Encounters with Wild Critters
Bears and Chickadees
I went out on the deck early to feed the birds and was startled to hear a shotgun blast from across the road. There was a house somewhere behind the trees, but firing guns was forbidden in this area, and I had never heard one here. Immediately, a cinnamon-colored bear tore across a ridge from the direction of the gunshot, and it was likely someone had just decided to scare him off. He did not look hurt and settled down to a lope, then came down the hill 100’ or so to the left of my home. I scrambled for my camera and when I came out, he was crossing the road to my land. He headed up the hill I live on, still a good distance on my left and then, as though he had read a street sign, he stopped suddenly and turned to head in my direction. I was standing, I realized, next to a suet feeder on the deck, and he must have crossed the scent. It was spring but snowy, and I didn’t think the bears were out yet, so I hadn’t taken the suet feeders in. This bear was out yet. My deck is on the second floor, and I didn’t think I was in any particular danger, so I kept shooting, all the time thinking the profound thought, “Please be in focus. Please be in focus.” He didn’t seem to notice me at first, but then 30’ away he looked directly at me, paused, and turned up the hill.
Pleased with the encounter, close but safe, and with a camera no less, I went back inside. An hour later I was sitting in a chair by the window, engrossed in a book, when I looked up to find Cinnabar, as he came to be known, standing on his hind legs on the deck reaching for a suet feeder. I had not heard him come up the stairs, climb over the gate at the top of the stairs, or pass within a few feet on his way to the suet feeder. I can get a bit absorbed when I read or write.
This bear encounter was a whole different thing. He was on my DECK. My doors are glass; I have large, accessible glass windows all across this section of the house, and between a bear and glass, I would put money on the bear should he feel so inclined. I jumped up and started hoping up and down yelling at Cinnabar to go away. He was, thank God, a black bear, and they are far less aggressive than the grizzlies that Colorado doesn’t have. Had it been a grizzly I would probably have hid behind the couch and hoped he was only after suet. Cinnabar seemed to sigh, dropped down to four feet, and ambled back to the gate, then flowed over it. He was as light on his feet as a dancer.
The problem was the chickadees and the woodpecker. They got used to their suet feeders in the winter when the bears were hibernating, and when I tried to take them away after Cinnabar showed up on my deck, they would stand accusingly on the rail of the deck while I ate breakfast and glare at me through the window. Even the woodpecker was pissed. He would stand on the window frame, where a feeder had been, and peck furiously at the house.
I withstood it for a couple of weeks, then emboldened by someone who thought there wouldn’t be a problem if I took put the suet feeders out after dawn and took them in before dusk, I put them back up. I put them in less obvious places but, of course, scent is not going away because the feeder is next to the window and not hanging from the roof over the deck. One morning, a small platinum-colored bear, his coat still shedding, thundered up the stairs to the deck on small black feet–well, small for a bear. The previous bear was much bigger and had slipped quietly up the stairs without making the sound of a falling leaf. This youngster had not mastered the art of stealth. He stomped up the stairs sounding like the entire Green Bay Packers team and looked curiously through the window next to where I was sitting. I had wondered who the heck was coming to visit and who could possibly make that much noise and turned to see a bear’s head two feet from me through the window. His head seemed to fill the entire space. I jumped up and began yelling, doing what was becoming my standard bear dance, but this youngster was not particularly impressed and kept looking at me appraisingly as I went through my wild routine.
Yes, I had bear spray (not going outside to use it) and a horn (no time to find it) and a gun (last resort — for use only if he comes through the glass). He finally ambled off, and unlike his graceful elder who flowed over the gate to the deck headfirst, he swung around on his belly halfway across and let himself down to the step below, feet first, like a child who isn’t sure his feet will reach the floor. He ambled off looking cheerful and unabashed in the bright sunshine. Gotta take the suet feeders down again.
The Moose You See and The Moose You Don’t See
The moose you don’t see stands majestically, drinking from the clear Lake oblivious to the shiny reflection touching his nose. He has a kind eye, and if he knew you were there, you are sure he would know that you mean him no harm. He doesn’t know, of course, because you are stealthy and silent and crept up on him unaware. You are sure of all of this because you have seen Disney.
The moose you actually see is a cranky and paranoid looking fellow sniffing the air and looking around for — what? Another bull moose, cows — God forbid — you? Sure, you knew that moose were big, but you are a flea looking up at the Hulk. Worse. This fellow looks like he could hold his own with a brontosaurus. You are not at all sure he understands you mean him no harm, and you don’t think he would give you the benefit of the doubt. You feel like yelling, “I belong to PETA,” but you decide it unwise.” You also think about yelling, “The only thing I have ever shot is a tin can, and I feel bad about that.“ But again you decide to refrain. This moose does not have a kind eye,
The couple stood there, side by side looking out. Were they surveying their vast domain, or maybe just looking out at the bright pink and orange Colorado sunset? I stopped and aimed my camera at the very top of the distant Colorado pine. In the twilight, I could only capture silhouettes, but the sight made me say a silent prayer to be reincarnated as a raven in the Colorado wilderness. I stayed until night fell, and still, they did not move.
I had already found their nest, a giant contraption put together from sticks (not twigs, sticks) in the open rafters of a house being built. It sprawled at least four feet. I could not see the soft inner nest without climbing up and facing two giant irate parents. I considered it but decided that with Covid about, it was not a good idea to show up at an emergency room with my face half torn off. Apparently, my fears were for nothing because I later read the naturalist, Bernd Heinrich, climbed giant trees and robbed raven nests for eggs that he hatched to foster the young. But these local birds seemed fiercely protective of their nest and even if I had read Heinrich then, I doubt I would have tried. Maybe Maine ravens tolerated such antics, but I wasn’t sure that Colorado ravens did. Besides, I had a thing about intruding. What if they abandoned the nest with the eggs already in it? There are crimes and there are sins, and this would be both. So, I would sit on the grass as close as I could get, listening to the young. The couple never warmed up to me and dive bombed me a couple of times when I got too close to the nest. I was there, shortly after they were hatched, and from the very beginning, the young had a squawk that didn’t say, “Could I please have dinner?” It was more along the lines of, “If you don’t feed me RIGHT NOW, I will tear your throat out with a spoon.” Ravens weren’t prey; they were predators, and even the young were fierce.