Life in America

I don’t think I’ve ever seen quite as many rabbits as I have since moving to Sheboygan. Although our garden is surrounded by a 5ft slatted fence, we frequently see young bunnies in our garden, munching down on the American violets (yay) and my flowers (boo). Sometimes we see bigger bunnies too. There was a big ol’ female cottontail, about the size of Grabbity, who pretty much owned the garden. I think she slipped in under the gate, or round the edge of the fence where it fails to meet our neighbour’s house.

Friday, at about 1.15pm, Kevin left for a meeting. He called me on his way, to let me know that there was half a dead rabbit in the garden. It’s not what I was expecting, I must admit, so I went out to check and sure enough, there was the back half of a rabbit I suspect had been the matronly cottontail. The head, shoulders and front legs had been eaten, leaving just the back haunches. It was a pretty neat job, no mess of entrails, just a few vertebrae scattered about.

I find it hard to imagine that this was the work of a domestic cat, and there aren’t many around us anyway. I think I’ve seen a cat outside maybe twice, in the three and a half years I’ve lived here. But whilst I’ve seen cats catching rabbits, this was a sizeable bunny, and I’ve never seen a cat take down a rabbit of this size.

According to the internet, the list of North American predators that won’t start eating a rabbit head first is far shorter than the ones that will. Fox, coyote, cougar, bobcat, coywolf, racoon… I’ve never seen any of those in the middle of Sheboygan, and feel all are rather unlikely candidates for the award of Creature Most Likely To Take A Quick Snack In Our Back Garden.

Also on the list, though, is the Great Horned Owl. We think there might be one living in a pine tree behind our house as we’ve heard it. Now, Kevin found the rabbit at lunchtime, but whilst it looked relatively fresh, there’s no telling when it was killed. I checked on it throughout the afternoon and evening, and it was still there even when we got home from dinner at 9.30pm. By 10.30pm though, the back half had gone.

I really, really wish that I’d some sort of motion-capture camera trained on the garden. I would have loved to have seen which creature decided on rabbit for dinner.

If anyone can identify a Great Horned Owl kill, here’s a photo. Enclicken to enbiggen.

 

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One upon a time, a long long time ago, I used to work for BAA, the British Airports Authority. At the time, they operated most of the big airports in the UK, and I worked in the Retail Finance department, out by Heathrow. I was only there, as a temp, for I think about nine weeks, but whilst I was there we would occasionally go over to the airport itself for lunch. But not just to the airport…. airside, at the airport. Those restaurants with big windows that looked out over the runway and the plane and all the excitement that I then associated with airports.

It was exciting. You could really sense excitement buzzing through the terminal, especially from passengers on their way to their holiday destination. It was thrilling, enticing, mysterious. I’d flown before, once, to Australia when I was 19. That’s a pretty big first flight, frankly, and a whole story all to itself. But just seeing these planes on the apron, sensing the anticipation. It was breathtaking.

I fly a lot more now. More than I would have ever anticipated back then, in the mid 90s. And the last thing I feel is excitement or anticipation. It’s a much less trusting time, that’s true, but flying now feels like a massive chore rather than something to look forward to. That’s in part, I suppose, because even just getting to the airport now is a chore. I left the house at 12:30 for a 20:20 flight, because I have to take a shuttle to Milwaukee airport, then catch a coach to Chicago O’Hare, and one has to leave quite a leeway in case of traffic or delays. It cost well over $80, and it’s hardly the most relaxing start to a journey.

I could continue, but I think you already know what I’d say. It’s not the security stuff per se that has stripped the excitement from flying, it’s all the amazing ways that airlines manage to make flying more tedious than it needs to be. Maybe it might be different if I was only flying to go on holiday, rather than for work, but the old idea that flying was exotic, exciting and thrilling… well, I just don’t feel it anymore. And that’s a shame.

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I’ve been in the US for two weeks now, and I’m starting to feel settled in. Our house is lovely, if still rather empty and echoey as our furniture is still in the Port of New York, going through customs and, eventually, making its way here. We have a couple of chairs, and yesterday picked up a table at a garage sale, but the house is mostly empty at the moment.

There’s a lovely fireplace in the lounge, and a couple of days ago we went to light the fire. It was a bit cool that evening, and we thought a fire would be cosy and make the place seem a bit more homely. Just above the fire grate, in the chimney, there is a dampener which shuts off the chimney, and which you have to open if you want to set a fire. Kevin did, and there was a very odd noise coming out of the chimney:

It turns out that we have a nest of chimney swifts in residence. According to what I’ve read, they become audible at about two weeks, and will fledge in another two. They are now very clearly audible even with the dampener closed. When the parents return with food, you hear a brief drumming sound as they claps their wings to their body at speed, and then the chimney erupts in enthusiastic chirping. This happens frequently throughout the day and although Grabbity and Mewton were perplexed at first, they’ve now decided it’s just background noise.

(I did try to record the sounds of our swifts specifically, and my phone did take a hit of bird poop in the process, but the resulting video was too quiet to be useful. I will try again tomorrow.)

Chimney swifts are classed as ‘near threatened’, possibly due to a decline in the insect population because of pesticide use and the loss of habitat. Chimney swifts used to nest in hollow trees, but when humans started cutting down trees and building houses, they shifted to chimneys instead. Many people now cap their chimneys to prevent animals like the swifts from gaining access. Ours obviously hasn’t been capped and, now we know a bit more about these delightful birds, we won’t be adding a cap in the winter.

Migrating birds are protected in the US, so we wouldn’t be allowed to disturb them whilst nesting or roosting even if we wanted to, but they are so cute and the sounds so adorable that I’m happy to share our home with them. The only real adjustments we’ll need to make is to sweep our chimney at the end of the season when they migrate back to Peru, to get rid of the nesting debris and prevent potential chimney fires, and then again in mid-March to make sure that the chimney is clear of creosotes and other deposits from our winter fires.

I expected some new and different experiences when I moved to America, but I can’t say that I expected to share my house with chimney swifts!

UPDATE: I managed to get some decent video of the swifts. Watch full screen and in HD if you can. The fun starts around 00:20.

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