When I was little, one of the standard t.v. shows at my house was Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom hosted by zoologist Marlon Perkins. (http://www.wildkingdom.com/about) Because that is a lot of nonsensical words for a little kid to know or say, I referred to Marlon and the show as “the Moochie Man.” (Sounds like Mutual…get it?) In the late 70’s, my prime viewing time, Marlon seemed ancient (he would have been in his 70’s) and often communicated with his intrepid assistant Jim from a distance or via studio camera as in, “Let’s watch as Jim wrestles the giant anaconda.” or “Let’s see if Jim will be able to outrun that mother warthog.” Poor Jim. I was under the impression that Jim was just some moron that Moochie Man had picked up and would weekly point in the direction of something fangy or poisonous and hope for the best. Jim Fowler is actually a knowledgeable naturalist, but I had no idea back then.
Their world-wide coverage and weekly adventures with real animals were a precursor to things like today’s entire channel of Animal Planet shows. Maybe watching the show was part of the influence that makes me fascinated by animal watching today. Part of the adventure of my travels is spotting the new species that come with a non-Ohio environment. However I am more often reliant on enjoying the species that reside in (Felis catus) and around my house. My suburban jungle: it is not populated by giant anacondas and warthogs which is really okay with me.
It is populated by Eastern gray squirrels who spend a lot of time rearranging what they clearly consider to be my horticultural mistakes. Any new potted plant will be disassembled the next morning. A basket of hens and chicks, a variety of Sempervivum succulents, is an open buffet for Mr. Squirrel and friends as are my birdfeeders. Thanks to Mr. Squirrel’s industrious nature, my yard and flower pots are full of random sunflowers that I know I didn’t plant. Hopefully, he will let them mature so that he as well as the birds can enjoy the munching seeded heads and I can enjoy the photo ops.
The variety of birds for a yard in the city is sparse, but with four bird watching cats, we’ll take whatever entertainment we can get. Year round feeders, sunflowers and plants like Echinacea keep the birds coming back. In my yard I have seen robins, cardinals, chickadees, wrens, mockingbirds, purple finches, the occasional blue jay, cowbirds, titmouse, downy woodpeckers, doves who always arrive as a couple, and a peregrine falcon who eyeballed me from the fence. As we hit the beginning of July the brilliant Goldfinches are making their appearance at the feeders and fascinating me and my cats with their distinctive, obnoxious chatter. When the Echinacea start going to seed, the finches will be all over them, mixing their brilliant yellow with the purple and pink flowers. This week also marks the annual appearance of the Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars in my dill plants. I only noticed the tiny caterpillars because I was eye level with the dill frond while suckering a tomato plant. Currently, the caterpillars are miniscule black dots that could easily be passed over as dirt particles. By August they will be full on green, gold and black caterpillars a couple of inches long. I checked and right now, three clusters of dill are hosting the little guys. As I have in the past, I will watch them, conduct an almost daily head count and hope that I finally get to see one go into the chrysalis stage.
The feeders also encourage night-time visitors. For the past three nights, the cats and I have put the house in blackout mode so we could better watch two skunks rooting around at the base of the bird feeders and throughout the yard in search of grubs. I have no intention of running out into the yard to view them closer or sending my assistant Jim out to pet them, so I am safe to qualify them as relatively harmless and extremely adorable from the safety of my window. On Night 2, our viewing was disrupted by high-pitched squealing like someone releasing air from a balloon.
It was me.
I was trying as best I could to grab a camera and contain my excitement at the cuteness overload that was only inches away. Both skunks were sitting on the step outside my glass patio doors. The sight of a kitten-sized skunk toddling on his stumpy little skunk legs across the patio bricks was enough to make my head explode from sheer animal viewing joy!