This blog originates on the banks of the Atchafalaya River, in Louisiana. It proposes to share the things that happen on and by the river as the seasons progress. As the river changes from quiet, warm, slow flow to rises of eighteen feet or more, there are changes in the lives of the birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles that use the river. And the mood of the river changes with the seasons. I propose to note and comment on these things.

My Photo
Location: Butte La Rose, Louisiana, United States

I transitioned a few years ago from a career as a water-pollution control biologist. I want to do this blog to stay in touch with a world outside my everyday surroundings, whatever they may be. I like open-minded company and the discussion of ideas. Photo by Brad Moon.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Sherlock Catfood

We are always careful to provide food and shelter for our cats when we leave for more than a day or so. We do this by using one of those gravity-fed, food-on-demand feeders. You just put in the amount you want to provide and the cats eat it as they please. I have always thought that the cats look forward to our leaving since only then do they get to eat as much as they want any time they want, otherwise they are limited in quantity and timing.

Our last trip was the first one in many years that exceeded one week, it was in fact two weeks. I usually put in about six pounds of dry food for one week’s absence, and that’s way more than they can eat. This time I put in that amount with a request to someone who was watching the house for us to put in an equal amount if the six pounds was consumed before we returned. OK.

When we got back, the hopper for the feeder should not have been empty, but it was. And the cats were very glad to see us – although not in danger of suffering from a lack of body-fat reserves. Actually, I really don’t think they were glad to see us, but they have made the connection between me and food and they were glad to see the connection return. They looked kind of like meerkats, spinning around and around with their tails straight up in the air.

To explain why we could leave food outside and feel reasonably sure only our cats could get it, refer to the pictures. Part of our back porch is screened off. On the lower left there is a swinging screen door made especially for cats (small dogs too, I guess). Alcibiades is seen using it in the above picture. The door keeps wandering opportunistic uncivilized organisms (WOUOs) outside, and provides a sanctuary from mosquitoes for the cats. And when mosquitoes are bad the cats spend a lot of nights behind the screen walls. For quite a while I have wondered what would happen if some WOUO discovered the secret of the little screen door. Would I be able to tell? What would it be? If it got into the screen porch would it also be able to get out?

Well, several days ago I noticed that the cat’s dishes were not just their usual more-or-less empty in the morning, they were spotlessly clean. This happened for several mornings in a row. The cats do eat almost all of the food I give them, but they are not fastidious about cleaning up every crumb. But not a crumb was anywhere in evidence for several mornings. Suspicion slowly crept in that a WOUO had indeed discovered the secret of the swinging door. And then the clincher, a bag of food that was mistakenly left out on the screen porch overnight was ripped open in the morning and much of the food consumed. But what was it? A wild cat? A possum? A raccoon? An otter from the river? What?

And then, as if to announce its presence, it left a calling card plainly and obviously for all to see. No, not the remains of a previous meal, as the quicker of us might have expected. No, it placed its foot into an old, unused watering bowl and left the muddy print on the bottom of the bowl. And there it was - the WOUO was a raccoon, my old nemesis.

Now, as a private citizen I am legally allowed to shoot a raccoon any time I want to, but I don’t think I’m allowed to do anything to simply transport or otherwise inconvenience said wild furbearing game animal. One may shoot, but may not otherwise harm WOUOs in our fair State. So, for the purposes of this story, and to avoid self-incrimination, I did not trap that raccoon on my back porch. It did not do everything it could to get at me when I approached the device I did not trap it in. It was not the fattest, catfood-fed raccoon I have ever seen. And it does not now live in a very nice forest many miles from Butte La Rose. I could include many other “nots” but that about sums it up.

Now, I wonder if this WOUO was a solitary forager, or whether it was a member of a pack?

The river is at 6.6 feet on the Butte La Rose gauge, rising a little to 7.0 by Friday. The Mississippi and Ohio are steady but falling in the upper reaches. No significant water is in store for us for the time being.

Rise and Shine, Jim


Blogger Randy said...

Jim, I knew exactly where you were headed in this story when you found your catfood auto-feeder empty. While the info following made for great reading, it added no needed clues to the mix. Check out my last blog posting dear Watson and you will know why... www.homegrowing.blogspot.com

November 07, 2006 3:29 PM  

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