T’was a fine mid-November morn as I walked through Catch the Wind. I’d stopped to look through the partridge pea patch across from the signage which introduces Catch the Wind to hikers, walkers and strollers making their way around our outdoor exhibits.
In the fall, partridge pea produces many pods filled with copious amounts of seeds. As the pods dry, they twisted upon themselves forcing the seeds to propel themselves out away from the plant. I was hoping to collect some of the pods before they burst open in order to save the seeds for planting elsewhere.
Glancing up towards the eastern sky I noticed a large lump in the crotch of a tree about fifty feet or so off the path. A squirrel’s nest, I thought. Something odd about this squirrel’s nest, I then mused. Taking a closer look, I realized that there was some kind of furry creature curled up on top of the nest, asleep.
Much too large to be a squirrel, the sleeping beauty could be one of three animals out of the many species of local mammilian fauna residing at the Museum. The possibilities considered were groundhog, gray fox, and raccoon. All three can climb trees. Groundhogs would most likely be, well, underground on a typical November day. They chiefly climb trees to secure fruit, such as mulberries, not to sleep.
A gray fox can nimbly make its way up a tee. And although I’ve seen these versatile creatures snoozing aloft in the past, this just didn’t look like a fox. The fur was too uniformly gray. It had to be a raccoon.
The animal was clearly fast asleep. As I walked closer, I made no effort to hide the noise I made in the dried leaves and twigs at my feet. And, despite the fact that a gray squirrel was in a nearby tree loudly protesting the napping bandit’s takeover of its nest, the raccoon continued stacking Zs.
I walked around the tree to try and get a photo of the critter, something to confirm that it was indeed a raccoon. One shot showed the tip of an ear, a raccoon’s ear.
The raccoon slept the entire day on top of the squirrel’s nest. What prompted this masked raider to spend the day, virtually out in the open atop a squirrel’s nest, I can not say. Only a flattened nest was present the following morning. However, the raccoon was back the next day, if only for half of the day.
Raccoons are adaptable creatures. In fact, they’re thriving amongst our human suburban, even urban, societies. For the most part nocturnal, we don’t often see them in the light of day except perhaps in coming and going from their night time sorties. It was a pleasure to have this encounter, even though one of us was hard asleep at the time.