BY MARK MATHOSIAN
For a few years, my wife Kathy and I lived in a large residential community. Our neighborhood had single-family homes, townhouses, commercial shopping, and apartments. It is not the kind of place you expect to see wildlife. However, that assumption is totally wrong.
Early one Sunday morning I went for a walk for exercise. Within an hour I spotted or heard lots of wildlife. I stayed on the sidewalk or close to the developer’s fences along a major boulevard that ran through the heart of our community. I walked slowly, often stopping to look and listen. As I got close to the end of the road, I spotted my first critter, a small gray squirrel. To be more accurate, the squirrel spotted me. It was gathering acorns from under an oak tree near the sidewalk. As I approached, the squirrel quickly bounded into the woods without looking back.
The next animal to cross my path was a rabbit, an eastern cottontail. Again, this encounter didn’t last long. What I mostly remember is watching its round white tail bouncing up and down as it hopped very quickly into the woods and out of sight.
The next two encounters proved to be a bit more exciting. I walked a few yards and glanced up at a nearby tree line just in time to see a large broad-winged hawk land on a tree branch about 50 feet above my head. I stopped and stared, hoping not to scare it away. Surprisingly, the hawk didn’t seem to care I was there. We stared at each other for a while, and I decided not to press my luck and slowly walked off. The hawk’s eyes followed my every move, but it never attempted to fly away. That was a cool encounter. However, I was in for an even bigger surprise just up the road.
While walking slowly, I scanned a woods line about 100 yards away that ran parallel with the boulevard. I spotted an animal near the edge of the woods but wasn’t sure what it was. The animal spotted me around the same time. Then I realized, to my surprise, it was a river otter. Because I was so far away, it didn’t view me as a threat. Instead of dodging back into the woods the otter crossed my path and scurried towards the road. The otter headed towards an empty conservation sump next to the road.
As the otter passed in front of me, I saw it was a full grown specimen. Its fur shined beautifully in the bright morning sun, and I could clearly see its eyes and whiskers. I watched motionless as it gracefully scurried under a wire fence in front of the empty sump and headed towards the forest. Before reaching the woods, the otter came close to the tree where the hawk was perching. I am sure the hawk saw the otter, and I wondered if the hawk would go after it. However, the otter scurried into the woods before it reached the hawk’s tree.
The next few critters I spotted or heard were birds. First, a skein of huge Canada geese flew over my head, honking loudly as they passed. Wild Canada geese were a common sight since there were several lakes in the area.
A few minutes later I heard bobwhite quail whistling high pitched calls from somewhere in the woods. I never actually saw quail, but it was nice to know they were there. Large black crows cawed loudly over the trees, way up in the sky and were almost impossible to see. Small sparrows chirped loudly and dodged quickly between low hanging branches of trees along the sidewalk just barely out of reach.
What I didn’t see on this particular stroll were any white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, raccoons or mourning doves that lived in and around our neighborhood. I had seen them in the past, sometimes during early morning and sometimes in the early evening just before sunset.
The message of this story is this. If you walk leisurely around your community and pay attention to your surroundings, you too, will see some of Mother Nature’s critters. I also believe you will occasionally be surprised by what you see, the same way I was when I spotted the big-eyed river otter.