Saturday, January 12, 2013
I got to the park kind of late today. I think I was procrastinating due to the cold temperatures but I finally did make it. I'd only just parked and barely walked 100 feet when I noticed something big at the base of a big cottonwood tree only 6-8 feet inside the paved trail. Laying there right out in the open was a large adult Racoon! This was only the 2nd time I've ever seen a Raccoon at the park. He was laying there in a ball with his head down and cocked to the side and right away I figured something wasn't right with him. For one, it was daytime and he was very close to the trail. The other thing is that it was quite cold today - around 10º with a brisk wind and he wasn't even on the leewards side of the big tree. I figured right off that he was dead but I swear I could see him breathing. I approached a bit closer and slowly he kind of rolled his head up to look at me but never quite lifted it all the way up. I wasn't sure what to do, or even if I should do anything but I decided to call a friend of mine with experience in wildlife rehabilitation. He explained that Racoons commonly suffer from distemper, at which point there is not much that can be done by anyone, even a rehabilitation facility as there is no known treatment for the virus. He further explained that the most common way a Raccoon might contract the disease is through contact with a domestic dog -though it doesn't need to be actual "physical" contact as the virus can be airborne and still infective. To me the Raccoon appeared to be lethargic and moving slowly which fit some of the symptoms. Apparently one of the most obvious symptoms of distemper is discharge from, or crusted over eyes, but that didn't seem to present in this guy -at least not yet. It was kind of a bummer but there was nothing we could do but let nature take it's course. It was neat to finally get a photo of a Raccoon in the park but I wish it hadn't happened this way. On the southwest side I stopped to find "Waldo" the Wood Duck still hanging out with all the Mallards. As I was looking for him, the entire group of ducks thought I was going to feed them and they ALL flew up onto the banks and walked right up underneath me. I thought it was kind of funny and didn't move but just let them huddle around me. It gave me a chance to grab a few closeups of the Drake's iridescent green/blue heads as the group quacked loudly. The sun was already starting to set by now and as I hurried on to the north end of the park the sky presented some beautiful orange tones with shaded dark clouds passing by. Some of the best sunset can be seen in wintertime but they are very short lived compared to summer. Later I met up with my friend to take another look at the Raccoon who was still in the same place an hour later but had started to actually get up and move around a bit. After this the two of us decided on a whim to hike out into the middle of the park -in the dark- and hopefully scare up an interesting Raptor or two. As we hiked out there we could periodically catch a glimpse of a Vole scurrying across the snow, looking frantically for another hole to disappear into again. I couldn't believe how easy it was to see out there even at night and without a moon of any kind. The sky was overcast so the glow of the city provided just enough light though we never did see anything of interest but was still kind of fun.