Memorable encounters with wildlife

I recently started a little side project, a Twitter stream called @OutdoorsNewYork. It’s an outgrowth of my camping hobby (it includes news about the state park system and the DEC). But I’m also interested in reporting items about our increasing awareness of and contact with wild animals in New York’s more urbanized and suburbanized realms. After all, we all have to live together.

This winter, we had the amazing experience of realizing that bald eagles had once again taken up seasonal residence on Onondaga Lake. Last year, there was the wandering bear in Geddes. Those are the most memorable communitywide encounters with animals we’ve had recently. (Downstate, there are persistent reports of a mysterious “black panther” surfacing, which could be a melanistic bobcat.)

There are two personal encounters I recently had with wildlife that come to mind. One was funny, the other profound.

The funny one happened a couple years ago when I was en route to a Christmas party in outer Strathmore, just below Woodland Reservoir. There I was, navigating the icy sidewalk in the dark, and I looked up to see a large deer walking toward me on a collision course. The fact that it was courteously using the sidewalk just cracked me up. (And, this is not exactly the booneys. Just another reason why I like living around Syracuse’s wild southwestern quarter, the only one not chopped up by a bypass.) Even funnier was my reaction: I crossed over to the other side of the street, like the deer was a shady character not to be trusted.

The other memorable encounter happened in my back yard. My neighbor has a chain-link fence. The smaller birds like to use it as a communal perch sometimes. One day I looked out and saw a bird struggling on the fence. I went out to investigate. In a freak accident, a male sparrow had somehow slipped down between one of the links, and now his leg was hideously caught, jammed between the metal wires right up to his body. He had beaten his wings bloody trying to get free. My neighbor was able to hold him still so I could work on getting him loose (and to prevent the total destruction of his wings), but his little leg was stuck in there tighter than you could imagine (and in a way that would have made using wire cutters impossible). And we couldn’t give up, because it would just have been a horrible way for him to slowly die.

I suppose that if we were guys, we would have had the guts to just break his neck and put him out of his misery. But finally after about 15 minutes, I was able to pop his leg out of there (which must have been double agony). Immediately he was off like a shot, fluttering on the ground and making for the bushes, before we could do anything else for him.

It was sad, because I knew he wasn’t going to live much longer. Even if a predator didn’t get him, he would soon starve. But at least he was now free to meet his own fate in a place of his choosing, not strung up like a free meal for any passing cat. In the end, that’s why freedom matters – it’s not how you live, it’s how you depart.

What have been your most memorable meetings?

3 Replies to “Memorable encounters with wildlife”

  1. We jokingly refer to our little 24-acre woods on the edge between suburbs and rural Tompkins County as the Coyote Ranch at times– bcuz we do provide the habitat for quite a batch of coyotes to raise families. We hear them all the time, but see them much less frequently. One of my very most memorable experiences was having the chance this past winter to watch a couple over the course of about 15 minutes in a very nuanced mating interaction, which could be roughly translated as several iterations of “But, honey, you so fine, I just gotta….” followed by “Off my tail, you dog, I am NOT feelin’ interested….”

  2. Seeing otters in Ballston Lake. The mink on my bird feeder. Eagles on Round Lake while we were kayaking. The martin that sauntered across the lawn where I was working in Burnt Hills. Bear eyes peeking at us up the street from where we live in Galway.

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