Say Hello to the Newest Neighbor

Two years ago, this creature began showing up at my bird feeders just before sunrise. It is, of course, a Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana): the only marsupial found north of Mexico. Shy and not at all inclined to socialize, it declined most photo sessions, preferring to scoot off into the shrubbery as soon as I appeared.

I wondered for some time about its tail; the white portion shown in the photo extended to its tip, and I wasn’t sure whether injury or disease might have caused it. I didn’t pursue the issue, and didn’t discover the answer until a month ago, when this second opossum came into my life.

Such a cute baby!

The baby was tennis-ball sized when I first noticed it under some bushes. I saw it only once, until last week; doubled in size and far more agile, it had learned to climb up to snack on some peanuts left for the squirrels. With its pink nose and pink toes, it was adorable — and it had the same white tail as my first visitor.

Finally doing some research, I learned a few interesting facts. Our ‘Opossum’ and ‘Possums’ are quite distinct creatures. The Virginia Opossum is found on the North American continent; the Possum is native to Australia, New Guinea, and China, and it has been introduced to New Zealand. Our Opossum has that hairless, rat-like tail which I noticed, while the Possum has a bushy tail much like a squirrel’s.

North American opossums typically have pointed white faces with black eyes; their body fur is coarse and usually dark gray, while the possums of Australia have rounded bodies, softer features, and generally golden or brown fur.

The tendency of North Americans to shorten our creature’s name is widespread; I’ve never heard anyone say “I saw a Virginia Opossum in my yard,” and everyone calls the Virginia Opossum’s defensive maneuver ‘playing possum.’  That said, a Virginia Opossum by any other name is just as cute — unless it’s denying your squirrels their peanuts or gorging on the fruit of your persimmon tree.

 

Comments always are welcome.

One Last Neighbor ~ The Night Shift Worker

My black-crowned night heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)

In apartment complexes without assigned parking, finding an empty spot isn’t always easy. I thought it odd that two spaces convenient to my new apartment never were occupied, but I was pleased.

Then, I took a better look at the concrete in those spaces. Lying beneath a large live oak planted at the edge of the parking lot, they were spattered with what appeared to be white paint. Clearly, a bird was parking just above those spaces, and given the size of the splotches of excreted waste, it probably was a heron.

I began parking elsewhere, and spent a few days scanning the tree to see if I could find the bird. Eventually, I spotted it: an adult black-crowned night heron so well-hidden that a casual observer never would find it. Two days later, it had chosen a different branch, and I was able to snap a few photos.

These short, stocky birds usually are seen in profile, at the edge of the marshes and waterways where they hunt. Shooting up at the bird provided a new and utterly charming way of seeing it. In particular, its face seemed rotund, and a little chubby; I couldn’t help laughing, even as I admired its decorative white head plumes.

Eventually, the bird allowed a bit of a profile shot, showing off its thick, ready-for-serious hunting bill and a hint of the solid black back that matches its crown.

Although it watched me as I moved around, searching for better vantage points, it never left its branch, and never showed any sign of feeling threatened. Eventually it turned away slightly, gave me one last, coy glance, and then tucked its head into its feathers, ready for a nap before the evening’s hunt.

 

Comments always are welcome.