Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Night Life

For some time now I've noticed unusual droppings each morning in the 2 platform birdfeeders out back. The droppings are cylindrical, with rounded ends, about 3/8 - 1/2" in diameter and 1/2 - 3/4" long, and made up entirely of the remnants of sunflower seed shells. I wasn't sure what had made them, although I had a sneaking suspicion it was a possum.

Then again, Becker, our German Shepherd, has been sprayed by a skunk twice in the last several months, so that was a possibility too. I didn't have a clue what skunk scat looked like.

So last night I rounded up a strong flashlight and decided to check out the feeders if I woke up at all.

I checked right before we went to bed, but all was quiet. We turned off the downstairs lights and moved up to the bedroom.

It was a pleasant night, so I left our bedroom window open. As I lay in bed reading, relaxing for sleep, I thought I heard a scrabbling noise, so I got up and shone the flashlight out back. Big and beautiful and bold, crisply marked fur lushly covering its body and luxuriantly flopping down from its tail over its back, there was a skunk rooting about in the grass between one platform feeder and the birdbath. I watched for a while, calling Prairiewolf to watch with me. The skunk didn't seem to notice the spotlight on its performance at all.

Prairiewolf went off to sleep while I, much too alert now to sleep, continued to read. Right before I turned the light off, I got up to check again. This time the skunk was gone, but there were 2 smallish possums on the back platform feeder. They immediately turned towards the light, and their eyes glowed strangely, but they didn't seem upset.

Thinking my mystery was now totally solved, and feeling vindicated in my orignial diagnosis about the droppings, I went on to sleep.

Sometime after 2 a.m., I woke up with my all-too-frequent, middle-of-the-night insomnia. Deciding to turn it to good use, I checked the backyard again. This time there was a single, very large possum on the back platform feeder. No skunk. No smaller possums.

Intrigued even more now, I checked again about 3:30 a.m. (still awake, unfortunately). The big possum was still on the back feeder, the skunk was drinking water from the birdbath, and one of the little possums was busily eating...what I finally realized was suet from the suet feeder, which he'd evidently knocked down out of the tree. (So that's why I occasionally find it on the ground and empty!)

My most recent check was at 4:45 a.m. This time the backyard was back down to one animal, the big possum on the closer platform feeder.

I am rather amazed at the amount of nighttime activity occurring in my backyard. A little appalled, too, to be honest. The possums don't bother me too much, other than the amount of bird seed and suet they are going through, but the skunk is getting to be a real issue, with Becker's seeming inability to learn how to leave it alone. And I sure don't want to surprise the skunk ourselves, when we go out to take care of the dogs or need to run out to the workshop after dark. Been there, done that, got the (remnants of) the teeshirt.

There's the rabies issue too.

On the other hand, the web research I did talked about how beneficial skunks could be: they eat (and therefore help control) rodents, snakes, insects and spiders, including black widows, for example. My instinct to get rid of the skunk is being tempered a little bit by understanding where the skunk fits into the workings of the local ecosystem. Emphasis on "a little bit."

It's 5:20 a.m. now. I've heard the first birds call, briefly, outside. I just checked and the backyard is empty. Time for another day to begin. I won't be watching the feeders and the birdbath with the same eyes today, however.

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