Friday, July 6, 2007

Gone walkabout: observing urban wildlife

One of the delights of my new walking regimen is that I get to observe the local wildlife.

Before I started taking the morning walks, I had no idea that my city even had wildlife, except for seagulls and car alarm birds. (Car alarm birds are actually mockingbirds, I think. They’re dead-on mimics of our neighbors’ rude auto alarms: whoop-whoop-whoop, enh-enh-enh. You get the idea.).

In our congested city-by-the sea, the McMansions and aging beach cottages are packed in cheek-to-jowl, fringed by decorative strips. In an environment like that, where could wildlife breed, or even hang out?

The little critters breed and hang out anywhere and everywhere, I’ve now learned.

I first sighted some real urban fauna in a cluster of palm trees near City Hall. As I passed by, I heard a flock of noisy birds squawking in the fronds. I mean, these birds were really noisy. And they were green.

To me, they looked like parrots.

“Parrots?” My husband said, when I returned home, breathless with excitement at having discovered an exotic species so close to home. “No,” he said, sighing with the air of a world-weary ornithologist. “They must be pigeons.”

“But they’re green.”

“They must be green…pigeons.”

It took several more sightings for me to convince myself (and him) that the birds were, indeed, parrots. I’ve read stories about the famous parrots of San Francisco. Turns out, my little city has tons of them.

Then, I inhaled evidence of a less favored fauna--Pepe Le Pew.

One morning, as I set off on my pre-dawn walk, I caught a glimpse of him, trundling along. It was Pepe.

“I saw a skunk this morning,” I informed my husband. “So that’s what the smell in the morning is, the one we thought was a gas leak.”

“It must have been a cat,” he rejoined. “Can’t be skunks around here.”

“What kind of cat smells like that?” I asked.

“Smelly cat?”

“It had a stripe down its back.”

“Tabby cat wearing vertical stripes?”

Since Pepe, my walkabouts have confirmed that our neighborhood teems with wildlife—everything from possum to an incredible variety of brightly colored birds. I’m especially aware of the birds around this time of year. Our house is the only one in the immediate area that has real trees. Our trees become an annual nursery ward for hatchlings. And from just a few neighborhoods away come rumors of deer and coyote sightings.

My newfound appreciation of urban wildlife aside, I wouldn’t relish running into a coyote during my morning walks.

My lust for safari adventure has its limits.

-- Kathryn Lilley

1 comment:

Joanna Campbell Slan said...


Believe it or not, I've even seen wild parrots when I lived in Central Illinois. What I was told was birds "escape" their owners, find shelter in barns over the winter, and sometimes form flocks. Isn't nature adaptable?