Animals show confusion in changing habitat

Adapting to circumstances

Animals are so adept at adapting to new situations and using them to their advantage. We have been warned many times about the dangers of feeding wild animals or leaving garbage out where bears can forage. One of our garbage can lids gained teeth marks in it soon after we arrived in Clearwater, reminding us of that lesson.

An osprey had built its nest, balancing it on a telephone pole, close to its smorgasbord in the Similkameen River. As usual it was made of sticks – but this particular one was “decorated” with one or two long strands of the red twine used for baling hay.

Between Hedley and Keremeos, no matter what the season, I look above the highway for mountain goats, and almost always see some in the spring, when they come down to take advantage of the early growing season. Recollections include sightings of kids with the sure-footed flock clambering about safely on those steep, sharp hillsides, and “Big Daddy” standing in classic pose on a rock shelf not far above the highway. On Highway 97C – Okanagan Connector – in mid-spring, piles of snow still lay around. Walking by a small, melting pond I disturbed a pair of mallards. They flew to a different open section to be further away from me. The lady misjudged her landing pad, nearly falling on her “nose” as her feet skidded through the water and caught on the ice below it! Speaking of adapting, why would these ducks be up where the ponds are barely open when, just a few air miles away, the leaves were out, the ponds and lakes ice-free?

Sometimes animals get confused by changes in their territory. We had the misfortune to have our property burned out, part of a 3000 acre (1200+ hectare) fire in the Cariboo in 1971. Sitting at our tiny kitchen table in the one building that was still standing, we watched a very confused-looking moose wander up the driveway. The lawn had parted the fire and a few trees still remained behind the house – all that was left of the dense bush that had been there before, so I guess it was looking for some kind of cover. Then there are the sneaky ones. Our home was quite isolated and the sound of coyotes howling was common. One foggy morning we watched them fade in and out of the fog to avoid being peppered by John’s shotgun. They would try to entice our dog: one would come close to the house, appearing submissive, trying to draw her away. Fortunately, she was wise to their duplicity and stayed close to home.

Perhaps the following is an annual event, but I watched muskrat houses appearing one after the other in their pond while visiting a friend on her daughter’s ranch in the Cariboo. It was a chilly fall day and the ice was starting to form, so it looked as if they were preparing a protected place to stay for the winter months. All day long, one after another the houses popped up, like little brown igloos against a whitening background.

There was a large pile of waste materials just out of sight at the edge of our property. On top of it last fall, beaming at the end of 2 m plus stems, were large, beautiful sunflowers. One had just a single pretty face; the other sported no less than four flowers on its long, strong stalk.

Nature’s balance is delicate but flexible – up to a point.