Several weeks ago as I walked down the boardwalk into Explore the Wild I noticed a Turkey Vulture (TV) soaring low over the trees at the NE corner of the Wetlands.
I thought, “There must be something dead over there.”
A few days later I saw a TV clumsily fly down through the trees in that same area.
“There’s GOT to be something dead over there.” I thought.
And then, a few days after that, I heard two crows calling loudly from the trees and I saw what looked like a couple of TVs hopping around in the understory of, yes, that same corner of the Wetlands.
“I’ve got to go see what’s dead over there,” I thought, “I hope it’s not one of the herons.” We’ve had several herons in the Wetlands over the winter and at least two of them have not been seen for several weeks.
I walked over through the woods. As I got to a point about fifty feet or so from the birds, several TVs and two crows sprang up from the forest floor. The birds crashed through the branches trying to gain a higher perspective in order to see what was coming at them. TVs are big birds and in the tight quarters of the woods their huge wings made quite a racket as they smacked against the branches.
From where I stood I could see the object of the birds’ attention, but I still couldn’t tell what it was. I moved a little closer. It was a mass of gray fluffy material beneath a shrub. Could it it be gray feathers, a Great Blue Heron?
I moved closer. It wasn’t feathers after all, it was fur. Good, at least it wasn’t a heron. But what was it. My first thought was raccoon. We have a healthy population of raccoons here at the Museum and over the years that I’ve been here (a little over four) I’ve seen perhaps five raccoons that have succumbed to some disease or infection. Turkey Vultures usually are what leads me to their whereabouts.
I couldn’t move very much closer without stepping through water, muck and mud and I had the whole day ahead of me without a change of shoes so I satisfied myself with taking a few photos and departed. I’d figure out what the animal was later by looking at the pictures.
Going over the photos on a computer, the fur seemed more possum-like than raccoon. There were too many white hairs to be raccoon. Looking even closer it seems the fur is more cat-like than possum. It doesn’t look coarse enough for possum fur.
I should have simply walked over and grabbed a clipping or two. A good naturalist would have done that. But why walk around with wet, muddy feet all day when you don’t have to.
For the past four years, I’d seen a large white cat with great, gray splotches on its back and sides sneaking around the Museum grounds. I haven’t seen that cat in a while. Perhaps this is that cat. I don’t know.
I suppose though, that it really doesn’t matter what it was. It IS no longer what it was. It’s now carrion. The TVs, crows, chickadees, mice, beetles, and flies will all have their turns with the animal regardless of what it was. And they, will be stronger for it.