We are used to seeing wildlife. We enjoy watching the birds, though we wish they did not leave their calling cards wherever they have been roosting or resting, particularly when that happens to be where we walk. The ducks and swans argue and squabble noisily from time to time; the seagulls swoop and squall; the geese loiter around the grassy areas where they feed. The minks move silently and rarely make their presence known, though we know they are around. Then there is the plump young raccoon, oddly lacking in what we thought of as raccoon characteristics – being nocturnal and avoiding us.
We first noticed him (or her?) one fall day when the restaurant was still open, waddling casually up the ramp to investigate what he could find there, his ringed tail trailing behind him. Then we saw him hanging around the outdoor snack bar and, another day, investigating the garbage compound. One day we spotted him on the main dock, wandering along, undeterred by our presence.
It must have been soon after the restaurant and snack bar closed for the season that he decided to check out the boats. A boater down the dock from us realized one night that he had an unwanted guest on board. When he investigated he found a tear in his cover, a place a young raccoon could slip through. When we talked to him he was contemplating his options for encouraging said raccoon to leave.
A couple of nights later there was a light sprinkling of snow. In it we saw small animal footprints leading to that boat and away again; obviously the raccoon had left to go about his business, and while he was away his entrance had been closed. The footprints returned to the dock gate. Scuff marks suggested he had slipped under it. No mean feat, considering how fat he looked and how narrow the gap between dock and gate.
A few days later we saw Mr. Raccoon sauntering down the ramp we were walking toward. He slipped off it before we got too close, and ducked into the gloom on the dock underneath. He was probably waiting for his chance to look for food and shelter unobserved. We passed quickly over his head.
A week or so ago we learned that he had found at least one more place to shelter. This time he had climbed into the open back of a powerboat, and had made a messy, smelly nest in a sheltered spot there. This left the powerboat owner with two related problems – how to get the raccoon to stop visiting, and cleaning the nest out. It was, he said, man against raccoon.
First he tried a humane trap. He baited it and left it out overnight. The next morning he came out to find the bait gone and the trap empty. Round one to the raccoon. When we next passed the nominal owner of the boat (we assume the raccoon would contest ownership) was working with hose and brush on the second problem, that of cleaning out the nest, hoping to discourage the raccoon from returning. Perhaps that was all he needed; when next we asked the raccoon had not returned.
The last time we saw Mr. Raccoon he was lingering by a wire fence that overlooks the ramp down to the gate we all enter through. There was a cold wind blowing; he looked twice as fat as usual, his fur all puffed out around him. Perhaps he was considering the nest he had built, the nest that no longer existed, and regretting its loss. Hopefully he was thinking of food and shelter options that did not involve entering boats. Maybe even contemplating a return to the nooks and crannies of the wild.
We’ll let you know…
*Picture by D. Gordon E. Robertson, April 2009, shared under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.