So, several visitors to Alberta’s Lake Minnewanka sat in their aluminum johnboat, close to shore, when no more than 20 feet away they saw a cougar attack and kill a bighorn sheep. The cat struck and the bighorn, which isn’t exactly a small critter itself, was down.
Talk about excitement. By the time the boaters’ camera had been removed from what was probably a waterproof bag of some sort, the big cat already had the wild sheep between its sharp-clawed paws and now perhaps was trying to figure out whether to drag the large animal away to a rocky larder up in the hills or maybe partake of a snack right then and there. The latter proved to be the better idea because cougars (and humans in the know) are quite aware how delicious wild sheep can be. The cougar dined, the nearby boaters notwithstanding.
For people who spend a large amount of time outdoors, nature frequently provides a show that even a Hollywood studio would have a tough time producing.
A case in point is a series of clear color photos a reader sent me a few days ago that showed a large bald eagle attack a tundra swan in mid-air.
There was no doubt about the rare confrontation. The eagle clearly had the big waterfowl in its talons, but the photos that followed showed the swan eventually freeing itself and reaching some sort of safety.
In my neighborhood, down along the Port Tobacco River in southern Maryland, bald eagles are plentiful these days and more often than not we see the proud symbol of the United States fly near a bird-rich, heavily treed shoreline only to be chased away by mere mockingbirds, crows or food-competing ospreys. It’s an odd sight: a powerful eagle taking a powder because the adversaries, some of which aren’t even one-tenth the eagle’s size, object to it being in their bailiwick.
However, it doesn’t always work out that way. A few weeks ago I spotted an osprey, a gizzard shad firmly held clamped between its talons, fly toward its nest atop a river buoy. Before it could make it, though, a large bald eagle appeared from the high wooded hillsides and flew directly toward the smaller fish hawk. With the almost comical cackle that eagles emit, the big bird collided with the osprey who let go of his bounty.
The eagle simply folded its wings and only a second or so after the fish struck the river’s surface, the eagle had the booty and flew off with it. What a river bully! No wonder the smaller creatures take up defensive maneuvers the moment they spot “Old Baldie.”
And when was the last time you saw a whitetail doe clobber its own young or an unwanted suitor? It happens with regularity down in the forests and swamplands of Southern Maryland.
On several occasions, while sitting up in a well-concealed deer stand, scouting the local deer herd around mating time — the rut — I’ve spotted young lovesick bucks try to mount a grumpy old doe. Invariably, the female would rise on its hind legs and give the youthful upstart a hoof lashing he won’t soon forget. Even half-grown fawns aren’t easily forgiven when they get out of hand — ‘er hoof. They, too, receive a few well-aimed strikes with mama’s front hooves.
But the strangest thing I’ve ever had happen while in the woods was a full-grown skunk walk directly over my outstretched legs. I’d been sitting on the ground, my back against a beech tree, legs stuck out as far as they could reach, waiting for daylight and hoping to have a squirrel den in front of me, way up in a mighty oak.
At the barest glimmer of light I saw a big skunk walk toward me, oblivious to my presence. The skunk simply walked a familiar route, I thought, so I wasn’t about to move and elicit a fright response because my wife wouldn’t have thought it to be funny had I returned home and smelled up every square inch of our grassy lot and spic-and-span home.
The skunk, meanwhile, clambered over my legs, sniffed my pants a little, then went on its way.
There are other outdoor tales, all of them true and none more true than that of my friend Miles Dean who is a North Carolina bow hunter. After several times missing a fine, nearby buck from up in his tree stand, he became so upset that in a fit of anger he threw the bow at the deer. The hunting bow struck the buck’s antlers and then became entangled in the deer’s rack. The buck ran off, bewildered perhaps, but safe all the same.
We never knew what became of either one.