Roots and Branches: Furry, feathered friends

There has been an abundance of wildlife around the farm this year. We have enjoyed watching the deer as they grazed in the orchard, eating pears that have fallen to the ground during the harvest. They are extremely nonchalant prior to hunting season.


Family friend Tom turkey.

Driving down our quarter mile gravel road to Willow Flat, especially at dawn or dusk, we would often be rewarded with a glimpse of a family of deer. Most often, it was a doe and a fawn or two, but occasionally a proud buck could be seen a few tree rows over, antlers held high as if antenna searching for any sign of danger, the sentinel guard over his burgeoning herd.

Within a week of hunting season they vanish, only to reappear after the last gunshot has been fired.

A covey of quail resides in the median of the Jacobsen and Yasui gravel driveways. These darling birds are a source of entertainment for us all. When the baby quails hatch, the action is non-stop. Adult quail lead their tiny balls of fluff across the gravel driveway to the cover of the Oregon Grape and wild rose brambles.

The quail families travel in mass, dozens in a group, first in synchronized scurrying motion, then scattering as they enter the dense underbrush like dandelion seeds dancing on a summer breeze.

Overhead a red tail hawk sits on the telephone pole, patiently waiting his turn for a tasty hors d’oeuvre. Adult quail scurry around the perimeter of the covey or lead a dash to safety, their top notched heads nodding rapidly like a bobble head on the dash of an old pick-up truck. Seldom do they take flight, content to outrun their adversary, whether man, bird or beast. I occasionally complain of the branches scratching our car as we drive in or out, but am consistently reminded by my husband, a fish and wildlife major in college, that this is the quail sanctuary and I would diminish their chance of survival if I clean up their well-hidden home.

As fall approaches, the silver grey and ground squirrels seem to appear out of every corner of the yard, surrounding orchard and stand of fir trees. They too scurry about, but their movement is naturally much more graceful. They wave their long, bushy tails in an undulating manner suggestive of a symphony conductor directing his orchestra to a crescendo of acorn gathering.

The squirrels’ seed-stuffed cheeks give them an endearing, child-like quality, but the degree of extension is definitely disconcerting. I remember reading in the Farmers’ Almanac that the size of the rodent’s distended cheeks was an indicator of the harshness of the upcoming winter. That remains to be seen, but I will make sure the snow tires are on by November.

I am both saddened and encouraged by the number of skunk and raccoon carcasses I see on the highway. It is unfortunate that they have met their demise trying to traverse one of our busy roads, but it is also an indicator of the resurgence of their population in the valley.

Both skunk and raccoon populations seemed to have been dramatically diminishing over the last two decades, at least by my anecdotal observation. But this last year, we have had a skunk family residing in the bamboo around the rock wall surrounding our yard. We see them at dusk coming up to the side door to check if there are any chicken bones or cat food to be cleaned up. The little ones are so cute, and supposedly not as odiferous as their parents. We have only been on the receiving end of our resident skunk’s perfume once this summer when she was startled by our cat, Killer. We had unceremoniously tossed Killer out the bedroom door to do his business in the wee morning hours. Stinky misfired and shared that special gift, the one that keeps on giving and giving, with Killer, extending its reach into our bedroom as well.

It has been a much more rewarding experience to make the acquaintance of a new member of our family of fine feathered friends than to reacquaint ourselves with Stinky’s perfume. Tom started strutting his stuff on the top of our roof about six weeks ago. We had been pondering for over a week what type of bird was creating the scratchy, albeit noisy tapping sounds on our rooftop.

Our identification attempts were foiled each time when we ventured outside to look up at the roof. Nothing could be seen. We assumed it might be a red tail hawk or even an eagle, both common visitors on surrounding tree tops. The mystery was solved one evening when the grandkids walked through the orchard to visit, their journey uncharacteristically silent.

When they reached the yard, sharp squeals of surprise erupted, causing us old folks to rush out the front door to save their little souls.

There on the peak of our roof sat a huge turkey. It swooped down gobbling and thumping its enormous wings, retreating to the refuge of the orchard. Tom turkey was the toe tapping trespasser who had been scratching a tantalizing tune on our shingled rooftop.

Tom became a daily dawn or dusk visitor to our home over the next four weeks. He began inching his way closer and closer to the house, pecking at gravel in the driveway, then moving to the sidewalk to gobble up leftover cat food and finally to the front porch to finish off the remnants of corn left on the cob by the missing front teeth of our granddaughter, Aya. He would cock his head from side to side in a quizzical manner, then race-walk in a stilted zig zag pattern up the driveway, disappearing into the orchard when he heard interlopers’ approach.

You might notice I have spoken in the past tense in this tale of Tom turkey. No, it is not because he met his demise at the business end of a shotgun. He was never destined to come sit at the center of our Thanksgiving dinner table, roasted in a holiday tribute. Tom was a family friend. Truly apropos, he was last spotted joining his own family flock that resided in the forest west of our farm. The flock was on a westward journey, to parts unknown, perhaps preparing for their winter nesting grounds.

If you are lucky enough to have this family visit your rooftop or yard, be sure to give a shout out to Tom. He is truly a fine feathered friend of the family.

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