The Wildlife in My Wild Life – Photo Essay

Since I live in Colorado, I’m always on the lookout for wildlife. I’ve spotted them on hikes, while skiing, or through a car window. Prehistoric porcupines, bear, elk, common deer, bighorn sheep, you name it. But this year, my wild life has gotten wilder. Several otherwise elusive creatures have made appearances in the most unlikely of places: My home.

Bullsnakes have made their way into my home twice. A newborn made its way through a light fixture since I found it on top of my flat file. It became a pet for the winter. The kids released it the following summer. The other must have pushed its way through the doggie door. I thought it was one of the rubber snakes from downstairs carried by our Bichon, Roxy. Nope! I put it in an aquarium until the weather warmed up and then let it go. The one in the picture was full grown (about four feet long) when I found in the garage. I picked it up and released it into the garden.

bull snake in yard

Several families of owls love to perch on and around my house. As the sun sets every night, I can hear a couple hoo-hooting to each other.

owl hanging out on roof

Two weeks ago, something hit a window. I rushed to my back door to see. A baby owl sat on the stoop. I waited until he flew away to be sure he didn’t become dinner for one of several hungry predators who lurk in our yard at night.

Last week, I heard the most annoying screeching sound. When the dog went nuts, I ran to the window. A huge owl stood on a planter screeching, “Good morning.” Ha! Worst sound ever.

Click to see the video –

While in Europe after a disastrous water leak from a demon washing machine, our wood floor guy, Nick took pictures of a lynx! Yes, this is our deck.

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According to my neighbor, two bobcats hung out at the front door while we were gone. Make yourself at home, why don’t ya? Of course, I never saw them after returning from our trip. Gah!

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In April, an enormous gold “housecat” walked around the pond. Later, I found out a young cougar has made our neighborhood its hangout. Unlike the lynx in the photo above, its tail is long. It’s a yearling and still pretty small, but the doggie door is shut until further notice. Poor Roxy.

Remember Roxy and the Coywolf? I don’t trust that she’s learned her lesson. She got lucky when that beast laughed and released her from its jaws in 2015. This time too.

Roxy in the window

As I’m typing this, I’m at a desk in the window being totally distracted by the backyard view. You never know what might take a shortcut through our property…

Our family had an unexpected visit last Sunday up in Breckenridge. I’ve seen them at Brainard Lake, at the bottom of Peak 7, but not in my neighborhood!

My husband, Danny, rushed toward me as I walked out of the kitchen. He had an insane look on his face. My first thought was whatever he would say next would be completely sarcastic. “There’s a moose in the driveway!” he screamed. Yes. SCREAMED!

Stained glass windows flank the front door. I saw a massive black shadow beyond. Instead of running for my camera, I rushed downstairs and shouted to my son who talked with his girlfriend on the phone.

He ran upstairs and used Facetime to show her the incredible sight. Right outside our picture window stood a full-grown male moose complete with wicked cool antlers. A yearling grazed nearby. We trapped the dogs in the basement to keep them from frightening the pair.

When my wild life meets wildlife

Click to see the video –

After taking a few photos, we caught our breath. Minutes later, another shadow graced our front doorway. The cow brought up the rear of the little family.

Incredible!

As the sun sinks lower in the sky, I’m still waiting for my glimpse of the elusive wildcats. It’s 4:30 and owls have begun their hooting chant. Another just landed on our roof. The raccoons will scout and a pack of coyotes may send out an eerie cry.

I love where I live. There’s plenty of room for all of us.

Click for more of my Wild Ride.

Related posts:

What was she thinking?

The Moose is Loose!

Not in My Neighborhood!

Taking It to New Heights – A snake encounter…

Have you seen any unusual wildlife? Has your life gotten wilder lately?

The Moose is Loose!

I have always wanted to shoot a moose… with my camera. They are huge animals which can be aggressive and dangerous. They are also majestic and fearless, qualities I have always admired.

A few years ago, I freaked out and fumbled with my phone as a cow and her calf pranced by the liftline in Breckenridge. By the time I pulled off my mittens to take the shot, they had dashed into the forest.

Last Friday night, Danny and I walked the Pearl Street in Boulder after dinner. We stopped in a shop and I overheard a conversation about a moose encounter. The man and his wife had dropped off their daughter at CU and then hiked Brainard Lake, about forty-five minutes away in the mountains.

“I want to see a moose,” I whined like a two-year-old.

He pulled out his phone and showed me the extraordinary photos of a bull moose whose antlers were in velvet. Can you imagine stumbling over them in the spring? Whoa…

I Jonesed for a moose encounter, but Danny planned to play golf on Saturday afternoon. He doesn’t doesn’t have the opportunity very often. He had a meeting on Sunday. Hiking would have to wait.

With rising temperatures Saturday morning along with smoke from Western fires, he hoped to finish some yard work in the morning while I hosted a Drop and Hop Party on my blog.

Then divine intervention occurred.

He cut his right hand with the hedge trimmer. I sent him to Urgent Care and then found out how it happened. I won’t laugh because the last time, this happened…

After four stitches (only a flesh wound between his index finger and thumb) he was told to skip tennis and golf for the next ten days.

Now the afternoon was WIDE OPEN!

“You want to hike Brainard Lake?” he asked.

“Yes!” I abandoned my party. We packed water and snacks in one backpack and then stuffed jackets into another. We drove up Lefthand Canyon.

Like we had expected, the temperature was in the low 70’s. There were others hiking, but it wasn’t crowded like Rocky Mountain National Park. That place is a zoo in the summer.

We hiked on a trail through the aspen and evergreen forest up a thousand feet to another small lake in the high alpine environment.

moose munch

It was ablaze with wildflowers.

We avoided loud conversationalists and listened for breaking branches. A dude with a boom box passed us with his posse. Okay. This is a wilderness area and the third time this year someone has blared music while hiking. What are they thinking?

I had to say something this time.

“Dude. Although I appreciate that your music is turned down to a reasonable level, this is a place where people go for peace and quiet. You should turn it off.”

The group kept walking. He yelled something back at me. I think he said, “Thanks! Have a nice day.” Pshh.

The temperature dropped and the wind picked up. I didn’t want to get caught in a storm. It was hard to tell what kind of weather was afoot with all the smoke. We turned around. Continue reading

Stalked – 100 Word Flash Fiction

Wheat swaying in the moonlight swished like waves in an iridescent sea. She cut a path through the field, propelled by hunger and the seductive aroma of dinner. Clouds that had flitted across the sky now obliterated the only light source and she found herself concentrating on her footing.themoon

Continue reading

Not in My Neighborhood!

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I could hardly contain my excitement as my family drove  down the steep hill entering Lake Wingra Park’s one-way road along the shoreline. It was always difficult to find a parking space on a Sunday, but somehow we always managed. We entered the Henry Vilas Zoo under a canopy of mature trees. The musky scent of animals struck me along with a lightened heart in anticipation.

We always started with the lions, working our way past the rhinos, the incredibly long spotted necked giraffes, and then would stop to say hello to Winky the elephant. We would saunter on to the seals and the monkey house. I would giggle with my sister at the pink bottoms of the orangutans.  As we wound our way towards the bear’s outdoor exhibit, I would sprint up to my favorite animals in the zoo. The prairie dogs were contained in a free standing circular upright structure. Their silly antics would keep me occupied while everyone else was ready to move on to the bears. These very social mammals would pop their heads up out of their holes and with a comedic twist would check to see what their neighbors were up to. I imagined the conversations they were having.

“Oh! There you are!”

“Oh! Look! There’s cousin Clyde!

Once they were out of their burrow, they would stand up on their hind legs with their short forelegs dangling, and would make high pitched barking sounds. Sometimes they would appear to kiss each other. From their whiskers to their little brown tipped tails they would twitch with a zest for life that made me smile from ear to ear. I would walk around the display several times before one of my parents would lead me away.

Many years later after moving to Boulder, Colorado, I detected movement along the road while driving down Foothills Parkway.  I suddenly recognized a familiar head poking up through the ground.  You can imagine my delight and amazement when reuniting with my little prairie dog friends. Nothing made me happier than strolling or biking by their little burrows in the ground with their cute little faces popping up to greet me. It seemed as though we had encroached on their prairie and they had adapted well to these urban conditions.

I became so crestfallen upon learning these oversized rodents are such a nuisance. They can carry sylvatic and bubonic plague through the fleas that live in their heavy coat and ruin property with their burrowing.  Their contact with curious family pets could result in spreading the fatal disease. I quickly became aware of the netted fencing along property lines including baseball diamonds, farmer’s fields, and golf courses. Because these mammals are very social, they will not burrow where the view of their colony could be obstructed. This somewhat deters their burrowing, but doesn’t prevent a new family of them from entering the property to start a new underground “town.”

When we first moved to our new neighborhood, I would take a hike with my children to watch the prairie dogs in a nearby open space. Just like me, my children enjoyed watching their quirky behavior from a distance. I have never been in any fear of them since it is not in their nature to attack. They are mild mannered creatures unless cornered. I learned that it is the sentinels that stand on their hind legs and bark out warnings to the rest of their clan.

However, a few years ago I shrank in horror when I spotted one running across the road into my neighbor’s yard a couple doors down from my house. Since we owned a Bichon Frise, I worried about her being out in the yard, attacking one of them, and then contracting the plague.  A few weeks later, the few active burrows at my neighborhood’s entry became quiet and it was rumored that the prairie dogs had been illegally poisoned. I breathed a sigh of guilt-ridden relief.

Boulder residents and land owners are fed up with the black-tailed prairie dogs, but they are currently on the endangered list and have to be moved rather than eradicated. They do this by flooding their burrows with water blasted from fire hoses and then catching them on the other side of their long tunnels with nets. The big problem arises in where to relocate them.

This week, residents of Gunbarrel, a Boulder bedroom community, won the debate preventing prairie dogs from being transported to a nearby open space. The neighbors feared when the animal clan grew they would spread out into the surrounding neighborhoods. The Division of Parks and Wildlife ruled against Boulder’s application for relocation and with the residents of Gunbarrel, so the final location of these prairie dogs remains up in the air.

On July 7th’s, the Boulder Daily Camera newspaper cited a warning that a town of prairie dogs in South Boulder had been diagnosed with the bubonic plague. Neighbors walking on a nearby path were alarmed when seeing several dead prairie dogs. They notified authorities who tested the animals and identified the cause of death.

Since the 1800’s, the prairie dog’s population has been reduced by 98% because of loss of habitat. They were almost wiped out at one time when ranchers poisoned them, believing they competed with grazing animals for grasses. However, they have been found to eat very little. Over 170 other animals rely on the prairie dog’s existence. Since the black-footed ferret’s main diet is of prairie dogs, their numbers have diminished as well. They too are now on the endangered species list.

After living out West for 23 years, I have gone through a wide range of emotions over my furry friends. Yet when I rode my bike last week and saw a familiar face pop up out of the ground surrounded by open space, I couldn’t help but smile.

http://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/northamerica/facts/fact-pdog.cfm

First photo by Wikimedia Commons, the rest by  S. Lindau

In Case You Missed It! Photo and Video Essay

I remember piling into the family car and driving to the Henry Vilas Zoo to watch the fireworks. People from all over Madison would search the park grounds for a patch of grass with an unobstructed view free of tree branches. As it became dark, we would anticipate the boom of a blank which would be fired off to silence the crowd and start the display. Finally one would soar overhead and explode into a myriad of blazing color. “Ooh. Ah!” the crowd would exclaim.

The echoing of blasts from pyrotechnics were not the only sounds heard. Howler monkeys would chime in with their cries.  Camels, bison, and emus would join in the choir of discontented howls. Winky the elephant would trumpet out his confusion. Disgruntled peacock’s hoots would pierce the night. Then the lions would begin to roar and join in the choir of restless and distressed animals.

The finale would come when several rockets were lit by hand and sent up all at once. The crowd would cheer in amazement. Tired, but happy, we would stumble back to the car and drive home. The zoo animals would quiet down, relieved the deafening sounds had ceased

Years later, the zookeepers spoke out about the displays and how it stressed out the caged animals. Eventually, the fireworks were moved to the neighborhood parks located throughout Madison.

This year we drove down to Folsom Field on CU’s campus for the fireworks display. They are now computerized and timed to music. Crowds soon filled the stadium. There would be no obstructed views in here. After a wonderful and heartfelt sing-a-long including “This Land is Your Land,” and concluding with, “The Star Spangled Banner,” the show was ready to begin. My family and I speculated on where they were going to be shot from. I was amazed to see they all were blasted from small boxes set on the north end zone bleachers.

What a fantastic display! I wanted to share my photos and video of the finale. No animals were stressed out in this presentation. Well, maybe a few neighborhood dogs and cats.

I love the special effects feature of my camera.

 It was fun to play with color that seemed to be drawn on the sky. I will have to wait until next year to experiment again!

Watch the finale!

Hunger Strike

looking out of cave

He awoke with a start from a deep sleep. Blinking his eyes, he looked around the cramped chamber to regain his bearings. The early morning light cast shadows across the dirt floor and a damp earthy smell filled his nose. He stretched out to revive his somewhat paralyzed body caused from slumbering so long. As he craned himself forward to loosen up his bones, he detected a sound from above. It sent shivers down his loosening spine. He extricated himself from the bed he had made, and went out to explore.

The sun shone brightly and stung his eyes with its intensity. He stared at the moving clouds and the red tailed hawk gliding above.  Again he heard its warning call, but he forged ahead. The pangs in his stomach outweighed the fear of his enemy. Continue reading

The Night that Shattered

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“I will see you tomorrow.” Samantha said to her roommate Jack as she grabbed her loaded green frame pack. She bounced towards the door of the small apartment and pulled her blonde ponytail through the back of her pale blue ball cap.

“Have fun and remember safety first,” Jack replied in his good natured way, “Don’t forget to try your cell phone when you get up there so you can get a hold of me if you need anything.” He smiled under a mop of dark brown curls, green eyes twinkling and walked over to give her a hug.

“Don’t worry Jack!” She rolled her eyes and hugged him back, then slid the cell phone into her orange Columbia jacket pocket.

Samantha had a deadline for a column she was writing, but felt a well-deserved break would clear her head. A rigorous hike, then camping out was sure to cure her writer’s block. Growing up in Aspen, she had tremendous experience with survival training and had snow-caved overnight by herself in high school. Camping on her own was not unusual for her.

She threw the pack in the back of her black Toyota 4-Runner and started the hour and a half trip into the snow-capped mountains. As she drove higher in elevation, the road narrowed. After a series of hair pin turns it ended altogether.

Samantha pulled over next to a grove of Aspens. It was just like she remembered. The evergreen forest rose up all around her. The pine fragrance was overwhelming. It had just rained and the trees were still laden with raindrops.

“I love it up here!” she exclaimed. Throwing the bulging pack over her shoulders, she started up the trail.

Overhead a flock of whiskey jacks flew by. She heard the chirping of a squirrel upset that she hiked so close to its territory. It was early evening and the shadows were growing longer.

After hiking on the trail for a while Samantha thought that out of the corner of her eyes something streaked by. She immediately went on the defensive knowing that mountain lions abounded in this forest. For the next 15 minutes she was on edge as she hiked. Without seeing anything else out of the ordinary, she continued up the trail.

Soon the path got brighter indicating that she was close to her destination. The trees thinned out and Samantha found herself on the edge of a beautiful mountain lake. It was fed by the glaciers farther up on the mountain pass. “Perfect.” she said to herself. She took a deep breath of the fresh mountain air and dropped the heavy pack to the ground.

Samantha unstrapped the tent from the pack and assembled it quickly. She knew that it was getting late and she saw thunder clouds gathering in the distance. She scouted around for kindling to start a fire.

There it was again! The golden streak caught her attention. This time it ran out into the open. It was a mutt. Probably some type of Labrador retriever mix. It was really dirty and wasn’t wearing a collar so she assumed it was a stray.

“Here boy!” Samantha coaxed. The mutt came closer but shied away from her outstretched hand.

She gave up with the dog and continued with the search for dry wood. After amassing a pile she lit the leaves and twigs. The fire first sputtered and then roared. Samantha smiled and felt the golden warmth of the fire on her smiling face.

She filtered some water from the icy lake and boiled it over the fire to add to her dehydrated dinner and tea. While she looked up at the impending storm she felt watched. The hair on the back of her neck stood up. “Here boy!” she called out again. In the darkness, Samantha heard rustling in the underbrush and snapping of twigs but there was no sign of the dog.

Lightning streaked across the sky followed by a low rumble. A few rain drops fell.

She gathered up her pack and entered the tent as the sky opened up. It was quite a storm. Samantha opened up the flap to peak out and saw her fire extinguished and smoldering.

She snuggled down into her sleeping bag and was almost asleep when she heard something outside her tent. Grabbing a flashlight from her backpack, she decided to investigate. Could it be the stray had come back looking for crumbs? She was aware of bears and had cleaned up carefully after eating.

Samantha pulled on her jacket and hiking boots, ducked out of the tent and stood up. It was still lightly raining. As she started walking away from the tent she felt someone grab her from behind.

“Ah!” Samantha gasped.

“Hey pretty girl. Let’s have some fun!” the man whispered roughly in her ear.

“No!” She screamed. Samantha kicked, clawed, and finally twisted away from him, but slipped in the mud and fell. He pounced on top of her. She could smell the alcohol on his breath and the stink of someone who hadn’t bathed in a while. He tried to flip her over. She desperately tried to feel around for a weapon and found a rock, turned towards him and smacked him in the head.

“Stay away from me!” she screamed.

“You bitch!!” he cried.

She got up and ran, but had lost her flashlight in the attack. The moonless night made it hard for her to navigate the rough terrain.

Again he caught up to her grabbed her by her hair and threw her to the ground. Samantha fell head first against a boulder. She felt searing pain and the warmth of blood as it trickled out of the wound. Now she felt helpless against him. Trembling, she slowly turned her head and saw him above her laughing.

“No, no, no!” she moaned.

He was a fair skinned, six foot tall man who wore a black hooded sweatshirt over layers of old clothing. His dark oily hair was slicked to his head.

She gave up the fight and started to cry. The attacker bent over, reaching out to touch her face with a grimy finger when out of nowhere the stray jumped through the air and took him down.

Without looking back Samantha forced herself to get up and run. She was woozy and her legs wobbled but she desperately tried to orient herself to find the trail.

She could hear the dog wrestling with the vagrant.

When she could no longer keep running, she slowed her pace. Remembering her cell phone, Samantha pulled it out of the zipper pocket and dialed. No signal. Her head throbbed and when she reached up to wipe the blood out of her eye, she felt the gaping wound. She remembered her wallet was still in the backpack.

She could see her truck just where she left it. Luckily she kept a spare key under the carriage. She bent over and felt around for the metal case. Samantha heard the sound of footsteps running down the path behind her. She found it and frantically pulled the key out dropping the container on the ground.

Her heart banged away in panic as she fumbled with the key. She tried to slide it into the lock, but it was difficult because she was shaking. She finally slid it in and opened the truck door slamming it behind her.

Just as the man got to the truck and tried to open the door, Samantha hit the door locks.

She turned on the engine and threw the truck into reverse. Then she jammed it into drive and careened away, but was careful to keep the truck on the road.

Samantha navigated the first hair pin turn when her attacker ran right out in front of the truck. He had cut through the forest to catch up with her and must have expected her to stop or swerve off into the embankment. She screamed as she hit him head on. He rolled off the hood and she continued down the road. In her rear view mirror she saw him get back on his feet and limp off into the forest.

She was shaking and sobbing as she gripped the steering wheel. Shock had set in and Samantha drove all the way back to her apartment in autopilot. She dragged herself out of the truck and could hear her heart beating in her ears as she slowly climbed the stairs. As she opened the door to the apartment, Jack called out from his bedroom, “Sam? You’re home early. What happened?” When he saw her he gasped and ran towards her.

“I got my story,” she said as she collapsed into his arms and passed out.

Picture by S. Lindau