Thursday, July 31, 2008

Busy morning

It's hot and muggy here, so humid your skin feels damp the instant you step outside, even before you start to sweat. I am usually out on the trail just before sunrise, the coolest time of day, but when it's this humid even temps in the 70s feel pretty stifling. The animals don't seem to mind it. During last year's heat wave there were some eerily quiet mornings in the woods, but everybody was out and about today.

The good thing about the heat is that it makes me slow down and see more. I find myself stopping to look at fungi, bugs and other unglamorous things I'd be tempted to charge right past on a nice cool day. This morning I noticed a small fence lizard. I tried to watch him a while, but he didn't feature an audience. He started to scramble up a tree, somehow lost his footing, and then hid under the leaf litter. I thought about pursuing him, but decided against it.

That non-encounter happened shortly after another that was less disappointing. I was stumbling down a hill when a fat skunk trundled onto the path about 8 feet in front of me. I saw him just before he emerged from the brush along the trail. As he moved in my direction, I kept thinking about a story I heard from a friend recently, about a friend of hers who got a full-body spritz from a skunk that had wandered into her house. Weeks later she was still trying to de-skunkify herself. I stood absolutely still while my skunk got closer, oblivious to me as he snarfed up the black cherries that littered the ground. He was so close I was afraid he'd cut loose if I even moved to retreat. Luckily, the trail of cherries led him off the path and back into the trees before we collided. I was not tempted to follow.

Later I came across a group of four adult wild turkeys--not a chick in sight, which seems strange this time of year. They were scratching up the leaves to see what they could find. They had made a nice mess of the trail, throwing the damp leaves and dirt across it as they dug. They paid very little attention to me, only moving a few yards away as I passed through. Didn't make a sound. Very mellow turkeys.

There's a small lake midway along the trail I followed this morning. The sun was well up by the time I got there, but there was a family of barred owls still playing in the trees near the shore. I couldn't see all of them clearly, but I believe it was a mated pair and two chicks. There were a lot of baby begging calls and short hops from tree to tree by the young ones, who are probably not yet proficient flyers. I stayed there enjoying the lake for at least twenty minutes, and they never stopped squawking and flitting around. If they were supposed to be learning to hunt, it didn't seem to be going very well. Maybe it was just past their bedtime.

Photo of barred owl uploaded by Mwanner at Wikipedia