Monday, October 1, 2007

Wild animals of the North (Shore)



ok, we saw no moose or bears this time. we hardly ever do. (we once surprised a moose on the trail, and we once saw a bear in a tree, eating berries. but quite frankly i have seen more bears in duluth than i ever have up the Shore.)

we saw a handful of deer, but you always see deer. one autumn when i still lived in duluth i had to go to grand marais for a night meeting; i counted 82 deer on the side of the road, up and back.

the eagle didn't come to our lake this year, but we did see one in a dead tree along the gunflint. (and i waded through scratchy brush to take its picture.)

one day after the hike we were coming down a forest road north of hovland (we were about 30 miles from canada at that point) when a hawk swooped out of the sky and plucked some unfortunate creature out of the grass and then flapped off down the road with it clutched in its talons. it happened so fast that we couldn't identify the hawk or the prey--we just know that it died pretty quickly, whatever it was. hawks dig their talons repeatedly into whatever they grab, until it stops squirming.

we wasted most of one morning watching a small red squirrel fend off five blue jays from the feeder on our deck. if the jays had been bold enough to team up, they would have vanquished him easily, but they weren't that smart. instead, four of them would sit in the bushes and trees around the deck while one jay flew in, flapped its wings, and then flew off again. then another would fly in and give it a try.

we finally felt sorry for them and put out a paper plate of nuts and seeds for the jays. but all that did was make the squirrel even more determined to keep them away. i am lord and master of all i survey! he squeaked. with the arrival of the paper plate, he changed tactics: instead of parking himself in the middle of the feeder, he scampered down the deck railing and waited. when a jay or two flew in and approached the feeder or the plate, the squirrel suddenly zoomed into their midst, and the jays all flapped away in great annoyance.

our most interesting wildlife sighting, though, took place from the jeep. we were headed down the Caribou Trail toward highway 61 when doug said, "what's going on over there?" and i looked, and saw two red foxes engaged in what i first thought was enthusiastic play in a steep grassy area by the side of the road. one fox was red, and the other was darker--a red-brown, with black tipped fur. the red one was lying in the grass kicking, while the dark one whirled around it, darting in and out. it's the way boscoe and riley play, sometimes.

but these guys, i think, were not playing. when we stopped the truck, the darker fox ran off and hid in the ditch. after a moment, he left the ditch and streaked back into the woods. but the red fox just sat there and looked at us. after a moment, he lay down.

he seemed very calm, but i figure he must have been hurt or he would have run off, too. it was striking to see them fight, and to see the similarities in our dogs' behavior--to see that the play fighting that amuses us so much is really just a civilized version of the real thing.

we drove off and left the red fox lying in the grass. when we came back from our hike some hours later, he was gone.