Friday, June 17, 2011

Still Life with Robin: Unexpected Animals

by Peggy Robin

I heard a story on NPR yesterday about unexpected animals in the suburbs: specifically, the Eastern Mountain Lion, which was thought to be extinct. Well, one of them was found dead by the side of the road in Greenwich, Connecticut, a victim of a hit-and-run. That dead cat may not be the only one, either; there have been numerous sightings of mountain lions called in to the local Greenwich police, according to the NPR report.

Meanwhile, on the Cleveland Park Listserv, we’ve had first-hand accounts of a variety of wildlife in our own back yards: raccoons, opossum, deer, coyotes, foxes, wild rabbits, turtles, ducks, and bats. Have I left anything out? Last year (June 4, 2010) there was a bear in the neighborhood, captured on the local NBC news (See: We haven’t had a mountain lion…yet. But many years ago, when I served on our local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, I got a phone call from a neighbor about an unusual animal sighting. The conversation went like this:

Caller: I live on the south side of Macomb Street and my back yard extends to the border of Klingle Valley [part of Rock Creek Park, which connects to the Zoo]. You’re my ANC commissioner, and I was wondering if you had the phone number for someone I could call to report an escaped animal from the Zoo. It’s in my back yard right now.

Me: Well, if it’s a dangerous animal, maybe you should call 911.

Caller: No, it’s not dangerous. I’m looking right at it. It’s some kind of gazelle or something. I don’t know what you call it.

Me (intrigued): What does it look like?

Caller: Well, it’s pretty big, it’s brown, and it’s got these big horns on its head.

Me (after pausing a few seconds to picture the animal, and then beginning to understand the situation): “Um, these ‘horns’ that you see on the animal… Could they possibly be antlers?”

Caller: Yes! Antlers – that’s the word!

Me: That’s a male deer, a buck. There are lots of them in the park.

My caller, as I found out, was a recent transplant from another city and had never imagined that he could live so close to downtown Washington and see a wild buck, with a full rack of antlers, right in his back yard.

Nowadays, with the deer population exploding inside and outside of Rock Creek Park, it seems we’ve all seen deer wandering across roads and into backyards. No matter how numerous they may be, I still find it a thrill to see them at the edges of the park. It’s less of a delight, of course, when you’re driving, and you have to worry if the deer will decide to bolt in front of your car. And we all can sympathize with the gardeners whose lovingly tended flowers and other plantings may be end up providing some deer with a yummy evening snack.

I have no solutions to offer for these problems. I would just observe that of all the problems to have in an urban environment, the problem of too many deer is one of the better ones for us to need to work on. Especially when considered in light of the human flower thief who’s been raiding gardens in our neighborhood. I’ll take any number of four-footed flower-gobblers over a two-footed flower-stealer anytime!


  1. Regarding the "...escaped animal from the Zoo..." -- it's just too bad that you hadn't yet reported the infamous "loof lerpa" escape yet! LOL [she writes, with a HUGE grin on her face]

  2. I have been out of town so saw this item belatedly, but wanted to share a recent spotting of a rotund mother possum waddling up the Quebec Street sidewalk (3500 block) with 4 large babies clinging to her sides. When she saw me, she went up the steps to a house, then went around the side and managed (barely) to slip through a hole in the fence without knocking off the babies. Neat!