of the way they are spread.

Here he is from behind.

He was quite a specimen.

There were 14 in all. They continued through the yard, pecking at the ground as they went. I’m not sure what they were eating. They pecked at the areas spread with wheat straw, which was sprouting some grasses, and they pecked at the bare spots. Wikipedia says that turkeys are omnivores. Their diet includes nuts, berries, seeds, grass, and insects, plus, apparently, lizards and frogs occasionally.

I think this may be part of a regular route they take because I have seen turkeys crossing the road near the front of our property. We may try putting out some kind of food for them, although I suspect that crows will eat most of it.

Big cat on the mountain?

About two weeks ago Leah saw a shaggy dog on Fouche Gap Road. It was gone when I drove down to look, but it soon showed up at our house.

shaggydog

I thought it looked like an Old English Sheepdog, and a friend who used to have one agreed. We contacted a local animal rescue group who said there should be no trouble getting it to the right place to find it a home. All I had to do was get the dog to a veterinary clinic down in town.

I needed to take our dogs for a walk before I could do that. Unfortunately, Shaggy followed us, and when Zeke saw him, he jerked the leash from my hand and chased the dog down Fouche Gap Road. I was able to call Zeke back (Zeke is getting old), but Shaggy trotted away down towards Texas Valley.

Once I got the dogs back home I drove down to see if I could find him (or her). He was at the bottom of the mountain, trotting purposefully into the valley. I gave him a dog biscuit, which he seemed to enjoy, but he showed no interest in coming back with me. So I left him, hoping he would come back or find a rescuer further down in the valley.

Last Wednesday, the dogs and I came upon a woman parked on Fouche Gap Road, trying to get Shaggy up into the back of her car. We talked at a distance dictated by Zeke’s barkful excitement. She was trying to rescue Shaggy. After some conversation and a call to the rescue group, we arranged for her to transport Shaggy to the vet’s office. She drove away, but came back a short time later. In the meantime, she had called a neighbor, who turned out to be the owner. The owner stopped us on a walk a few days later and told me that Shaggy liked to roam, so not to worry about “rescuing” him.

But wait. What does this have to do with a big cat? Well, as the woman who rescued Shaggy and I were talking, another car stopped. After the rescuer left, the driver pulled over and showed me a picture he said a county police officer texted him, saying that he took it on Fouche Gap.

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It’s a mountain lion.

Early in July there were several reports of mountain lion sightings in the area around Layfayette, which is a little north of us. Despite the fact that the reports came from what a local newspaper called reliable sources, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNE) remains skeptical. According to the DNR, there have been only three credible lion sightings in Georgia in the last 25 years, all related to the Florida panther. (The “mountain lion” is known in the East by several names, including panther, catamount, puma and painter.) The last sighting was in 2008, by a hunter who illegally shot the cat.

The recent cat reports included some people who claimed to have been awakened by a sound like a woman screaming, which some people think is what a mountain lion sounds like. The DNR says that mountain lions make little noise in the woods and when they do, it’s more like a person whistling or a bird chirping. The DNR conveniently included a link to mountain lion sounds in their statement on the local mountain lion sightings.

The DNR says that most sightings are mistaken identification of things like bobcats, which we definitely have here, or dogs, domestic cats or even bears, which we also have here.

But the picture! It sure looks like Fouche Gap Road. Or does it?

I was thrilled and only a little disturbed by the possibility that we had a mountain lion in the neighborhood, but I was a little skeptical, too. When I looked more carefully at the image, I realized that there were several problems with it. For one, the picture was taken from the driver’s side window of a vehicle that was completely off the downhill side of the road. There are only three (four if you stretch it) places on Fouche Gap Road where you can pull off the road on the uphill side, and this one doesn’t look like any of them. The second problem is that the outside rearview mirror doesn’t look like those on cars the county police use. It could, of course, have been taken in an officer’s personal car (actually, a pickup truck).

When the dogs and I got back home, I called the DNR and asked if they had any reports of mountain lion sightings in the Fouche Gap area. They said no, and wanted me to send them the picture, which I did.

Later when Leah and I went down to Los Portales for our usual Wednesday huevos rancheros, I showed the picture to a county officer who happened to be eating lunch there. He was not familiar with it.

During lunch I got an email from the local DNR game management office. One of their people had been emailed an image that looked very much like the one I had.

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So, it was a hoax. Not a big surprise. I’m only slightly disappointed, because I didn’t really expect it to be true. I’m also not surprised that the man who originally showed it to me believed it to be true. Just about everyone ends up believing what they want to believe, so almost no one analyzes things like this critically. That’s what makes these internet hoaxes so effective.

As I emailed back to the DNR, I won’t worry about checking over my shoulder for a mountain lion as I walk the dogs.

snoopy-lion

However, I will keep an eye out for Bigfoot.

 

Cat and dog and bird

Chloe and Zeke faced off in a friendly way on the front walk last week.

dogandcat

Chloe isn’t afraid of the dogs, and especially not Zeke. Sometimes the dogs sniff her a little too enthusiastically and she backs away or swats at them, but usually it’s a pretty casual affair.

I’m adding another picture to what is usually a cat post because a bird trapped itself in our garage on Thursday.

trappedbird

This time it wasn’t a hummingbird, although it had the same problem figuring out how to escape that the hummingbirds have. At first I thought it might be a swift since we have one nesting under our deck, but the beak doesn’t look right to me, based on comparing to images I found online. I’m not a bird expert so I can’t really identify this one. It’s small, dark on top and gray below.

It couldn’t find its way out for quite a while. We were worried that Sylvester would sit around waiting for it to tire out and then pounce, but apparently that did not happen. The bird was gone after while and we didn’t find any sign of it.