Thursday, March 3, 2011

What The...?

As one might imagine, nights around here are not necessarily silent. There are occasional calls from sheep and goat kids who have temporarily misplaced mom, coyotes chorus in the distance, our dogs and sometimes the neighbors' dogs answer them. We also have a frog population, that carouses most of the night this time of the year as the males seek female companions.

A variety of night birds chime in from time to time, the most impressive of which is the great horned owl's "hoo hoo-hoo hoooo hoo." Starting in November they call and respond in what eventually becomes an almost soothing addition to the rest of the nocturnal orchestra. After having three of my own kids and acting as animal midwife to hundreds of critters, I am a fairly light sleeper. Noises don't necessarily bother me, but do cause me to rise to the surface of a dream in order to make positive identification of the noise and its cause. Let's just say I sleep with one ear open.

So when the owls went off the other night I just made a note and rolled over, but it did sound unusually close - like maybe in the big, old live oak tree near our bedroom window, the one that is in Tank's enclosure. Then Tank woofed, a sort of confused, "what the...?" utterance, followed by some growling. Before I had time to sort that out, there followed an enormous disturbance of some sort; no voices or yelps, just the sounds of one or more large objects thrashing and crashing about ... in the tree? On the ground? Oh, no - could Tank have an owl?!

I raced out of bed, stuffed feet into Crocs, pulled on a jacket and ran out to the deck that overlooks Tank's pen. The scuffling noises continued, but this time were punctuated by incessant high pitched chattering and squeaking, and they were coming from the ground ... underneath Tank. By now the "hoo hoo-hoo hoooo hoo" had deepened and moved a dozen yards away into the neighbors' yard, but I still could not see what what was going on.

Back inside, I grabbed our big hand-held spotlight and went outside and down the steps to the pen. From outside the gate I could clearly see Tank standing over something that was glaring at us with beady little red eyes. Tank threw me a pathetic "Now what?" sort of look, to which I had no answer.

"I dunno, Tank; what IS it?"

As I opened the gate to go inside, the creature made some sort of a very bad decision, because it struggled and Tank calmly reached down and dispatched it with one chomp to the neck. Then he backed off and looked at me for orders.

The "hoo hoo-hoo hoooo hoo" now came from atop our Torrey Pine tree, so it wasn't the owl. Closer examination showed a well-armed, furry creature taking its last gasp.

"Ohhh, Tank. It's a raccoon," I said, regretfully.

Then I started looking around in an attempt to unravel the puzzle. Where did it come from? Tank's enclosure is surrounded by a six-foot-tall fence, much of it topped with barbed wire. There was no way it could just walk in or "drop by."
Or ... DROP by....?

A cursory postmortem examination of the raccoon showed him to be a nearly full-sized male, 20 - 30 pounds with no external signs of damage whatsoever, other than some scrape marks on a front leg. There was no blood, but Tank did have a small scratch or two on his face, which is understandable. The owls have not been heard since.

I am still puzzling over the incident, but little by little the pieces seem to be coming together. What do you think happened?

Tank checks it out, then wants nothing to do with it.


seashells said...

I understand that great horned owls will take skunks (the owls have a poor sense of smell) and I suspect 'possum as well, but a mature raccoon is pretty big. Maybe the raccoon thought he was tough enough to take on the owl, or was trying to steal from the owl? Maybe the owl knocked the raccoon from the tree? I guess only Tank and the owl know for sure.

I hear the owls around my house too, but I don't appreciate it when they sit on the chimney and hoot,

Kathy said...

There is a great discussion here:

I guess you're right: the only critters that know what happened aren't talking. (ggg)

Dani B said...

Apparently Tank took after his father... Vasi killed his 4th (5th?) raccoon a couple weeks ago also. My heart goes out to you Kathy, write or call me when you can...