Sunday, March 28, 2010

Dead But Not Endangered

I am a close watcher of roadkills as I make my appointed rounds, and I have often considered creating a roadkill calendar, from the first dead skunks of February through the deceased rabbits of early March and the August gray squirrels driven out of their minds, I suppose, by thirst. This year I noticed a lot of dead minks in the second half of March, and one day, not too far from here, I saw a really big one that was lighter in color than usual. Could it be, I wondered, a dead pine marten instead? I had heard that someone had seen one last fall during deer season. It was worth turning around and going back to find out.

My stiff little friend was in great condition, so I put him in the car and went home. The mammal guidebook said minks had a white patch on their chin, but pine martens had one on the chin and another on the chest. The deceased did indeed have a chest patch, so I measured him and photographed him and left a message for the neighborhood naturalist.

[Game wardens and other DCNR types will please note that I never even considered adding this critter to my earthly possessions. I was just looking him up.]

It turns out that pine martens were extirpated in Pennsylvania more than a century ago, so for this to be a pine marten would have been rare indeed, and I would have gotten my name in the Fish & Game News. But it was not a pine marten. The naturalist and our other neighbor, a retired wildlife biologist from a part of Canada where they still have living pine martens, both said it was a mink, and that the chest patch was just a kind of extended chin patch, not nearly yellow enough or glorious enough to be a real chest patch.

So our pretty fellow is just a dead mink like all the others. In a way, I feel better about that because if it were the only pine marten in Pennsylvania for a hundred years and it were dead in my freezer, that would be pretty sad.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Lilac for a Day

My husband has a thing for certain breeds of livestock, including Highland cattle and Boer goats. So when he phoned from band practice last week and asked if it was OK to bring home this little practically orphaned Boer goat kid that we were only keeping for six weeks and not a day more, so help him God, I figured it was time to let him work through the goat thing. (We worked through the cattle thing a couple years ago by way of the late lamented Herkie.) So Thursday after school, John and St. John went to get Lilac.

Lilac’s problem is not that her mother is dead. It’s that her mother prefers Lilac’s twin brother, and won’t stand for Lilac to nurse. In fact, she was seen yanking Lilac’s tail when she tried to make the effort. My longsuffering friend Pete, of Clodhopper Farm, solves this problem by holding the mama goat’s lip in a twitch while Lilac nurses. Lilac was three weeks old when we got her, so obviously the plan was working, though she was smaller than the other kids.

I went online and poked around for advice on what to feed goat babies. John stopped at his mother’s barn for some raw cow milk and calf panels, and at the feed store for a lamb bottle. Then he and St. John went out and came home with the cutest little goat you ever saw. She was springy and adorable and curious about everything. And if you went out of her sight, she went off like all the car alarms in New Jersey. Also, no amount of effort would persuade her to drink milk out of the bottle. Then John announced that he was going out to band practice. Because they had a gig tomorrow night. When he would not be available to care for the car alarm again. All I can say is “Good thing my blood pressure is not naturally high.” Because this would have been an excellent way to precipitate a major coronary event.

I watched Lilac for a few hours and tried a hundred more times to get her to eat. There is not much more frustrating to the cooking mother than an infant animal that will not eat. I sat down finally on the floor beside the wood stove, and Lilac came over and after tentatively sniffing and even licking at the stove a bit, folded up her knobbly knees and laid down beside it, apparently finding its warmth very like goat maternity. And at least the wood stove was not yanking her tail. I didn’t want to sleep on the kitchen floor, so I removed Lilac to a dog crate in my bedroom, where she slept quietly all night, with just one reassurance that we were still there in the dark with her.

But the next morning I sent her back to the farm. Because a little milk from an unwilling mother is better than no milk from the willingest foster family. St. John was sad; he and Lilac shared a common interest in jumping off stuff. I don’t know if 14 hours was enough to resolve the Boer thing for my husband, but I think I helped him complete the emotional arc when I offered to murder him with a skillet the next time he brought home a live animal. So now we are back to just dogs, cats, sheep, chickens and Dolly Madison, of whom more next time.

P.S. The maple run was practically non-existent this year, and coincided with rising creeks and a bunch of work gigs. So no syrup for us. We will buy some from the neighbors for whom the maple run is the work gig.