Category Archives: Fauna

What goes up…


Just as “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink”, it’s said that “you can lead a cow up stairs, but it’s afraid to walk down stairs, and so, never will”. I know of one neighbor who often keeps new calves in her dining room the first few days of their lives without mishap, but no steps or ups and downs are involved there.

“A crane or tractor, and sometimes, a bullet.” was the grim response when I asked how the situation was resolved if some prankster actually succeeded in leading a cow up a flight of stairs. So, it’s probably best that the anecdote not be tested.

Passing by the huddle of girls above reminded me of this peculiarity of the bovine mind. For many minutes, the cows remained frozen along the bank. The calves, who blindly followed their elders, found themselves stranded half way up the slope when standing room ran out at the top.

One could almost imagine their thoughts:

“I know we must have gotten up here somehow because we are up here now. I think we were eating a nice patch of grass when all of a sudden we were up here, but I just can’t remember right now….”

“If only, oh, if only, if just one of us could figure out how to get down, we could all figure it out, and we’d be saved !”

I’m not sure whether it was memory, intelligence, or perhaps the fluttering of a nearby butterfly that drew one of the girl’s attention to another nearby patch of green along the top of the bank that spread out to the meadow below.

Whether by intelligence, or observation, one brave bossy stepped toward that grass patch that gently led down the slope. The herd followed and was saved from being stranded forever on the dirt bank.

Oh Happy Day!






These young mothers tend their fawns under mid-summer afternoon skies.

Just born, these babies are not much bigger than Dog, and not nearly as old and wise.

Still unacquainted with the dangers of roads and humans, it’s best they stay with mother for a while yet.

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

While driving slowly along Crystal Lake recently, we spotted this fellow (males have a red stripe on the cheek) flying from tree to tree along the shore.

Though rare, his kin has visited our backyard before, but this fellow was particularly memorable as his brilliant crest contrasted the silver grey of a rainy evening.

Not much later,  a bald eagle, worried by two large crows, flashed his head and tail brilliant white, just outside the dining room window.

Always good to “drop a gear” while wandering about the area. It is truly wonderful what becomes noticeable simply by reducing one’s pace.



This handsome fellow wandered the few feet from his roost, just enough to worry dog.

The weather is slightly more wintry than typical this time of year; snow earlier this week, and forecasted for tomorrow.  When viewed in the grand scheme of things, the weather is introducing somewhat of an air of normalcy to an otherwise, unseasonable winter and spring.

Gives one the impression that finally, Spring will catch up with itself, warm weather will come and stay.

Marmota Monax


The Marmota monax pictured above enjoying some evening fruit, recently began frequenting the pear tree in the back yard.

I’ve always felt a bit of a soft spot in my heart for these beings, as they seem to be reviled by most other creatures. Cows can twist or break a leg in a groundhog hole, farmers hate them because of this, and feel no remorse in dispatching them.

Even posters showing the various hunting regulations seem to be biased: The deer season shows a picture of a noble buck with a large rack, fishing season with a picture of a beautifully colored rainbow trout, and other seasons noting dates, times, and field limits. And then, there’s the black and white picture, more of a mugshot, of a groundhog at once looking a bit shifty and nervous. Under the photo the text: “No closed season – no limit”. Yup, groundhogs, kill as many as you want, whenever you want.

I killed one many years ago as it’s presence in the yard caused dog to become frenzied, nearly choking herself on her collar trying to chase the critter from her yard. It took me several mornings to finally terminate the rodent. I would sneak along the barn with my open sited .22 rifle, clad in my mud shoes and bathrobe. Invariably, the ground hog would see me, and scurry to safety before I could get off a shot. One morning, however, it seemed that he just gave up the struggle, sat there and let me shoot him. Repeatedly.

I carried his carcass, already fattened for the winter, jiggling on the blade of my shovel, quite a ways from the house so the dogs would not roll in it as it decomposed.

When I was very young, a neighbor who had been an admiral in the United States Navy would drive around the neighborhood in his beige Ford Falcon, and take me wood chuck hunting.
Under his guidance, I was learning to shoot so well that I was quickly developing the skill to be able to “drive nails in from 100 yards away” with a high powered rifle and scope. My hands and eyes were young, strong and steady, my skills were sharp, and the rifle was powerful and accurate. After a while, it seemed not much of a sport.

There were seemingly comical times. Once, though certain I had connected on a 200 yard shot, the ground hog stayed sitting upright, tilting slightly one way,  then back the other, until finally, just like in the cartoons, he fell completely over with all paws in the air.

For a very short time, I dabbled in killing rabbits, even though I didn’t eat them. Then one cold day, I shot a rabbit that was sitting a couple of hundred yards from me, and through the rifle scope saw that it’s corpse seemed to be smoking.

I walked up to the little critter, eyes still open, and noted a small smudge of blood behind it’s shoulder where the bullet entered; right where I had aimed. Lifting one of his paws revealed that the bullet expanded on impact, and entirely removed the other side of his body. What I thought was smoke, was actually steam rising from the warm, moist entrails I had caused to be exposed to the frosty air.

When I prepared the shot through the rifle scope, the rabbit seemed to look relaxed, calm, and happy to be eating some of the last grass of the faded summer. I squeezed the trigger, and before the rabbit heard the report of the rifle, he was on his way to whatever reward rabbits enjoy for spending time on this earth.

I continued to practice with the rifle for a while, but only on paper targets. I got to the point where I could pretty much hit anything I wanted within 200 yards. I didn’t eat what I killed, and so, lost interest in developing my marksmanship.

A few years ago, a neighbor called me over to kill a raccoon that was apparently rabid. I felt no remorse sending that critter on his way. I’ve since decided that though some may feel that other beings need to die, it’s no longer my desire to be an instrument of death – I’ll leave that to others.

And the groundhog that’s frequenting the yard? Dog doesn’t seem to be bothered too much by it; pears are so plentiful this year that she doesn’t mind sharing.

I sometimes find myself glancing at the .22 resting along the fireplace mantle, and wonder if, with my older eyes and hands, I could still make the shot to the ground hog at the back of the yard.

For the sake of everyone involved, I’ll just keep wondering.



While driving home late Saturday night, I noticed scurrying at the edge of the light cast by my auto’s headlights.

I moment later, I saw this fellow hurry up a tree as mother and sibling darted into the darkness.

This was the first raccoon spotted this summer. Those beings are pretty shy, and are rarely seen around here during the day.

A nice treat to see this family on one of the last few Summer evenings.

Leucistic Buzzard


While driving from Clifford toward Elkdale in the valley through which the east branch of the Tunkhannock Creek flows, I noticed a kettle of turkey buzzards riding a thermal to who knows where.

I did a double take, noticing that one of the birds was nearly completely white. It’s not uncommon to see more than one type of bird riding together on thermals, and figured a hawk of some kind had gotten into the mix.

But, after watching for a while, it was apparent that the white bird was a Turkey Buzzard. It’s flight pattern, with slightly twitching wings was the same as everyone else. Both the top and bottom of the wings were white, as was the entire body. The underside of the wings retained the silver feather pattern as typical buzzards,

Yup, that’s not something you see everyday.

That view was just slightly less impressive than the Blue Heron that was standing in the middle of the road a couple of miles later. That fellow, however, took off to the meadow before I could get a clear picture.

I wish I got a photo of this fellow standing in the middle of the road in all his lanky splendor – it looked like he stood more than 4 feet tall!


Neighbors Laurie Graham and Larry Wilson sent these photos of the white Turkey Buzzard:

White Turkey Vulture 9_6_15 #3 White Turkey Vulture 9_6_15 #2 White Turkey Vulture 9_6_15


Dinner from Mom


No doubt animals have feelings and thoughts, or at least instincts.

Who would deny that this little guy is having one of his best evenings of the summer?

Whether that vaguely uncomfortable sensation of need in his body provoked the thought “Hungry, I better go find mother”, or the instinct to follow his nose toward the familiar warmth of mother’s scent, the end result is the same: mouth to teat, milk to belly, belly filled, uncomfortable sensation replaced with contentment ensuing.

After eating his fill, he might be thinking “Good time for a nap!”, or feeling rejuvenated and energetic from his evening meal, maybe it’s time to find some pasture mates, nip at each other’s hooves and frolic. Or maybe just enjoy a full belly and stay where the comforting scent of mother is warmest and thickest.

Certainly animals are subject to sensations. The heartiest of cows and horses still need at least a three sided structure in their pasture within which to shelter themselves from driving wind. Horses and deer will bed in snow midway down a lee slope – far enough from the crest to avoid the worst of the wind, high enough from the bottom to avoid the coldest air that rolls down the slope and pools in valleys.

Some say cows are so sensitive that they can predict the weather. If cows are lying down in a pasture, it will rain; if standing, clear weather will prevail. Or, most often observed, some standing, some lying down – no doubt a reliable indication of partly cloudy weather 😉

Habit requires thought, or at least conditioning. Some evenings require a walk into the pasture to lead the herd back to the barn for milking. Some evenings, bags swollen, all the girls come back to the barn anticipating the relief milking will provide.

It is undeniable that cows have personalities. Some will wait patiently to be milked, some will kick and thrash about. Some seem to enjoy the pressure of the farmer’s head against their belly as he sqauts and applies the milking machine. Some seem rather modest and indignant to have their nipples washed, tolerating daily milking only for the relief it provides.

If large enough, a herd of cows will develop social cliques. Even within a small herd, cows have best friends, and those individuals they will avoid. Just like people, they are naturally attracted to some, and develop aversions to others.

It’s probably impossible to say if cows enjoy sunshine more than a cool gentle rain, or if they find the shape and texture of some clouds more pleasing then others. Their sentiments may be restricted to keeping in proximity of those individuals to whom they are drawn, finding where in the pasture the combination of moisture and sun causes the grass to grow most sweetly, where a shelter, natural or man made, provides the greatest comfort from the elements.

Cast this way, it’s pretty evident that when you get down to basics, cows are not much different than people: they like their bellies comfortably filled, they enjoy the company of their family and neighbors, and shelter from the elements.