Monday, June 13, 2016

What is more "human"--man or animal?

When I was young I had a fascination with wildlife, perhaps more than most since I much preferred the company of the natural over the human world. I haven’t lost any of that fascination, but I must confess that I am mystified by the relative lack of diversity in species here in the state of Washington compared to Wisconsin, where I grew-up, especially in the summer months. Butterflies and moths seem particularly lacking around here; certainly the failure to see a single Monarch is explained by both the fact that this area isn’t along its migration route as well as the lack of milkweeds upon which its caterpillars feed, but neither have I seen its “cousin,” the Viceroy butterfly, or the giant Cecropia moth, or the beautiful Luna moth. Perhaps a very occasional Tiger swallowtail crosses my path, but otherwise there is a distinct lack of “color” in the air, even in the areas of where human habitation is not in evidence. Perhaps large butterflies and moths cannot co-exist with the frequent rainfall.

But an area with an abundance of precipitation naturally attracts a few species of waterfowl to the rainwater runoff ditches and creeks in the semi-urban climes of Kent, which is where I saw for the first (and only) time the relatively tiny (compared to a Mallard) Wood duck and its mate in the wild, the male making an amusing mouse-like squeak as it fled the premises. This mating and rearing season started early after mild temperatures and record rainfall during the “wet” season. Already I’ve seen ducklings grown nearly the size of their mothers, and Canada goose juveniles acquiring the black neck and white throat patch of their parents, which I had never observed before as part of a “family” unit. 

One thing I’ve observed in the Mallard duck and Canada goose rearing is how the original number of young depletes over the weeks and months. There might initially be as many as eight or ten ducklings and goslings per mating pair, but by the time they reach their “teens”, there is usually only two or three that remain. This is true of the three “families” of Canada geese that call the area around 228th and 64th streets in Kent “home.” The entire group regularly crosses the street to feed on the short grass on one side during the day (leaving behind a significant amount of “fertilizer”), and re-crosses the street to the runoff ditch in the evening.  

I wonder what happened to the goslings that are no longer in evidence. Perhaps they were the victim of natural predators, or became ill, could not find enough food, or simply became lost. But there are other explanations as well. On the occasions I observed the geese crossing the street, drivers of cars were generally mindful of their “right of way,” although this probably not too much of a annoyance for them because 64th Street is not one of Kent’s infamous arterial roads or highways in disguise, with relatively modest traffic. Nevertheless I noted that the number of goslings had fallen off precipitously since April, and it disturbed me.

This past Saturday I saw the three geese families crossing the street in the evening without incident; I marveled how accommodating vehicle operators were to them. But on Sunday I came upon something in the middle of the same street: the limp body of what apparently was an animal of some sort. Upon closer inspection it appeared to be either one of the older juveniles or one of the mother geese, obviously freshly run over by some sick excuse for a human being. I say sick because the carcass was located outside the normal drive lane; the driver of the offending vehicle apparently took greater deliberation than was necessary to do the cruel deed. I realize that to some, the Canada goose is a “pest,” and perhaps the driver was not in the mood for accommodation. However, I have seen many examples of “road kill” on the streets of Kent which convinces me that there are some people in this town who take gruesome “pleasure” in taking their frustrations out on creatures who have done them no harm. 

I stood out in the middle of the street for a few moments next to the deceased, so that drivers passing by on either side might be forced to slow down and observe the handiwork of one of their number, who could be anyon. Maybe a few understood the point.

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