Wildlife, Wildlife, Wildlife

The elk in the horse herd, before Mocha adopted her

Interacting with wildlife can lead to some interesting situations. Urban wildlife, of course, tends toward possums, raccoons, and the occasional interloping deer, coyote, cougar or bear. Many years ago, when we had our first rabbit, he woke us in the middle of the night by thumping loudly on the wooden floor of his hutch. He hadn’t done it before and didn’t do it after that.

But that night his thumps were loud, carried quite a ways, and I could not find a reason for it — until the next morning, when I heard that a bear had swum the Willamette River, climbed up out of Oaks Bottom, and wandered into the Brooklyn neighborhood. Judging from the assorted reports I read, our young rabbit was thumping roughly about the time said young bear was climbing out of the bottom and had been sighted about a half mile from our house.

Other than that, until we left Portland, our various wildlife encounters were things like the mother raccoon who led her babies under the deck one night while we were sitting out there with friends. Or another young raccoon another summer who decided that instead of following Mama discreetly along the fence like his siblings, he needed to investigate what was happening on the deck with the humans. Mama was not happy about that, needless to say. Or the feral peafowl who occasionally wandered through the yard. Or the crows who enjoyed peering down through the skylights and teasing scrub jays.

Then we moved to a small town high in the Northeastern Oregon mountains. We have town deer — one herd of about ten mule deer and an encroaching smaller herd of whitetail deer. This past winter, the deer decided that wandering by our house to lick up sunflower seed shells in search of the occasional rejected seed was worth their while. The does flush — but there’s a couple of bucks who won’t spook away but stand there defiantly, glaring at us.

But those stories pale beside the two big wildlife events of this past winter.

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You have to understand, my mare Mocha is often a pretty good horse. She’s athletic, smart, and while opinionated is often capable of placing well at horse shows. She’s reliable on roads and enjoys trails. She works well under saddle and for the most part is a fun companion.

BUT. She has her moments, including a desire to attach herself to various companions. While sometimes I don’t mind her attachments, there are times when it drives me crazy…and this is one of those moments.

You see, my mare has decided that she is mama to a yearling cow elk. This elk started hanging out with the horse herd a few weeks back when she decided that hanging out with horses and getting fed hay daily beat the heck out of chasing around with the elk herd fighting her way through fences and scrounging whatever she could find to eat. All well and good.

But then, suddenly, the ranch owner messaged me that Mocha had adopted the elk. Sent me video of Mocha tagging along behind the elk, Mocha coming for hay with the elk behind her, told me that Mocha was keeping the elk separate from the herd. Oh dear.

Her last attachment was to a yearling filly that she had been a surrogate mama to during that filly’s first year. Things had been fairly mellow until last fall, when she decided to play keep-away with said filly, pitched a fit when separated from the filly, and, when I went to catch her, tore around after the filly, resulting in an hour’s worth of pursuit.

We fixed that one by putting Mocha in a pen for a few days. That broke the link.

But putting Mocha in a pen now wouldn’t solve anything, because the pens were flooded and snowy, thanks to the twists of the winter season. I dreaded that first catching session because I feared it would be a repeat of what had happened last fall. I enlisted my husband in the pursuit job, figuring that between the two of us we could eventually run the horse down in a 50-acre pasture.

It was every bit as bad as I feared. The elk took one look at us and took off. Mocha followed. We chased horse and elk around the pasture until Mocha stopped, huffing and puffing from tearing around the snowy, icy pasture. We weren’t in much better condition than she was, but hey, at least we got our exercise.

Fortunately, that first session was the worst of it. I got smart and carried an unwrapped peppermint, crackling it at Mocha every time we got close. It didn’t take long before her taste for peppermints, cookies, and grain overruled her desire to be a wild elk mama. Oh, and the fact that humans have all sorts of interesting tools to scratch the itchy spots on a shedding horse’s hide.

So far, so good. We’re now down to one person chasing Mocha and it’s a heck of a lot easier to get around the pasture now that the snow and ice are gone. She’s pretty good about it, though this evening when she somehow couldn’t find her elk baby she tore around like a wild thing until she did. Sigh. I suppose eventually this bond will come to an end.

I just keep hoping she’ll make better choices next time she decides to bond with something.

Midway through this transition, we went to Portland and to my sister-in-law’s place on the coast, whereupon the second odd wildlife incident of the winter happened.

Now I’m accustomed to the occasional testosterone-crazed male bird attacking his reflection in the window. Our friend in the Coast Range has a towhee who, year after year, does just that. But I’ve not encountered any bird other than that towhee who attacks reflections on a regular basis (though I have heard reports of peacocks and male turkeys doing so).

Certainly not chickadees.

So I was sitting at my sister-in-law’s table after breakfast, contemplating social media and sucking down another cup of coffee before retreating back to my refuge in order to pound out another batch of words on the current fantasy novel. I heard a thump on the window and looked up. A chickadee was fluttering by it, not particularly aggressive.

Huh, I thought. Don’t see any spiderwebs with bugs on it there. I had previously seen sparrows and chickadees occasionally harvesting bugs from various spiderwebs in the soffits and windowsill corners of various houses.

Thump! Well, that didn’t seem quite right. Said chickadee was whacking itself against the middle of the window.

And then that chickadee emitted a mighty, miniature screech that was pure throwback to his dinosaur ancestors in an eentsy-beentsy package of pure primal rage that would have been terrifying had he been oh, about two hundred times bigger. I have never, ever heard such a noise coming from such a tiny thing. That silly chickadee commenced to pummel the window for a solid five minutes, screaming like a diminutive banshee.

Then he attacked another window.

By that time my husband and his nephew had gone outside to work, and Mr. Chickadee flew off.

I thought that was the end of it. But no, the next afternoon he was back at it, more intensely than ever.

We left shortly after that, and for all I know, that chickadee is still fighting that doggone other chickadee that he just can’t get his claws on.

And now I wonder what the next wildlife encounter will be. We’ve already had the injured male peregrine who distinguished himself at the rehab center by ripping off his bandages.

With any luck, it won’t be a hungry cougar wandering through town.

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