Gary's taking a break and returns June 28. While he's gone, we'll print some of his columns from the past. Today's is from Oct. 4, 1995.
Dear Gary: In my neighborhood, we have our share of wildlife. The ivy and trees are filled with squirrels, birds and huge numbers of crawly things. Fluorescent dragonflies dart and hover as hummingbirds poke their slender beaks into the honeysuckle flowers.
We are constantly delighted by our many "friends," and we don't have to pay exorbitant fees to Marine World. I've seen killer whales jump, but there is nothing like letting a caterpillar undulate across your palm or opening the door of your house and greeting a sweet-faced young Virginia opossum.
This time of year we look forward to seeing beautiful orb-weaving spiders that grow to enormous proportions among our trees. Sometimes I have to lecture them about human access to places like our front door, but I have found them not distressed by gently relocating them.
Some nights when I step outside to enjoy the cool breeze, I hear a sort of soprano chattering that emanates from more than one area on the ground. Occasionally something that hisses loudly like an alligator passes under my bedroom window. It amazes me that I really don't know how the various creatures around here express themselves. Except for cats and dogs, of course.
What other sounds do raccoons make? And opossums? Is
George S. Boyle,
Dear George: I know of no books on wild animals sounds; maybe a mockingbird will write one some day.
Most people would be shocked at how many animal sounds swirl about us in a 24-hour period. We're so used to them, we don't even know they're there.
During the day the chirping songs of finches and sparrows, the SCRITCH, SCRITCH of an Anna's hummingbird as it challenges another hummer, the faraway scream of a red-tailed hawk, an occasional CRICK! of a Pacific treefrog, the CAW of a distant crow, the low cooing of a mourning dove to its mate, the sharp sneer of a passing gull and the always nag-nag-nagging of the pesky scrub jays echo about you and are punctuated by the periodic interjections from the orioles, tanagers, towhees, warblers, robins, starlings, blackbirds and an upbeat acorn woodpecker drumming on a hollow tree.
Just to name a few.
Sounds are just as wild at night.
Raccoons are great at snarling, especially when a pack of them fights over the remains of your dinner in the garbage can. But they also have a high-pitched "gargling" sound, like an extra-loud cat's purr, when they're happy. And when they're not up to "talking" you can still track their movements by the clink and clatter of the things they move in your patio as they search for bugs.
Opossums are the strong silent type, with an occasional soft growl, loud hiss or the kind of smacking sound you make by pressing your tongue against the roof of your mouth and snapping it off.
And as the crickets chirp, you have the shrieking and hissing of barn owls under your window, the soft hoo, hoo of great horned owls, the scraping of a skunk's 2-inch nails as it skitters across the patio to your dog's food dish, the distant yodels of coyotes (if you're lucky), the occasional yap! of a happy red fox and the soft peep of a sleepy bird.
And of course, more of the same from one of those ever-present, big-mouthed mockingbirds.
Maybe it's collecting material for that book on wild animal sounds.
Contact Gary Bogue at firstname.lastname@example.org or write him at P.O. Box 8099, Walnut Creek, CA 94596.