Saturday, September 19, 2009

Wild Kingdom, Huntington Beach Style

I guess we'd be living in suburbia but for the fact that the nearest real urbia is quite a drive. Huntington Beach used to be an isolated little beach town, but it's now surrounded by Orange County sprawl.

Despite that, there's still a bit of wildlife. The Bolsa Chica wetlands and the marshes surrounding Anaheim Bay both abut the city, and there are strange pockets of ponds scattered along the San Gabriel and Santa Ana Rivers, as well as dozens of channelized creeks that were formed when much of land around the town was origiannly drained. There are also de facto greenbelts along the edge of some or our mesas, owing to the fact that the grade was simply too steep to stuff in more houses.

So there's wildlife aplenty around the wetlands--herons, kingfishers, ospreys, skimmers, assorted raptors, and the two remaining nesting sites for the endangered least tern. The wetlands also have raccoons, coyotes, fox, and even the occasional cougar. But although we don't live next to a marsh, our back yard can get pretty darned busy.

I've already mentioned our accidental pet crows. We also have two bullfrogs in the back yard, the result of buying a trio of tadpoles to eat up the algae in our pond. Who knew they would grow to adulthood and begin serenading us, like a pair of libidinous foghorns, on summer nights? We've also had our share of possums, who are innocuous, but not terribly good company; after all, what do you say to someone whose reaction to anything new is to freeze? (Makes it easy to snap their photos, though...)

Like most cities in Southern California, we also have raccoons wander through every so often. But recently one of them has done more than wander through. He has set up housekeeping in our back yard.

He (or she) is a young adolescent, obviously only recently seperated from his mother. We first saw him stealing food we had put out for the crows. Not unusual behavior, except for the fact that he was placidly muching away in broad daylight.

At first we thought this was raw courage, but we have come to understand that it is a deliberate strategy. The night belongs to a gang of larger raccoons who maraude the neighborhood, and he isn't part of that gang. By creeping out in the day, he has a whole new ecological niche to exploit (although he has to put up with almost incessant scolding from the crows. Come twilight, her retires to a nest in the line of Italian cypresses that lines one side of our property.

He isn't fearless by any means, but he is surprisingly unafraid of us. One of our beach towels went missing; when we were sitting outside one afternoon, we saw him up on the deck wrestling with it and dragging it about. When he saw us watching him, he gave as a what-are-you-looking-at glance, and went back to killing the terrycloth.

He also stole one of Pamela's rubber sandals, though he was good enough to bring it back a few days later (somewhat chewed up).

Since he seemed desperate for entertainment, as a joke when we were at the market we bought him a couple of squeaking rubber dog toys and left them outside for him. We had no idea what a hit they would be. He absconded with them immediately, and seems to keep them hidden up in the trees. In the afternoons, and sometimes late at night, we can hear the trees going squeak! squeak! squeak! (God only knows what the neighbors think.) He also seems to use the toys as a novel form of defense; when the gang of bigger raccoons comes through at night and tries to chase him off, we can hear him snarl and whine, alternating with vicious chomps on the squeaky toys. It seems to baffle the opposition; at any rate, he's still here.

He's cute isn't he? Yeah, yeah, I know the rules: never get attached to a wild animal. It will end in tears.

But, then, doesn't everything, eventually?


Frances Garrood said...

He looks as though he's in a casino counting his chips. Very cute.

Jen said...

Awwww. He's a cutie! We have raccoons here in Texas, also, and while I've never seen one in the yard, I have seen them around the nabe. We also have opossums and of course feral cats. I'm feeding a gang of four or five of them. They keep the squirrel population under control.

David Isaak said...

Hi, Frances--

Cute indeed. And he does paw at his food as though counting and gloating over the number.

David Isaak said...

Hi, Jen--

Feed the cats ouside long enough and you'll probably get a coon too.

The population of many wild animals is decreasing, but raccoons are apparently expanding everywhere. Someone imported them into Germany, and there are suppoedly a couple of cites that are completely overrun with them.

HilarieK said...

I also live in north HB, near some channels that drain to Bolsa Chica. Two young raccoons were cowering next to our back door one night last week, chirping and fussing like crazy. I learned today that earlier the same night some neighbors' dog had killed another young raccoon in their backyard. Sad. Recently, fish have disappeared from a small pond out back. Guess I know what happened to them now, so I won't restock. This is the first year I have seen raccoons in our yard. Hope to coexist with them. I'm less fond of large killer dogs.

David Isaak said...

Hi, Hilarie--

Yep, they're pretty obsessed with ponds. We have a tiny lily pond out back, and they are constantly pawing through it. They never find anything to eat, but they take out the plants and play with them. (Unfirtunately, they usually neglect to put them back.)

They are a little destructive, I admit. But, like you, I'm happy to coexist.

(Up around Bolsa Chica, I'm surprised the egrets and herons didn't deplete your fish population before now!)

Toby Crane said...

I am swearing if I go there now, the Huntington beach hotels will be a great deal. I am thinking I would love to read these books while on my honeymoon.