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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Gladys Goes Off Road

Tualco V. March

It is a typical spring morning on the Tualco Lower Loop Road (borderline woolen supplements). As Gladys and I crank by the Andy Werkhoven home adjacent the fishermen’s parking lot, I notice a Bald Eagle regular in a large cottonwood tree overlooking the river. “Photo op,” I’m thinking because of another eagle regular that perches on a power pole behind the dairy farm’s “mound of death” further down the road. Eagle Eye outI watched two kids on bikes, escorted by Steve Werkhoven’s German Shepherd, pass directly beneath the pole with no more than a curious glance from Baldy. Gladys and I go off road and roll down into the fishermen’s parking lot to dolly up for the shot. At pasture’s edge we follow a road that skirts the riverbank. Gladys balks and I quickly discover the road is mostly river sand deposited from the last high water. The sand is anything but “quick” sand because Gladys bogs down, founders, and refuses to budge another inch. I end up on foot, pushing my stubborn steed out of the sand trap back up to the asphalt. And the eagle?? It was long gone up the river—and if eagles have a sense of humor, that one certainly left his perch laughing.

I finished a book a while ago, Two Coots in a Canoe, (David E. Morine, Globe Pequot Press, 2009)about two senior citizens who decided to canoe the Connecticut River from source to its confluence with Long Island Sound. Along the way the “two coots,” David Morine and Ramsay Peard, overnighted with strangers. One of the strangers, a Susan LaScala, invited Dave and Ramsay to her bedroom to watch a closed circuit t.v. feed from the Eagle Cam, a video camera installed above a Bald Eagles’ nest by the local Fish and Wildlife agency. Dave, himself a conservationist,  commented that it seemed highly unusual for a Wildlife agency to disturb nesting eagles. Susan’s reply: “It’s not the eagles that are upset. It’s the cat owners. When they installed the camera, they discovered the nest was full of cat collars. The cat owners went nuts. They couldn’t believe the eagles were eating their pets.” Author Morine then comments:

“It serves them right. Cats are killing machines. Studies compiled by the American Bird Conservancy show that the fifty million feral cats that run wild kill well over a billion birds a year. While the feral cat population keeps increasing, bird populations world-wide are in steep decline. Loss of habitat is the number-one cause, and with birds being forced into smaller areas, they’ve become very easy prey. When told that cats and humans are the only species that kill purely for fun and that they should keep their cats indoors, most cat owners would go into complete denial. Having the eagles snatch a few Tabbys, Tiggers, or Socks isn’t going to solve this problem, but it might scare some cat owners into being more responsible.”

Following closely on the heels of this information, I  recently read two more accounts of the cat/bird situation. One from the marketing-aggressive Birds and Blooms magazine: “Here are a couple of things to consider in the interest of both your cat and the birds in your backyard. First of all, by keeping your cat indoors, you are offering it a healthier, happier, and longer life while saving the lives of birds that frequent your feeders, as well as ducklings and other baby birds that hatch in your neighborhood.”[By way of example I’ve included a photo of just such a cat: “healthier, happier,”yes, but still ever vigilant of the birdlife that flits about the feeders— just on the other side of the glass.]Mr. B. Indoor catAnd this last note from Bill Streever’s Cold: “The estimate of one hundred million birds per year killed by cats in the United States is provided by the National Audubon Society. Daniel Klem of Muhlenberg College has estimated that cats kill seven million birds each year in Wisconsin alone.”

When the annual Christmas tree is spent, we take it outside, prop it against the boxwood hedge where it becomes a fir tree bird feeder for the next couple months. Daily I sprinkle birdseed liberally on and about the tree, and the birds flock just as liberally to it. Neighborhood cats, however, are quick to notice the flurry of bird activity, creep through the hedge, and lurk in ambush beneath the leaning tree. Although I send these marauding felines packing whenever I see them about, sadly, on more than one occasion we have seen a hapless ball of feathers clamped between the jaws of a triumphant tabby exiting the premises. Once news of easy pickin’s spreads through the local cat community,  I toss the holiday tree on the burn pile and continue feeding from aerial feeders.

The Tweetie/Sylvester issue reminds me of a cartoon I came across sometime back. A couple were preparing for a two week vacation. Wife sends the husband to the store for supplies, among them food enough to last the family cats for the duration of  the two week absence. Husband returns with twenty pounds of birdseed….

Back to the feline snatching eagles. Someone ought to tip them off about the bounty of cats that abide at the Decks’ dairy farm. Certainly in their daily movements about the Valley, the eagles know about this feline jackpot. I’m thinking it’s the collars the eagles are after. Yeah, they must want a bit of bling to dress up the old aerie. And where Decks’ cats are concerned, I’ve yet to see a collar among them.

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