Anyone who has spent a little time outdoors will have some stories to tell about their encounters with nature. Most of my encounters have happened while on fishing trips. In order to put some sort of organization to some of these stories that I feel are worth sharing, I’ve decided to break them down by species…alphabetically.
I was flyfishing one of the many freshwater canals in Miami one morning. I had been forewarned to beware of alligators that might be sunning themselves along the shoreline at that time of day. I was slowly walking along, stopping to fish, walking a little further on, and fishing again. I was periodically looking down along the shoreline so that I would see any alligators well before I got too close to them. Well… I may have gotten a little lax in my scouting. Or perhaps this one had been fairly well concealed near some shrubs back away from the water. At any rate, I had almost gotten between one and the water, and it ran by me about 15’ away as it launched itself into the canal. Adrenaline rush and fear! It wasn’t big…maybe 6 feet long. It was kind of cute as it swam across to the other side of the canal. What bothered me most was that I hadn’t seen it before it took off for the water! I improved my diligence in alligator-scanning for the rest of the day, I assure you!
During another trip to Florida, near Titusville, I was fishing with a guide, and we drifted over the top of something. I saw the tail and legs. My mind told me the legs were ginormous fins/whiskers, and thought I was seeing a giant catfish of some sort! My guide pointed out the head, and then I realized it was a large alligator laying on the bottom.
I’ve only seen one Badger so far. My buddy Jay and I were driving home from a fishing excursion to the Maquoketa River near Delhi, Iowa. We were westbound on the divided 4-lane Hwy 20. It was mid-afternoon. I saw something up ahead running towards the road from the open field to the right. I slowed way down to avoid hitting it as it crossed the road in front of us, crossed the median, and continued on across the eastbound lanes and beyond. It was a Badger! That was really cool, and I’d been wanting to see one in the wild. The odd part of the story was that loping along behind the cruising badger was a bizarre-looking creature that I really didn’t get a good look at because of how much I wanted to see the badger. Looking back, I think it was a mangy coyote. I’ve since read that, for some reason, it is common for badgers and coyotes to travel/hunt together.
Bald Eagles are inspirational. Fortunately in my lifetime, Bald Eagle sightings have gone from extremely rare occurrences, to relatively common. In the first 20 years of my life, I don’t recall EVER seeing a Bald Eagle in Iowa. Since then, I’ve seen them along various lakes and rivers, even sitting in snow covered farm fields 50 miles from the nearest river. I’ve even seen a few fly over my neighborhood this year!
One thing Eagles are generally good at, and that is keeping their distance from amateur would-be photographers such as me. Without a decent zoom lens on a camera, its usually very difficult to get a decent picture. In Canada, eagles will sometimes wait in trees on shore near boat anglers, hoping to make a meal of an injured or stunned fish tossed back into the lake. We’ve had them fly down just 30’ from our boat to pick up a fish. It was also in Canada that we watched an Osprey appear and have an aerial battle with an Eagle that was flying away with a fish….and the smaller Osprey won!
This past Spring, we got to watch a pair of Eagles do their mating dance, where two of them grasp each others feet, and then just free fall in a spiral with their wings extended. Pretty cool to see!
Spend enough time around flowing water, and you are likely to encounter beaver. They are a large rodent, and it is nice just to see them, as long as you don’t mind the damage they can do to shoreline trees. Most often, you just see them in the water swimming by, and if you startle them, they will tail-slap and dive underwater. Sometimes they will resurface, tail-slap, and dive again, several times.
One notable encounter occurred on Saylorville Reservoir. I had a Lund fishing boat, and my buddy Jay and I had taken it out pretty early in the year. The water was cold and muddy, and the air was still cold as well. We were dressed for the weather. Fishing that day was indeed fishing, and not catching. We were sitting in the boat, anchored out in the middle of a large arm of the lake. The closest shore was 150 yards away, at least. Soon, we saw a beaver swimming towards us from the main lake. It swam right towards us, and then stopped to look at us from about 20 feet away from the boat. It then swam a complete lap around the boat and returned to its starting point and then sat, floating, and looked us over again. I’ve not clue what it could have been thinking, but after a minute or so, it continued on its way. Just a bizarre episode.
Another encounter occurred when I lived in northern Illinois. I had been wading and fishing the Kishwaukee River for smallmouth bass one summer evening. It got too dark to continue fishing, so I began wading back upstream to where I had parked my car. The side of the river I was wading along was timbered, and trees were overhanging the water. I had to wade around them. As I waded around one such tree, I heard a loud rustle of something running in the tall grass/weeds along the top edge of the riverbank. Then it was completely quiet for just a split second, and then a loud splash in the water between me and shore. HEART ATTACK! In the dark, silly and unreasonable things can quickly take over your mind, and this happened. The first thought that came to mind as answering the question, “What was THAT?” was…well, in my defense…it sounded like an ALLIGATOR jumping off the bank and coming right for me! After a couple adrenaline drenched moments, I realized that there are NO ALLIGATORS in Illinois. It had just been a startled beaver diving back into the river. Nevertheless, it had scared the bazonkers outta me!!
I’ve had some interesting sightings of Black Bears while on fishing trips to Ontario, Canada.
One such sighting occurred during the drive up from Iowa. We slowed down because a deer was crossing the road ahead of us. She kept looking over her shoulder behind her. So, I looked across the road in the direction from which she had come, and trotting down the the grassy slope along a treeline next to the road was a bear. He was obviously hunting that deer. That was kinda cool to see.
The fishing lodge where we stay on our Canada fishing trips, the owners are good about keeping the bears away. There is a garbage heap well back in the woods away from the cabins. The bears prefer to go there, apparently. But occasionally one will come into camp. Upon arrival, everyone is told to bring in their cooking oil after they are done cooking each evening, and to not leave any food outside. One night just after half of our party had gone to bed, the remaining guys were at the kitchen table playing cards. They heard something just outside the sliding glass door on the wooden deck of our cabin. They looked, and saw a bear on our porch! The bear didn’t stay on the porch long, since there was no food there.
Another year, a bold young bear was raiding the fish carcasses at the fish-cleaning station in the boathouse along the water’s edge. From our deck, we watched it pace back and forth along the shoreline in front of the lodge, and then it went out on the docks and started walking around in some of the boats! This isn’t good, because some folks would leave their fishing rods in the boat, and there were hooks on those fishing rods! A bear could easily accidentally break a rod, or get itself snagged up on a hook! The lodge employees were somewhat befuddled as to “what to do with a bear in a boat”!
A third encounter at this lodge happened on yet a different trip. The last evening of the trip, everyone packs up their gear because we leave camp for home very early in the morning. The group in the cabin adjacent to ours put their packed up items outside to get a jump on the morning. Bad move. A bear came into camp and started rummaging around amongst their gear. It tore into some nylon bags and somehow managed to open some coolers and plastic containers. All of the folks in our cabin heard the commotion and got up to see what was going on. We looked out the window towards the other cabin, and the bear was right there, doing what bears will do. Our window was open, covered with just a screen. We whispered to each other. The bear looked up and right towards our window. Not alarmed, he resumed his rummaging. Then, a member of our party, who shall remain nameless (it was NOT me!), ripped a rather sudden and loud fart. The bear looked up at our window again, then turned and took off running away towards the nearest trees as if its life depended on it! Maybe it did…perhaps the bear had been downwind of our friend at some point during that week and had learned his lesson! We still get a good laugh out of that one!
Photo below courtesy of Chris Clark/Jay Ohm:
Butterflies and Moths:
A good thing about fishing is just being outside and close to nature. Along most water and waterways are forests or fields that often contain wildflowers. I suppose this attracts the butterflies, and some of the moths.
During a recent fishing trip to Canada, we noticed hundreds of these Tiger Swallowtails! They seemed to be everywhere. If there were spots of moist sand along the river or lake, there would often be a group of them resting and fluttering around.
We would be fishing out in the middle of a big lake…and suddenly there’d be one or two flying around us in the boat. And they would do this for several minutes before finally moving on.
Also in Canada, I’ve seen a Cecropia Moth, which are very large, and colorful, and I’ve also seen a couple Luna Moths.
Caribou (Woodland Caribou):
Woodland Caribou inhabit the lands around the lake we fish in Ontario, Canada. They aren’t often seen, however. We have seen small herds of them twice swimming in the lake as they travel between the many islands and the shoreline. They are usually a fair distance away when we see them…too far away to take a picture, but close enough that you can tell what they are.
One day my boat partner and I were anchored up, fishing over a submerged weedbed fairly close to shore. A cow Caribou and her calf came out of the woods onto the flat rock at the waters edge. They paced back and forth, stepped into the water a couple times, then turned and headed down the shoreline a short distance and headed back up into the trees. Less than 5 minutes later, a bear came out of the woods at the spot where the caribou had first emerged, and he too paced along the shoreline, nose to the ground, then nose to the air. He also turned and headed back up into the trees on the trail the caribou had taken. The bear was obviously hunting the caribou. The caribou must have wanted to swim away from shore where we were, but may have been put off that idea by our presence. I hope they made good on their escape from the bear!
Ok…Crayfish encounters may lack the excitement of a bear or caribou encounter, but they are still rather interesting, in my skewed opinion.
When I was a kid, my Dad and I would wade rivers while fishing for catfish. In rocky riffle areas, I would turn over rocks searching for crayfish to play with or use for bait. Crayfish are small, but man can they pinch! I’ve learned to handle them with great care. They won’t break a finger bone…probably wouldn’t even break your skin, but a strong pinch sure can hurt and startle me!
I’ve spotted them in the water along riprap shorelines in lakes. I’ve dropped down live bait such as worms and caught them when they grab it with a pincher. I’ve even caught them on artificial flies while flyfishing. They will usually hold on just long enough for you to quickly hoist them from the water and onto shore.
One evening I was standing in a rocky area of water at Easter Lake in Des Moines, fishing. It was summer, and I was wearing sandals. I was standing in the water, and something started brushing up against an exposed part of my foot. I looked down into the water and saw a crayfish crawling around my foot. I wiggled my foot to try and spooke the crayfish into fleeing for cover. It backed off, and I resumed fishing. But just 5 minutes later it was back crawling around my foot again. It posed no danger to me, but I decided to move along and let him have his spot.
Spend any time near water or woods in Iowa, and you can’t help but encounter deer. They are relatively abundant. One interesting incident happened one evening at Sandpiper Beach at Saylorville Lake. I had been fishing way down on the point that turns back in from the main lake towards the marina area. Wind was blowing into shore from the SW. I was wearing my prescription sunglasses, and the sun had set quite some time ago. To me, it was very dark. I started heading back along the shoreline towards Sandpiper Beach, then turned to make my way up the hill from the beach to the parking lot. I was softly humming a tune to myself as I walked. I was not being quiet by any means. I saw some dark shapes in the middle of the sandy area halfway up the beach. I tilted my head down to look over the top of my sunglasses. Three deer were just standing there looking at me. They weren’t 30’ away. They were also downwind of me. There were no trees or cover anywhere nearby. I was dumbfounded. These deer had obviously been able to clearly see, smell and hear me for some time, and had ample opportunity to flee at their leisure. But they just watched me walk on by. I said some soft soothing words as I walked on by, hoping not to spook them. They just watched.
A similar incident occurred when I lived in northern Illinois. Our house was situated across the street from some timber that bordered a small creek and the Kishwaukee River. A number of folks in our neighborhood had Quads (4-wheelers), and had made trails through the timber. Other folks in the neighborhood enjoyed walking those cleared paths through the woods. I was walking on one of these paths one afternoon. I was walking along with my daughter, who was still quite young, maybe 3 or 4 years old. We were talking away, and I point out items of interest along the sides of the trail. I looked up, and there was a deer standing rigid just 5’ off the side of the trail, looking right at us. It didn’t move at all. I couldn’t believe it let us get so close without spooking! After my first quick look, I kept talking to my daughter, but did not make any more eye contact with the deer. We walked on by, and the deer remained frozen. After a bit, I looked back, and it was just gone. WEIRD!
During a recent fishing trip around Titusville, Florida, we’d seen a couple pods of dolphins in the morning. In the afternoon, we saw some more dolphin commotion, and didn’t think to much about it, but then we noticed it was a dead young dolphin that was stiff and floating on the surface like a cork. The mother was busily trying to keep the youngster upright so it wouldn’t drown, although it was way too late for that. It was sad to watch. I’d heard there was a bunch of dolphins dying along the eastern US coastline this year, apparently due to some viral infection.
Ducks and Geese:
The town I live in has at least 20 public ponds. Some of those ponds are situated in nicely manicured parks. Ducks and geese love these ponds, and lots of young families visit the ponds to feed the ducks. As a result, some of these waterfowl can be a nuisance to anglers like me. They will swim right over to you, expecting a tasty snack. They will swim over to a bobber to inspect its culinary qualities. Fortunately, I’ve not yet hooked a duck or goose, although I will admit to occasionally resorting to flailing the water with my fishing rod or line in order to scare away these invaders of my fishing space.
One day, I had my kids fishing with me at one of these ponds. My son was fishing for bluegills that were visible amongst pockets in the submerged weedbed close to shore. Several young ducks (feathered, but not yet able to fly) had swam over to him and were checking out everything in the water in front of him. My son dropped his small jig into the water, and one duck made a quick grab for it. The duck got hooked in its soft bill, and extreme chaos ensued. I threw my rod down and ran over to see what could be done. My son handed me his rod and backed away. I brought the duck up onto the shore, and crouched down. The duck ran right over to me and huddled down between my feet, scared out of its wits. I unhooked it, it was a very small puncture and didn’t even bleed. I stepped away, and the duck just stayed there, completely overwhelmed by the experience. We left the duck alone, and in 10 minutes or so, he had returned to the water and joined his brothers and sisters in their search for food.
Foxes are cool. I love seeing wild fox, and living in suburbia, I just don’t see enough of them. But they are around. They keep their distance. One day during my lunch hour from work, I was flyfishing a public pond. It’s a very wide-open area with few trees and surrounded by great expanses of athletic fields….baseball, softball, soccer, and football. When I arrived at the pond, I saw a fox walking along the water’s edge, and a small group of ducks on the water paralleling his path around the pond. It didn’t look right. Its face seemed misshapen, and its hindquarters and tail were only sparsely covered with hair. One of the sports field maintenance workers stopped by and talked with me as I was heading for the pond. They said there was a small family of foxes in the area they would often see. They had seen this fox before. They weren’t really sure what was wrong with it. It seemed harmless, so they left it alone.
This fox seemed to be in some pain, and I took pity on it. It had lain down in a grassy depression along the shoreline and was resting. I caught a few small Bluegills, and tossed them towards the fox. I’m not sure he could even see, but he heard the fish flopping in the grass and moved over to check them out. It looked like it was at least trying to eat them, I’m sure the fox was quite hungry. I decided to call him (or her) ”El Chupacabra”.
Frogs and Toads:
Its relatively common to see frogs in the ponds I fish. Most are bullfrogs. Some of the bullfrogs are BIG. The bigger they are, the more aggressive and territorial they are. When flyfishing in the evenings with large topwaters targeting bass, I’ve had bullfrogs swim out and attack the “intruder”, as if it was another frog. Sometimes the big ones will come out onto shore and sit in the grass. I’m not sure what they are hoping to catch, but I suspect they may be hunting for ducks, geese, dogs, and small children. Just kidding, of course.
Case in point, one evening I was flyfishing my way around a pond after dusk, tossing a large topwater for bass. The fly was about the size of a mouse. I saw a very large Bullfrog maybe 20 feet further down the shoreline, sitting up in the mowed grass. He didn’t seem particularly concerned with my presence, so I edge closer. I didn’t want to hook it…been there done that…they can be rather tricky to unhook, especially if you hook them in their elastic, muscular tongue. Not fun. But I did want to see how the frog would react to this large fly. I tossed it up into the grass maybe 3-4 feet in front of the big Bullfrog. I moved it a few inches, and the Bullfrog attacked so aggressively and quickly that he was hooked before I could even jerk the fly away from it. Darn! But my slow reflexes still tried to take the fly away from the frog, and this resulted in my fly rod lifting the frog off the grass. But the frog was heavy, so it dipped back down. Each time the frog would touch the ground, it would kick off with its legs and launch itself into the air again. I tried to keep it in the air so I could swing it to my hand to grab it and unhook it. Somehow it managed to free itself before I could get a hold on the frog. Once back on the grass, it turned and hopped once or twice and dove back into the pond.
Toads behave a little differently. The toads are typically only seen at night when they come up onto the sidewalks to make a buffet out of all the bugs crawling around. But (and I suppose this happens every year, I just happened to be in the right place at the right time once) one evening I showed up at a local pond, and there were toads EVERYWHERE. There were hundreds of toads along the shoreline, both in and out of the water, and even quite a few just clumsily swimming across the middle of the pond in open water. Some of those would get attacked by large fish, so I was pretty excited to be fishing just then. The bizarre thing is that the toads would follow me as I slowly walked along the shoreline casting and fishing. I’d take a few steps, and then hear (it was after dark by this time) a dozen or more toads splashing along, hopping over each other and swimming to catch up to me. I’d take a few more steps and listen again. At first I wasn’t sure what was going on, so I turned on my LED headlamp and shined it down where the noise was coming from, and saw the eyes of all those toads glowing. There was something just a bit horrifying about it all. Good thing they don’t have poisonous fangs and a thirst for human flesh…because they sure were aggressive that night!
Loons are interesting birds. They have attractive markings and coloration, are relatively large, and have a very haunting call on the lake in the evenings. They dive and catch fish. My closest encounters with loons have occurred in Canada. The first one, I was fishing for Northern Pike using a subsurface lure of some sort. I was reeling it in, and I could see it underwater. Suddenly, I noticed a large dark shape following closely behind the lure, and gaining on it. I was excited, thinking it was a LARGE pike! I keep retrieving line and watching the underwater shape. It soon became evident it was a LOON that was chasing my lure underwater. Very cool! But of course I didn’t want to risk hooking the Loon, so I then turned my reel handle as quickly as I could to reel the lure in away from the bird.
On the lake we often fish in Canada, you can easily be fishing hundreds of yards away from shore…and suddenly a Loon will pop up near the boat. Where did that thing come from??? I know they can swim underwater..but how far away was it the last time it surfaced to take a breath? They can be very interested in fish that we might be on the stringer, and will come right over next to the boat. They’ll dive down and check out the fish and then pop back up. I don’t know if they ever try to eat the fish on the stringer or not. When unhooking a walleye they we plan to release, we will gently toss the fish overboard. As the fish darts back to the depths, the Loon will dive in pursuit. Usually it doesn’t catch the walleye, but occasionally it will surface to swallow its fresh meal.
I have seen individuals and groups of manatees in Florida. The groups were often very active with creating surface disturbances. Apparently it was a female and 3 males doing whatever frisky manatees do.
I have seen individuals and groups of manatees in Florida. The groups were often very active with creating surface disturbances. Apparently it was a female and 3 males doing whatever frisky manatees do.
While fishing from a boat one day, we drifted right over the top of a manatee that was hovering the grasses on the bottom in just 3 feet of water. It wasn’t startled by us at all. I was so mesmerized with watching it, I forgot to take a picture!
Mink are cool. Ok, pretty much ALL wildlife is cool. Mink are so focused on following their nose, they are practically oblivious to anglers that are keeping fairly still and quiet. I walked about fifteen feet away from one that was eating a fish on an open grassy area next to a pond.
I’ve seen them searching for food amongst the rocks below Saylorville Spillway. I stood and watched as one walked along the rocks towards me one evening, and was almost standing on my foot before it turned its nose to the air to try and figure out what I was. After 15 seconds or so, it turned and crawled back out-of-sight under the rocks behind me.
I’m not a big fan of muskrats. They can cause significant damage to pond shorelines and dams from their tunneling activities. It can be startling to be walking along the shoreline fishing in the dark, and have one jump into the water near you. But it is fun to watch them swim around in the evenings. It is also fun to watch children puff out their chests and tell all their friends knowingly that THERE is an OTTER!
While flyfishing in the evenings at some local ponds, I have had some close encounters with the resident muskrats. For some reason they seem interested in me and will occasionally swim back and forth in front of me. I usually try to avoid casting near them, or try to make my line/fly splash in the water in front of them to spook them. This usually works. But a couple of times I have cast my line out and and was retrieving very slowly when one swam across my line. At first I thought it had missed my line, but then watched my line start to follow the muskrat. It pretty much hooked itself once the fly on the end of the line caught up to the muskrat. I will say that the battle is pretty decent for a rodent of such size. The first time, the muskrat fought in the water for several minutes. I finally pulled it in near shore, but it dove under the bank. I carefully reached back in under the bank to pull on my line in order to get my hook back, if possible. I couldn’t reach the hook, the line no longer moved no matter how hard I pulled, so I ended up either breaking or cutting my line.
The other time that happened was very different. This second muskrat made a beeline for shore, sure that something in the water was trying to get it. It jumped out of the water and ran halfway up the bank, and then just sat there in the grass. I walked over, reached down with a pair of pliers and pulled my hook free.
Another interesting thing has happened to me a time or two while ice-fishing. I will be sitting in my ice-fishing shack (the pull-over type mounted on a sled with a seat), and I’ll see a large shape under the ice, swimming towards my ice-hole that I am fishing out of. Up pops the muskrat, who perches his front paws on the top lip of the ice-hole, and gives me a look. It pauses for 5-10 seconds while it catches its breath, then dives back down the hole and swims away under the ice again. All the while, I’m just sitting there chuckling to myself and wondering what possessed the critter to do that, and what it must have thought to see ME sitting so close to the hole?
It isn’t every trip to Canada that we see bear or caribou or moose, but it sure is nice when we do! The moose we see around the lake are usually fairly skittish, possibly because of the sound of our boat motors. They usually disappear into the woods pretty fast when we see them. Our last trip we saw several moose around the lake. We also saw a few along the road on our drive up AND on our drive back!
Osprey are beautiful birds. They have become reasonably common in central Iowa over the past 10-15 years. I often see them soaring over the lakes and rivers, looking for fish to catch. Once they spot something, they will quickly dive down, splash into the water, and try to catch their finned target. They often do. Very cool to watch. Often you will see both members of the pair of Osprey.
I had a rather incredible encounter with an Osprey while on vacation in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. I was out on a guided fishing boat, trolling with large baitfish (10”-12” long). The gamefish weren’t being particularly cooperative, so I was just relaxing enjoying the day, looking at the numerous frigate birds in the sky above the boat. Then I saw a familiar site, an Osprey. I always enjoy watching Osprey since they can be so entertaining while they go about doing their own style of fishing. It soared above our boat, and suddenly looked interested in something below in the water. As the boat continued quickly trolling along, I thought to myself, “Hey, that Osprey is practically right above my trolled baitfish.” And then, “Hey, the Osprey is diving down to the water! He looks like he could be close to my bait. I hope he doesn’t scare away the gamefish that might be following it!” And then, “Hey, the Opsrey caught something!” And then, “Hey! He’s got my bait!!!” It took off into the air and quickly rose to about 40’ above the water, and then flew directly towards shore away from us. I had grabbed the rod out of the rod holder, and was putting pressure on the line, hoping the Osprey would drop my bait! I put more and more pressure on the line, because by this time he was actually taking line off the drag on the reel at a decent pace. I was AMAZED at how strong this bird was while in flight…it didn’t even noticeably slow down or even dip down from the pressure I was applying! Finally, I put enough pressure on the line that the hook simply ripped out of the big baitfish and fell back to the water. The Osprey WON!
I thought it was pretty cool that I got to fight an Osprey on a rod & reel, and was fortunate in that I didn’t hook or harm the bird in any way. My Spanish-speaking boat captain just thought the whole situation was funny and got a good laugh out of it.
I love owls. I think they are one of the most awesome birds around, and are reclusive enough that they aren’t commonly heard, and even less commonly seen. When I lived in Illinois, we had several Screech Owls in the woods right across the street from our house. We would see them in the tops of the trees in the evenings, before they began their nightly search for food.
One evening years ago, I was fishing below the Badger Creek Lake outlet. When it was time to go, I was walking back to my car through the woods. A large Barred Owl followed me for awhile. He would land high in the trees and ogle me. I would look back, then pretend to hide behind the next tree. The owl would hoot at me, fly to another tree where he could see me. We repeated this game for 15 minutes before we both lost interest. I had to go home, the owl had to go find food. I suspect it had chicks to feed.
Another great encounter occurred in Ankeny. My buddy Jay and I were coming back from fishing, and it was after dark.. We pulled up to a stop sign near an undeveloped area. As we rounded the corner, the headlights shone on a Snowy Owl that was sitting on the ground maybe 20 feet from the street. Snow Owls are only very rarely seen in Iowa, and it was unusual to see one so far south. We stopped and just watched the owl for several minutes. It didn’t seem to be eating anything, nor did it appear to be injured. I later read that it is very common for Snowy Owls to roost on the ground instead of in trees. Just one of those magical “encounters with nature”!
It has become fairly common at different times of the year to see Pelicans flying over the Des Moines River floodplain. It is especially common to see them in good numbers around Saylorville Lake. The species we have in Iowa are the American White Pelicans. I love seeing flocks of them soaring and circling lazily high overhead. When you see one on the ground or water nearby, though, you really see just how HUGE these birds are! Normally Pelicans will keep their distance from humans, but occasionally they will get near anglers or boaters that might be fishing in the places where the Pelicans are trying to feed.
We’ve had them circle our boat while fishing at Saylorville Lake. They would hang out so close, you had to be careful where you cast, and sometimes had to reel in quickly because the pelican(s) would swim over to where your line was in the water.
Another time, while in a boat returning to the marina after a day of fishing in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, a brown pelican landed right on the top of our outboard motor…just 6’ away from me… while we were motoring back to the dock! Apparently it wanted to look in our livewell and steal our day’s catch! Crazy Pelican!
Although Raccoons are fairly common in central Iowa, they tend to be mainly nocturnal, so it isn’t all that often I get to see them alive (lots of roadkill specimens, though!).
One night I was fishing from shore along one of the rock jetties at Big Creek Lake. I could hear something walking around and looking back up the jetty towards shore, I saw a raccoon coming my way. It pretty much walked right out to me (which made me concerned about a possible rabit animal), and then it wandered off to the side and started scavenging around amongst the rocks down closer to the water. It wasn’t really aggressive towards me, but also wasn’t particularly frightened of me either. Bizarre!
Another time, I was flyfishing from my kayak on a lake in SE Iowa. I was fishing towards an overhanging tree, and I kept hearing weird noises coming from the brush along the bank beneath the tree. I kept looking, and finally spotted at least 3 Raccoons rummaging along the shoreline. For some reason, that made an already great day extra special.
Skunk encounters are special. There’s those extra “intangibles” that are part of skunk encounters that you just can’t get from most other wild critters. Sure, you might be concerned that the skunk is rabid. Other animals can be rabid too. For me, there’s always the “uh-oh” moment, because you KNOW what can happen if you get too close to a skunk!
For example…one day, early afternoon, I was working in a field of prairie grass near Beaver Creek in Johnston, Iowa. I was right next to my truck, and had been making plenty of loud noise, when I heard something moving through the grasses nearby. I thought perhaps it was a pheasant, so I stopped to watch and see if I could spot it. It was NOT a pheasant, as out of the grass wandered a skunk. It was much nearer than I would have expected when I first spotted it, and it was moving right towards me, nose to the ground. Thoughts of what to do should the skunk spray me were running through my head. Should I go back to the office, smelling like a skunk? No. Should I go home and shower/change clothes? Probably. Should I have someone deliver a few cases of tomato juice to my house for me to fill the bathtub with? I’d heard that was a good way to rid oneself (or family pet) of skunk smell.
I was frozen with indecision. What do I do?
Option 1: Should I turn and run away?
Outcome 1: That action might startle it and cause it to spray its malodorous scent…and my truck was too close…and I still had work to do at that spot.
Option 2: I could back away slowly.
Outcome 2: This still might startle it, resulting in the same outcome as from Option 1.
Option 3: I could make some soft sound that might not startle it, but would get its attention to let it know my location.
Outcome 3: Perhaps this would allow it to peacefully change its course and wander away? Or not…which would result in “Outcome 1”.
Option 4: I could hold really still, and hope the skunk would not come closer and chew my ankle off (ha ha) or give me a good close-up and thorough soaking of skunk stinkum.
Outcome 4: Anything could happen. Anything.
Well, taking time to consider all these options resulted in the skunk coming closer and closer. That meant that any quick movement or sound from me would VERY likely result in Outcome 1. So, I chose Option 4. Here’s what happened: the skunk walked over to me, nose to the ground, and came within about 5’. I know it was 5’, because my mind was measuring these things…thinking that if I suddenly fell forward, I would LAND on top of the skunk! I don’t know why ANYONE would want to do this, but isn’t the human mind fascinating? When it got to within 5’ of me, it lifted its nose to the air and sniffed in my direction. It was looking right at me with its little dark eyes, and it was really cute! It was very apparent that skunks do NOT have the best eyesight. Unlike my effect on women, the skunk was startled by neither sight nor scent of me. He just turned a bit, walked by me, put its nose back to the ground and wandered off into the tall grass on the other side of my working area. I stayed motionless for several more long minutes…hoping the skunk would keep its course away from me, and if I DID startle it, it would be too far away to spray me. Thankfully, I survived the encounter, and didn’t even need to change the “fear” out of my underpants.
Another time, I was fishing late in the evening. It had been a very calm, hot, humid day. The sun had set, but the sky was still light. I was done fishing, so I headed back to where my car was parked. I was walking along a seldom-used dirt road that wound around the perimeter of the lake, mainly through dense woods. I was walking around a curve, and up ahead I saw a number of creatures emerge from the tall weeds lining the sides of the roadway trail. I was squinting my eyes trying to see what these were. It was 2 adult skunks, and about 5 baby skunks that came out onto the trail single-file. About the same time I figured out what they were, they noticed me. I immediately stopped and started backing up, and they turned and high-tailed it back into the tall weeds, spraying as they turned. I then stopped and watched. It was so calm, and so humid…I watched the spray just slowly descend to the ground. I could see exactly where it landed. I had to get back to my car. I probably could have simply continued up the trail and edged around the spot where the skunk-spray had fallen, but I didn’t want to risk getting any on my shoes. So, instead, I headed into the woods on the far side of the trail from where the skunks disappeared. It was fairly dense woods, with no trails, some poison ivy, lots of thorny bushes. With the descending darkness complicating matters, it took me an incredible amount of time, effort, and bloody scratches to navigate my fishing rods through all of this and the dense brush and tree branches to get to a point beyond the skunky area of the trail. But, at least I didn’t stink!
Another episode ended a little worse for the skunks. As a friendly gesture, when my buddy Jay and I go fishing together, I usually volunteer to drive. For some reason that escapes my memory, Jay drove this particular evening. Jay has often marveled at my ability to spot wildlife along the roads, even at night. Jay was driving us home from an evening of fishing at Big Creek Lake. We pulled out of the park and onto a highway. We had gotten up to speed, when I saw two skunks emerge onto the highway ahead of us from the adjacent ditch.
I shouted “Skunks!”
I shouted, “THERE!”
Jay was looking across me and out the side window, thinking the skunks were somewhere farther off the road. “Where??”
I just managed to point out directly in front of the truck into the area lit by our headlights and say, “THERE!” one more time before we heard the thumps of the skunks getting rolled beneath the undercarriage. We didn’t go back to look and see if they were injured. Jay’s truck carried a definite, but fortunately not overpowering, skunk odor for several days after that. Although I feel remorse about injuring wild animals without just cause, we still laugh about the hilarity of those moments leading up to the thumps.
Fortunately, Iowa doesn’t have the numbers of poisonous snakes that some of the other States have. We do have a few poisonous species, however. Most snakes I see are harmless Garter Snakes. They just startle you at first, until you see them clearly enough to identify them.
I have also seen Racers, Fox Snakes, Bull Snakes, Ringneck Snakes, a few species of watersnakes, and a couple other species as well. When fishing, occasionally a snake will surface along the rocks near shore as it goes about the business of catching frogs or fish. Generally, I leave these alone, and they will usually disappear once they spot a human.
No big story with these large carrion feeders. I often see catching drafts over the Saylorville Lake dam, or resting/roosting along a lake shoreline.