17 Jun 2011

Wildlife Encounter: Woodchuck

Typically, when I am out on bird watch, I encounter more than just one species of bird.  It is rare that I do not.   Sometimes I even have an encounter with a different wildlife species altogether.  One that I recognize.  However my first trip to the river valley here in the city was unique.  I actually encountered a species of wildlife I had no knowledge of whatsoever.   It was absolutely amazing.  Here I was, very suddenly facing a small live being, not much smaller than my cat, that I had never seen before in my life.

My first reaction when I saw him, was to freeze and whisper "and what are you?"   This was followed immediately by enchantment and then joy over the fact that he wasn't running off to hide.  I felt very much like a child again with the newness and glowing wonder of the experience.   In fact, I was so enchanted and delighted, that it took a few minutes before I actually remembered that I had a camera and knew how to use it.

I also realized that the little creature, which I learned when I got home is a Woodchuck, was frozen in either fear or shock at the sight of me.   So I began making soothing noises to get him to stay, and moved at a pace of an inch every few seconds in order to get a better view and better photos.   And wonder of wonders he stayed right where he was.

In fact the Woodchuck didn't become really uncomfortable with my presence, until I was only a couple of feet in front of him.  At which point he started making motions like he was going to disappear, but I kept whispering non sense to him and he hesitated in delaying his departure.  Eventually however, I stepped over some invisible boundary in his personal space and he ducked into a hollow under the wooden step that you can see in the photo.  I got a couple of more photos of him after that, with him watching me from the hollow, but of course he didn't emerge again.  The wonder of moment had passed, and that was that.

Once I got home I immediately searched the internet to find out just what wildlife species he was.  I had already ruled out Otter and Gopher by this time, and was thoroughly puzzled about what I had seen.   When I learned that he was a Woodchuck, I naturally recalled learning a children's rhyme about this beautiful little creature.  It was very popular with children, in fact it still is, although, somehow, I never connected the rhyme with a real live wildlife species.  This is a good thing.  Had I made the connection, I wouldn't have felt like a child again, which is what made this experience so very special and precious after all.


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