I am not a very good low light photographer plus I was taking many of them through dirty windows so forgive the quality of the wildlife photos!
SOMETHING NEW IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD
We are fortunate to have frequent encounters with wildlife on our ranch. Paul and I can often watch various critters from the comfort of our recliners in our sun room. This summer has been no exception with the usual parade of deer, raccoons, turkey, and rabbits being observed as we relax in this many-windowed room. However, there is one creature this summer that was a first for us and caused a stir of excitement in the area.
One evening in late May, I look up from reading to check out what might be stirring in our yard or the fields beyond it. There is an animal grazing on Milton’s alfalfa that doesn’t compute in my brain. It is too big for a deer and its body much lighter in color than our white-tailed deer. I grab the binoculars that are always lying nearby and zoom in on the unidentified mammal. “Paul, I think I see the elk”! Actually, there is no thinking about it as the brown head and neck attached to the light body could be nothing but an elk.
A friend had informed us a few weeks ago that a cow elk had been seen grazing on his alfalfa fields. Another neighbor has photos of the elk on his game camera. Paul and I had kept an eye out whenever we drove by the fields but until now had not had the good fortune of seeing the unusual visitor. Well, that has changed and we just had to look out our window!
Paul asks if I’m going to try to get close enough to the elk to take a photo, and I figure I might as well give it a try. I put my shoes on, gather my camera, step out the back door, and start walking south. There is a strong wind blowing out of the south which is in my favor. We haven’t hayed the brome field I must walk across so this too helps mask me from the elk’s sight, but this also means I can’t see her. Once I reach the alfalfa field I no longer see the cow elk. I hope that she crossed the creek into the next field, so I decide to continue with my quest even though the sun is dropping towards the horizon.
When I am halfway across the field a curious doe approaches me, stomps her foot a couple of times, then turns and takes off running, her white tail waving, towards the area where the elk had been grazing. If the elk is nearby this fleeing deer isn’t going to help matters. I reach the south end of the field that is bordered by the tree-lined creek bank. Staying close to the creek edge, I use the trees for cover as I cautiously walk to the east. As I climb up a slight rise, I stop in surprise as there is the cow elk lying down in the southeast corner of the alfalfa field. No wonder I couldn’t see her anymore!
I take a couple of photos through a gap in the trees before stepping out into the open to try to get a better shot of this beautiful creature. As I show myself, the elk gets to her feet and she looks at me for a brief moment. Unfortunately, I changed the setting on my camera and with the fading light the camera takes too long to process the photo. What could have been a great photo is an unidentifiable blur. I quickly change back to the prior setting and snap one photo as the elk runs for cover. I trek the quarter-mile back home, happy that my effort to document the elk was a success.
As you can see my photos are not very good but at least I have proof that we really do have an elk out our back door!
I dubbed the elk, Eve, and she stayed around for most of June. We would see her at least once a day and sometimes several times a day. The most opportune time to observe Eve would be just before dusk, when she would walk out of the timber on the east side of the alfalfa field and begin to graze. The rays from the lowering sun would light up Eve’s coat so it glowed like a spotlight. Eve never stayed long, fifteen or twenty minutes, and then she would disappear into the trees.
The unsettled weather kept us from mowing Eve’s alfalfa field when it should have been mowed but the day came when the forecast predicted several dry days in a row. I was assigned the job of mowing the alfalfa, so I drove the John Deere and disc mower to the field. I felt a twinge of regret as I assumed that once the alfalfa was harvested, Eve would move on.
The next evening I kept an eye out for Eve and to my delight I saw her amble out onto the mown field. Eve stuck to her schedule and parameters as usual, hey maybe she will stay around. The next night she appeared but her behavior changed drastically. Eve appeared in the same area as usual, browsed for a few minutes on the edge of the field where some grass and weeds were standing. Suddenly, she began to walk briskly across the field heading west and disappeared from my sight. The next evening, imagine my surprise to see Eve appear in her customary spot but that night she was nervous from the start. Eve walked along the fence that separates the brome field from the alfalfa field, stopping several times to look over the fence. I was sure she was going to jump the fence but she continued walking along the fence until I could not see her anymore.
A few minutes later, Eve appeared in the brome field below our house walking north. I watched her until she disappeared into the cover of trees and we haven’t seen her since. I can’t complain because we had nearly a month of her presence in our corner of Wabaunsee County. What a wonderful and unusual animal for us to be able to enjoy.
The one thing that puzzles me about Eve is that elk are herd animals. A bull elk might get pushed out of the herd or even leave on his own, but it makes no sense why a cow elk would leave the safety of the herd. Hmm.
TOURING THE YARD
Taz takes advantage of the wide window sills in our living room to survey the comings and goings of birds and animals. I can always tell when she spots some creature that excites her as her tail begins to twitch and she will utter short little cat chirps.
On this particular evening, Taz was peering out the west window when she went into crouch mode and became agitated. I assumed she saw her nemesis, Black Jack, a cat that showed up early this spring and decided to stay. When Taz jumped down from her perch and ran over to the south window to follow the creature that had caught her interest, I decided to get up and investigate what all the excitement was about.
No wonder she was acting differently, there is a doe primly walking through our yard! I leave the room to get my camera then go to the sun room where the windows are larger and more numerous, making it easier to watch the unexpected show. Paul and I watch as the brazen deer walks the perimeter of our south lawn. First she samples the leaves of our hackberry tree. Not particularly impressed by this tidbit, the doe walks over to the wooden fence and sniffs at the boards. The deer then walks daintily to our rose bush and samples the red roses. These flowers seem to be more to her liking as she makes the petals fly while she consumes a couple of the blooms. Our evening entertainment sees the second rose bush and starts towards it when she becomes aware of our Purple Martin house that sits atop a fifteen foot pole. For some reason the high-rise bird house freaks our visitor out. The doe stretches out her neck as she peers up at this scary structure.
The oddity of the bird house dampens the deer’s appetite and the explorer starts back the way she came but this time she is on full alert. As the doe nears the house she must catch a glimpse of her human audience as she takes one cautious step, comes to a stop and stomps her front foot. The curious doe continues her slow procession toward the window where I am taking photos. I can’t believe how close the cheeky doe comes to the house. Finally her resolve breaks and she makes a dash from our yard in the direction of the garden. The deer hasn’t returned so I guess the roses weren’t that big of a treat.
BLACK CATS AND AN ANGRY RESIDENT
I mentioned the cat that decided to adopt Paul and me earlier in this blog. Black Jack has to be from the same lineage as Taz because at times if I don’t look closely I’m not sure which cat is which. Taz absolutely despises her relative and to be fair Black Jack is somewhat of a stinker. The young tomcat likes to fight and intimidate, in fact he beat up and chased off a much larger tomcat that was an occasional guest at our ranch.
Because of Black Jacks temperament I came to the decision that he should be neutered this spring. He came through the operation just fine but the aggressive nature didn’t disappear with the removal of his manhood! I am sure in time he will becomelazier and more laid back but right now that sure isn’t the case.
So what do I do to try to get these two cats to accept each other? I have intervened in their spats by scolding them, tossed a cup of water on Black Jack when he was harassing Taz, but like his sister he doesn’t really mind getting wet. One day as I started out on a walk both cats began to follow me. I thought to myself that maybe this would be a good way for the contrary felines to learn to get along.
Sometimes our walks went fairly well, other times it seemed that every few steps I was intervening for Taz’s sake as Black Jack would be in a particularly ornery mood. Often the two black cats would just lay down and stare at each other, and as you know cats only come when you call them if they darn well feel like coming! When this face off occurred, I would go stand in front of Taz, stamp my feet, clap my hands and tell Taz to move. I was literally herding a cat which as you can imagine did not go over well. Taz would hiss and growl but eventually move in the direction I wanted her to go. If some of you wonder why I didn’t just pick her up it is because I don’t relish the idea of claws and teeth sinking into the flesh of my hand. Taz is not a cat you want to handle when she is mad.
One day I was walking back on Soloscheid road, with Taz ahead of me and Black Jack trailing. Taz does not suffer the heat well and she headed for the shade under the tree that grows next to the stone fence. I suddenly hear a rapid buzzing noise coming from the direction of the fence. I don’t need to see the creature making that sound because once you have heard a rattlesnake shaking his rattles, trust me you will not forget. Taz must have walked close to the reptile to get the snake this worked up.
I notice Black Jack walking through the grass towards the sound of the angry rattler. I yell at the foolish cat and he hesitates before moving slowly forward. I step toward Black Jack and then I see the big timber rattler, his tail shaking so fast it is just a blur. Black Jack takes another step forward and I watch as the snake strikes out. The rattler isn’t in a full coil so luckily Black Jack is out of the snakes strike range. I continue to berate the cat who finally decides to exit the ditch and come back onto the road. My yelling has caused Taz to decide she will take Black Jack to task for whatever crime he committed. Taz gets up and runs at Black Jack hissing and spitting and they disappear across the road in the opposite ditch. Well, at least they both are moving away from the snake.
I leave the feuding cats to their own demise and walk back to where the reptile is still sending his warning out. No wonder the rattler is in such frenzy as he is half coiled next to the stone fence with no escape route. I snap a couple of photos using the zoom on my camera and continue back to the house. I can hear the dry rattle of the snake for quite a ways down the road. Fortunately, the cats are worn out and manage to finish our walk without any more fussing. That is good as I don’t need any more excitement today!
Oh yes, any advice on how to get two cats to accept one another is welcome. After five months of this cat feud I am out of ideas on how to get the knuckleheads to agree to a truce! Later, Nancy