Just about everyone with a most basic understanding of the natural world knows to stay away from the back-end of the black and white critter called skunk. Forget that little fact and they will be quick to leave an indelible impression upon your person. Or ask any family dog that has disregarded that squared up stance and upturned tail and suffered the indignity of a well-aimed spray. Unfortunately, this is a minor inconvenience when compared with the real damage often inflicted by their front end.
Skunks possess powerful forelegs which they use to burrow and scratch about for food. Digging and the churning of earth is really what a skunk is all about. They are also great fans of a free or easy meal and a frequent backyard visitor. A poultry dinner is top on their culinary hit parade, and they are notorious nighttime raiders of the barnyard and chicken coop. Their tunneling skills are legendary and deviously effective, much to the chagrin and unmitigated consternation of small animal breeders and poultry keepers for hundreds of years.
I was reminded of their penchant for tragedy when I entered my pigeon keep a few days ago. The telltale signs of the obvious break-in were written plainly on the ground, as was the bloody aftermath. Once again, the scene screamed of dastardly polecat, and the wind held the last remnants of that unmistakable and musky perfume.
I soon discovered that my favorite bird was among the casualties, and it hit me like a primordial punch to the solar plexus. He was the biggest of our Giant Runt’s, and he had always been scrappy and bold and proud. I had bred him down from a successive line of top-notch parents and he had never let me down in the squab producing department. We called him “the bomber”, and I had always looked for him first amongst his comrades.
Skunks have an uncanny ability to make it deeply personal in some unpredicted way. We have probably lost more birds of various kinds to them than any other predator, though I have worked hard to stem the tide. Once locked on to a target they can become incredibly determined, often working for several days to accomplish their clandestine mission. You have a full-fledged skunk problem when they do, because they will not give up without a fight. They can be incredibly bull-headed about it all. Once joined in battle they generally need to be forcefully persuaded, often with hot lead, to see the error in their ways.
They are also extremely good at pointing out the errors in yours. An unwanted entry means that you have not done your job as an animal husbandman, whether you care to admit it or not. It means that the cage or coop is not built as well as it could be. Or perhaps that small repair you have put off has returned to haunt you. In the end it is your fault and your’s alone, although I cannot say that the acceptance of such responsibility can make one feel much better.
It would be easy to hate the skunk out of hand, but I refuse to accept such an easy fix. A skunk is a skunk after all, and he is just doing what he was designed to do. They are a necessary and vital component of a healthy ecosystem. Perfect in form and function, they are more than beautiful in their own way.
Still, I am sad for the loss of our pigeons and it will be some time before I can stop myself from looking for the big guy. I have no doubt that he faced his end as best he could, with dignity and noble character. In my mind I like to picture him wedging his body in front of his mate, staring his adversary down and delivering a solid shoulder punch or two before being overwhelmed. At least I’d like to think so.
It makes me wonder what other beastly trials and backyard tribulations take place under cover of the dead black night.
Skunks can have devastating effects on waterfowl nesting success, as well as on upland game and song bird populations. If you would like to learn more about the dynamics of predation, we recommend that you pick up the classic work titled “Of Men and Marshes” by Paul Errington.It is a fascinating and eye-opening read. We often have a copy for sale. Please email for availability.
— *Historically, skunks have been classified in a subgroup within “the weasel family”, or Mustelidae. Biologists began to understand that they had been misidentified all along. They were assigned new classification in the late 1990’s, and now belong to the family Mephitidae. So you see, they never were a weasel, after all.
“A pigeon, any pigeon, is a remarkable game bird. It is faster than any other bird we hunt, tougher than most, and is a treasure at the table. Call it “squab” and people will happily drop $35 for an entree at a fancy bistro. But call it “pigeon,” and people start judging you and your life choices.
I am here to say that pigeons, especially our native band-tailed pigeon, ought to be as cherished as the mountain quail and blue grouse they live among. All three are symbols of the Sierra, of early autumn days spent hiking dusty slopes, ears tuned, neck craned, shotgun ready. They are hard-won birds, to be cooked with reverence”.
“Some time ago I walked around to the back of a big, empty house and came upon elk tracks on the cement patio and walkways of a hidden courtyard. Tall evergreen trees swayed from the light winter wind and murmured in the hushed overtones of a holy cathedral. It had just snowed, and the tracks stood out like a beacon in the dazzling mid-morning sun.
The sight stopped me quite dead in my stride. It was as if I had walked squarely into the solid concrete walls of some plainly obvious yet unseen building, as a great hand with a large extended finger descended from heaven to point them out in quivering disgust.
Kneeling in the snow by a gleaming steel barbecue, I felt light-headed and unsure as my eyesight blurred and the earth moved beneath me. It was all I could do to control my revulsion and rising anger as the world slowly came back in focus.
Struggling to rise, I could only begin to wonder what had caused such a powerful vision. I may never know why the full force of it all had hit me so hard on that day and at that particular moment. But it was real, and it was painful.
I only know that there is something terribly wrong about the placement of elk tracks on concrete. It is an assault on the sensibilities of common sense and a great festering wound upon all that is spirited and free. It screams of wrongness and wrong-headedness, and of human cleverness driven past it’s acceptable limit. The tracks document a trail of horrible mistakes and destructive paths. It is a mere glimpse of a dark and terrible future reality.
No man should have to witness it, nor bear it. No man should have to try. The snow will melt and the tracks will disappear, leaving behind them only the promise of what might have been. I can read meaning into most kinds of animal tracks, but no matter how hard I may try I can find no sign on the cruel and heartless soul of concrete walks and driveways.
I am, and have always been, a hunter. I must have fresh tracks to follow”.
“One hot afternoon in August I sat under the elm, idling, when I saw a deer pass across a small opening a quarter-mile east. A deer trail crosses our farm, and at this point any deer traveling is briefly visible from the shack.
I then realized that half an hour before I had moved my chair to the best spot for watching the deer trail; that I had done this habitually for years, without being clearly conscious of it. This led to the thought that by cutting some brush I could widen the zone of visibility. Before night the swath was cleared, and within the month I detected several deer which otherwise could likely have passed unseen.
The new deer swath was pointed out to a series of weekend guests for the purpose of watching their later reactions to it. It was soon clear that most of them forgot it quickly, while others watched it, as I did, whenever chance allowed. The upshot was the realization that there are four categories of outdoorsmen: deer hunters, duck hunters, bird hunters, and non-hunters. These categories have nothing to do with sex or age, or accoutrements; they represent four diverse habits of the human eye. The deer hunter habitually watches the next bend; the duck hunter watches the skyline; the bird hunter watches the dog; the non-hunter does not watch.
When the deer hunter sits down he sits where he can see ahead, and with his back to something. The duck hunter sits where he can see overhead, and behind something. The non-hunter sits where he is comfortable. None of these watches the dog. The bird hunter watches only the dog…”
From the chapter entitled “The Deer Swath” in A Sand County Almanac”, by Aldo Leopold.
I read this for the first time many years ago, and the basic premise of it has stuck in my mind ever since. It is classic Leopold, whose writings always seems to leave behind more thought-provoking questions than he answers. He was, and still is, one of the preeminent teachers of the natural world.
Looking back, I realize now that I have always sat with shoulders squared up to something at my back, watching.
Perhaps I am just a deer hunter at heart. It is the promise of deer, for which I wait.
“POETRY & REVOLUTION (OR ADVENTURE) BEFORE BREAKFAST” – EDWARD ABBEY
There’s a new internet podcast out there – and the name of the game is adventure! If you are a fan of this blog, or of all things outside, then you may find it to be the perfect complement to the written word.
Mr. Martin Lamberti has been kind enough to include one of our articles in his audio selections, and it is quite clear that he has a rare gift for voice and interpretation. We are honored to be part of the that audible experience.
So, if I may quote from the header:
“Welcome to AdventureCast! Here, we read real life adventure stories and guides, and interview amazing adventurers from around the world. Our aim is two-fold, firstly to inspire everyday people to get out there, explore and create their own adventures. And secondly to create a new platform for adventurers and writers to share their incredible stories”.
January is the lean, mean month of the year in western Colorado, and it’s been mighty cold here too. Hopefully, this guy will suffer through the harsh realities of winter just fine, eager to see the bounties of high summer grass and the glory of another rocky mountain autumn once again.
May we all be so fortunate.
I would truly love to get a good, long look at him next year, preferably while camouflaged, and close, looking down the shaft of a razor-sharp arrow.
One can always hope, after all. It’s what hunter’s dreams, and long, blustery winters are all about…
On Dec. 8, the Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation and our partners filed its brief before the U.S. Court of Appeals in the long-running Western Great Lakes wolf lawsuit. The case, brought by Humane Society of the United States and their anti-hunting allies, sought to reinstate federal Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The Alliance and our partners are fighting to ensure wolves are delisted and returned to state management.
“The science is settled and the experts agree, wolves are recovered, period,” said Evan Heusinkveld, head of government affairs and interim president and CEO of Sportsmen’s Alliance. “We should be celebrating this as a great victory of the Endangered Species Act, but instead we’re forced to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting anti-hunting interests in court just to ensure the ESA is applied correctly.”
Despite wolf numbers at record levels well-beyond what was required when originally listed as endangered in the late 1970s, U.S. District Court Judge Beryl A. Howell returned wolves to the endangered species list in late 2014. The ruling effectively requires wolves to be recovered in their entire historic range before they can be considered recovered in the Great Lakes states.
SOAPSTONE PRAIRIE NATURAL AREA – Modern science and ancient ritual combined Sunday as a herd of 10 American bison thundered from a holding corral onto the northern Colorado prairie, the first step to restoring the nation’s largest iconic land mammal to this part of its historic range.
It was the first time in nearly 150 years that bison with complete heirloom genetics – from in and around Yellowstone National Park – had touched public grasslands near the Wyoming border north of Fort Collins.
About 350 community members and project partners gathered to watch the Laramie Foothills Bison Conservation Herd charge onto 1,000 fenced acres at Soapstone Prairie Natural Area and Red Mountain Open Space.
Before the release, a spiritual leader from the Crow Nation of Montana offered a prayer in his native Apsaalooké language, as the golden eagle feathers in his headdress waved in the prairie wind. Four Native American guests then drummed and sang a Pawnee going-home song.
“I want to wish the buffalo well going back to their homelands,” drummer Dwayne Iron told those assembled…[More]
By Coleman Cornelius
I only recently found out about this amazing wildlife project. I just wish I could have been there to see it happen. This will definitely be on my travel list for 2016.