Monday, August 21, 2006

A stretch of river XVI: Wildlife species census

Scruffy and I had barely begun our walk at 6:00 this morning when we heard the sound of something large climbing one of the cottonwood trees next to the parking lot. Make that 3 large somethings: as we pulled even, we saw 3 adult or near-adult raccoons climbing the tree. Needless to say, Scruffy became unglued, as only Scruffy can, with the desire to check out these animals. As for myself, the only surprise I felt was that I had not seen any raccoons before. I'd always suspected that they were around, given the nearness of the river, the abundance of large old trees and, though I've never dumpster-dived, what must be plenty of food (given the wastefulness of many of the tenants here). Though wild animals, they are quite comfortable living in urban areas; I'm sure my reader(s) who live in similar neighborhoods have occasionally found their garbage cans raided by them.

Anyway, it occurred to me that, while I've mentioned in passing some of the animals I've seen on my daily walks, I've never made a set list of the different species. So, that's what this post consists of below the fold.

I'll start with the mammals I've seen: possums, skunks (Scruffy's behavior upon seeing them suggests that he has not retained last year's multiple lessons administered to him), and raccoons. A couple of times, I have also seen either a nutria or a beaver swimming in the river; I suspect the latter, Kansas being well north of the southern states where nutrias are found. Squirrels and rabbits a-plenty as well.

Birds. Seen and identified: mallard ducks, woodducks, Canada geese (these have lately been gathering in the park in flocks approaching 100 in number; it's getting a bit unpleasant to walk through all the droppings they leave behind), white herons, white egrets, a subspecies of sandhill crane, mourning doves, kingfishers, a species of swallow, robins, cardinals. I've also occasionally seen a gull-like bird flying overhead. Heard: some sort of owl, who likes to be near and exchange hoots with one of the owls exhibited (they have two different species) in the small exhibit of Kansas wildlife in the park.

Fish. I'm sure there are other varieties there, but the only species I know for sure is there is the crappie. They feed so close to the surface that their backs and tail fins are visible above the water; some of them are so big that a couple of times, when they have jumped it has sounded like someone had thrown a large rock into the water.

Reptiles and amphibians. I have seen one box turtle in over a year of walking along this stretch of river. I've seen a couple of toads who lost encounters with cars in the park, and I've heard the occasional tree frog. Other than that, no sign of snakes or lizards. Given river's "sharp" shoreline, the lack of grasses and other ground cover along the shore, and the abundance of herons and egrets and mammals who eat reptile and amphibian eggs, their near absence isn't so surprising.

So: this stretch of river isn't exactly a complete ecosystem, but it is what it is, and it is enough for me, more often than not.


Ariel said...

I wish I had this river near my place. Have you read Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek? As a Thoreau lover and wildlife watcher, you'd better grab a copy.

R. Sherman said...

Thanks for taking us along on these walks. For my own personal reasons, they're good for the soul.