The recent heavy rains have caused an explosion of wildlife in the back forty, or in our case, the back seventy acres. It sounds like what I imagine the boy Tarzan experienced when he first realized his parents had passed away and he was truly on his own. The cacophony of strange noises coming from the water-laden and swampy woods is almost frightening!
I know that sounds like an exaggeration and maybe it is, but case in point, my bride and I were sitting on the patio the other night when suddenly we heard what sounded like a cross between a woman screaming in terror/a banshee with rabies/a piece of cloth being viciously ripped apart/someone violently gagging and it all ended with a “who?” – I think.
My lady said, with a start “What in the world was that noise”? Now normally, I have an answer or a piece of wisdom to impart on almost any occasion or subject, but this time I was stymied. Then out of the deepest recesses of my mind, I remembered hearing this bird call years ago and was told by my Dad (who turned 80 today and is still a bastion of knowledge) that it was an owl, but I couldn’t remember which owl he said.
Now I’ve lived in this house for about fifteen years and haven’t seen a single owl, but the day of the last hurricane, while looking out the window of my dining room, I watched a Great Horned owl land on the telephone wire in my backyard. I always have my trusty Nikon binoculars, which I received for a 20th anniversary gift from the Plant where I work, setting on the garden window and my Audubon Handbook Eastern Birds edition handy and since it was lightning and raining like mad, I had the light off and the super alert and possibly frightened owl couldn’t see me watching it. Nevertheless, I moved very slowly, not wanting to reveal myself.
Now Great Horned owls are large two-foot tall predatory birds and absolutely a delight to watch. Every time the lightning flashed or the thunder rolled, it looked in that direction. It crossed my mind that almost any rodent or small bird was not safe at nighttime with this highly efficient and aerial meat-eater was on the prowl.
Anyway, this wasn’t the critter my bride and I heard, as they have a distinctive hooting sound. Now, I’ve considered the noise to be one of the many long-necked shore birds that frequent our Baytown area and it is surprising the variety of scary sounds they can and do make on occasion, especially if mixed with the cries of their prey and what we heard from the woods that night was surely a mix of both.
The rains have also caused an influx of snakes in the yard. My lady, who is normally timid concerning serpents, walked up on an open and white-mouthed, fat, and dark gray snake and with hoe in hand “chopped its liver and lungs out”. She is every bit the dainty lady, but will reach the perfect age of 49 next month and if you know anything about female mentality at this time in their life, you can read the message here. I know I don’t mess with her when she has that hoe in her hand. I had trouble identifying the offending snake as a cottonmouth moccasin later on in the day when I came in from work, as it was so utterly mangled.
Two days of rain later, I look across the patio only to see another snake and this one attempting to climb up onto the wicker furniture. Grabbing my wife’s favored tool of ultimate justice, I deftly and accurately severed its head with one stroke. It was diamond-backed and since twilight had descended, I did not make an accurate identification and destroyed it. The next day I researched the snake and realized I had killed a harmless diamondback watersnake. I won’t kill another, but will opt to relocate it instead. I have trouble allowing venomous snakes in the yard, but will tolerate all others, including the oft misidentified yellowbellied watersnake, which folks think are cottonmouths.
We have regular visits by garter snakes and I’ve had them crawl over my feet while I held perfectly still. To be honest, here in Baytown there are really only three venomous snakes that are of concern, with a couple of exceptions. The cottonmouth, the copperhead and the coral snake; all are distinctive in appearance and with a little education we can observe which is which. Most of the snakes that enter the yard are simply preying on the scads of tree frogs, toads, lizards, crickets and insects that our yard has in abundance anyway and who am I to deny them – minus the venomous ones of course. By the way, there are no poisonous snakes, just venomous ones.
Anyway, back to our mystery bird. While researching this fellow, I found a description which I think is as close as I’m going to get, minus the prey’s anguished cry and here it is: “A blood-curdling and quavering, dropping whinny” By all accounts my Dad was correct when he told me it was nothing other than a little 8 ½ inch tall Eastern Screech owl catching a nightly snack.
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