Thursday, November 11, 2010

Reading Sign

Ben Irving Reservoir, Douglas County, Oregon

Ahhhhh….. Finally. Tonight I get to set down at my beloved PC and polish some journal scribbles. Life is still way too full of working through the differences between Dale’s new I Mac and my trusty old PC. I’m still his guru, but I’ve exhausted all expertise and myself. Were I to do it over I would have immediately demanded a recommendation for a third party manual (Apple doesn’t print one) and then I would have had someone lock me in a windowless room for two weeks while I figure the dang thing out … with a big box of chocolates to comfort me. I’ve called Apple support at least 15 times, I’ve contacted friends, and I now have a third party manual. There is light at the end of the tunnel, maybe. I keep thinking I’m making progress and then I stumble again. My sanity has been taking advantage of scattered days of sunshine…. like today.

So on to today’s notes….

We’ve retuned to Ben Irving Reservoir, the same spot where I sat in the warm sun and sketched the striped meadowhawk (dragonfly) eight days ago. So very different today. Quiet. Damp. Cool. Still. Far off a raven flies, croaking as he wings his way out of sight. Quiet again. Then a flicker’s call notes drift out of the deep woods to the north. Peaceful out here. It is hard to find even a spider. We inadvertently flushed the handful of ducks that were in this end of the reservoir. Far off an egret slowly stalks in the shallows.

We saw one dragonfly pop off the sun-warmed asphalt when we first arrived. Then the thin haze thickened and erased all hope of seeing another. No matter. The recent rains have left large spotches of mud on the open banks of the reservoir. One of the things I missed most, during the years Dale was on two canes, was poking about reading sign with him. We both have natural history in our backgrounds, but from very different sources. Dale started hunting at an age which would turn modern social services apoplectic. Three men; his father, a Winnebago Indian, and an old trapper, taught him about the woods and fields. I hunted too, but started at a later age. Both my parents were ornithologists. My mother loved to show me sign left by wildlife. Dale and I still surprise each other with odd bits of information we have each picked up. We both gave up hunting years ago. Stalking with the camera and sketchbook has taken over.

Tracks tell us that a deer walked to the water edge; ducks waddled down muddy tire tracks; worms squiggled in a thin slurry of mud; and a shorebird, probably a killdeer, poked about. Killdeer don’t have a hind toe, just three forward toes.

But now we are scratching our heads. I thought I saw raccoon tracks … I did, about ten yards away. Raccoons have five well developed toes on their front feet. I can close my eyes and remember the warm feel of the soft leathery hands of my pet raccoon, Heidi, poking her hands in my ears, in my nose, between my toes. So inquisitive.

These tracks are about the same size as a raccoon’s, but different. Is it opossum? Opossums have a funny toe, but I can’t remember just how. The front foot of this mammal has four spread out toes and a stump of a toe. Dale keeps thinking the hind foot reminds him of a beaver. But where is the broad tail drag a beaver should leave? Then our friend, Eleanor, sees a thin tail drag. Finally we have our “Ah Ha” moment.

We’ve been focusing on native species. This one is an unwelcome exotic, a nutria. I saw a young one swimming in the reservoir earlier in the summer.

Nutria were imported from South America to Louisiana in the 1930s for fur farming. Unfortunately they either escaped or were released. Since then these semi aquatic rodents have spread to several of the milder state. Nutria demolish aquatic vegetation wherever they go, eating a quarter of their body weight every day. We see them all too often in Oregon.

When we get home I refresh my memory about an opossum’s track. Their hind foot has a toe off at an odd angle, rather like our thumb ….. better to climb with. My track sketch is perfect for a nutria.


  1. It always makes me sad when I see a released exotic animal. They couldn't help it but they are taking the space and resourses of our native wildlife that struggle to find any wild areas to survive. Sigh~~ I always try to figure out what tracks I am seeing. I too hunted when younger. I really just liked to be out and about. I rarely killed anything. I talked too much etc. ha..

  2. these are so cute! I enjoy seeing what you create.

  3. I just stumbled on this blog ( and thought you might enjoy it (so you can do some reminiscing about Heidi). Lovely post as usual.