Last week I wrote about some of the non-domestic critters I have owned or cared for. I wrote about a fox, Screech Owls, a snake, and one of my two beavers. I neglected to mention that the baby beaver was depicted on the front page of the Birmingham News nursing on my Doberman alongside three of the dog’s suckling puppies. It was also featured in a cartoon in the magazine, Outdoor Life, holding a sign saying “HALT” in front of a bulldozer. The cartoonist had heard of the beaver’s trying to protect its pond from a trespassing ‘dozer.
The second beaver was a baby rescued from a lodge in a pond the property owner was poised to drain. When it was half-grown, Janie and I would take it to Husky Kirkwood’s pond for swimming exercises. The pond was inhabited by a six-foot alligator. On one occasion we were watching the beaver swim. When it was about 100 yards from the bank, we noticed the wake of the gator as it swam toward the beaver. Janie was alarmed. “The alligator is going to attack our beaver. Do something,” she said. I replied, “I’m afraid the beaver is a goner, and there’s nothing I can do to save it.” In a minute or two the gator’s wake and that of the beaver converged, and a violent thrashing occurred. To my surprise the gator and the beaver went their separate ways, and the beaver, unharmed, returned to the pond bank. I surmise that the gator wasn’t hungry enough to warrant its trying to make a meal of the beaver.
On some weekends we would visit the Northcutt’s cabin on Lake Martin and bring the beaver. The children enjoyed swimming and playing with the beaver, and the beaver obviously enjoyed their company. One day the adults had gone up to the cabin, and after a while the youngsters came up, but without the beaver. “Where’s the beaver?,” I asked. One said that he was still at the lake shore. I went down, but couldn’t find the beaver. I called his name, “ Beve,” but to avail. I assume he had become lonesome and was searching for some more playmates. We never saw Beve again.
The first raccoon I had was given to me by an acquaintance who had found it in the woods. It was about a month old and the coon and a young dog I had enjoyed playing together. When I was not at home the coon was kept in a large cage. One evening, after having been gone for most of the day on a trip with my parents, I checked on the coon and the cage door was open. “Rascal,” was his name, and I shouted it over and over. About that time, my mother called and said I had a phone call. I answered, and a lady asked me, “Do you by chance have a pet coon?”
I said I did, but that he had escaped. “I believe we have your coon,” and she told me where she lived, which was about a mile up the road.
I drove to her residence, and Rascal was on their screen porch. She and her husband let me in and Rascal climbed up the leg of my pants and perched on my shoulder. They were amazed.
They told me they had a cat that would scratch on the back door when it wanted in. They heard scratching on the door, opened it, and to their surprised in came the coon. “We used a broom to get it on the screen porch,” they said. “A neighbor told us that you had a pet coon, and that’s why we called you.”
When Rascal became fully mature he would only allow me to pet or play with him. If someone else tried, he would growl and bare his teeth. Daddy was afraid he would bite somebody and he would be responsible. “It’s time we allowed Rascal to return to the wild,” he told me, and I reluctantly agreed.
Another coon I acquired, when nearly grown, managed to escape from its cage one night and raided a neighbor’s chicken pen. I suspected he was the culprit when I saw chicken feathers in the back yard, but when the neighbor told me she believed it was my coon that killed her chickens, I fibbed and told her, “It must have been some other animal, my coon would never kill a chicken.” But when Daddy came home, saw some chicken feathers in the yard, and heard of the chicken-house raid, He said, “I’ll pay the woman for any chickens she lost, and the coon’s got to go.” And go he did, in the same desolate swamp we’d released Rascal.
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The monsoons we’ve been having since late June have been a godsend. As of last Sunday, eleven inches of precious rain have fallen on my formerly drought-stricken property. My frogs are happy, the moistures have met, my creeks are gurgling, and the level of my pond is rising. I may be one of a tiny minority of Lee County residents who are glad that Auburn and Opelika postponed their customary Fourth of July fireworks displays until September or later. I have always suspected that the spectacular displays scare the living daylights out of songbirds. Quite a few are still nesting and rearing young in early July, several species of which are experiencing survival problems. To my knowledge, the only native birds still nesting as late as September in our area are Mourning Doves, and they seem to be thriving. On the subject of birds, my limited observations lead me to believe that Wild Turkeys are declining in number in these parts and have been for the past few years. I wonder if any other bird watchers share my beliefs.
Bob Mount is a Professor Emeritus with the Dept of Zoology and Entomology, Auburn Univ. He is also chairman of the Opelika Order of Geezers, well-known local think tank and political clearing house. He writes about birds, snakes, turtles, bugs and assorted conservation topics.