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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Rude Awakening

After spending a few hours photographing herons and osprey along the Edmonds waterfront on Sunday, I returned home to relax and sort through my photos.  It was sunny outside, and this fact was not lost on my trio of tabbies- Henry, Oliver and Otis.  As the three cats peered through the lowest windows on the French door that opens onto their large outside enclosure, Otis let out a mournful yowl that drew my attention to the fact that I was being an extremely cruel kitty parent.  I got up from my computer desk, let the cats out into their enclosure and returned to my photos.  A few minutes later I heard Oliver make a sound that indicated both excitement and nervousness, and I immediately went outside to investigate.  I discovered that a neighbor had come to visit.  Standing outside the protective walls of the cat enclosure was an adult female raccoon.    

While people are often surprised to see a raccoon out and about during the day, it is actually not that uncommon.  At this time of year female raccoons have much higher energy needs as they nurse and care for their growing young.  The raccoon outside the enclosure was a female I know well.  She has raised young in our neighborhood each of the five summers that my wife and I have lived here.  As she stood up on her hind legs on Sunday, I could see that she was in the process of nursing the sixth brood that she has produced since I first made her acquaintance.  Surviving all of the dangers of an urban environment long enough to produce at least six litters is an impressive accomplishment for a raccoon.  It is even more impressive when you consider the fact that this female raccoon has been blind in her right eye the entire time I have known her.  Her good eye still serves her well enough that when I pulled out my camera she became wary of the strange object I was pointing at her and she retreated to a large fir tree at the back corner of our yard.

As the raccoon climbed the fir, she passed an old wooden nest box.  I had attached the box to the tree about three years ago for a Northern Flying Squirrel that was released in our yard.  The squirrel had not used the box after her release, but I had kept it in place just in case there were any other takers. Until Sunday I believed there had been none.

The raccoon climbed up to a branch about 10 feet higher than the nest box and then stopped.  She looked down and her nose twitched.  She came back down the tree as if she had a renewed purpose.  She made a beeline for the nest box and perched on top of it.  She proceeded to reach inside, and I thought she was going to pull out some morsel of food that had been stashed by one of many resident gray squirrels.  Instead, she pulled out a sleeping flying squirrel.  

For a fleeting moment my mind grasped with excitement the fact that a flying squirrel was using the box, but present tense quickly became past tense as the predator/prey interaction that had given me this realization quickly concluded in favor of the predator.  The only solace for the squirrel was that he was sound asleep when he was plucked from the box and had only barely regained consciousness before it was taken from him permanently.  He let out one surprised squeak and was gone.  The raccoon relocated to a nearby cedar to begin the work of converting the squirrel into sustenance for her offspring, and I was left alone to grapple with the inevitable mix of emotions that comes from witnessing such a life and death struggle. 


  1. holy smokes!

    awesome, kevin - nice parallel - six years at least of succesful raccoon mothering and three years of flying squirrle nesting too... it seems to be working out in everyone's favor around your immediate neck of the woods... hooray!

  2. Well written, Kevin. Sad story indeed. Why can't we all be vegetarians? =(

    C. McConnell