Out On The Mudline

Diverse Critters Populate Home Place

By W. P. Sissell

Bird Watcher

Several days ago, as Nannette and I came out of Oxford via West Jackson Avenue, there, immediately in the grass by the roadside was a mamma Killdeer and two, about one-third grown, baby Killdeers. The opening sentence in Roger Tory Peterson’s Field Guide to The Birds East of the Rockies is “The common noisy breeding plover of the farm country.” Here was a Killdeer along with her family of two right on the edge of the most populated section of Oxford. Our wild animals accommodate themselves and their habits to changing habitats.

I can hardly count the springs when I saw a part of this same show in our pastures. A main part of my chore load—after arrival home from school in the afternoon—second only to getting a cold biscuit or a corn bread muffin from Miss Sadie’s kitchen and a green onion from her garden was getting the cows up for milking. Of course my Collie, Mickey, was always along.  He took it upon himself to learn to separate our cows from those of the families on the place. Before long when the cows saw us coming they began to form a line headed for the holding lot at the barn.

Of course in a 30 or 40 acre pasture with O’tuckalofa Creek running through the middle, I saw many birds but one of my favorites was the Killdeer—especially the mamma Killdeers.  Once these birds made a nest and hatched their babies, they put on a show for any animal that got near that nest. In my mind’s eye I can see that mamma Killdeer dragging one wing along as if she was hurt in some way. The first several times I saw this show I chased that mamma bird—finally realizing that she was leading me away from her nest for the protection of her family.

Other Residents of Our Domain

We humans may think that we are the dominant species—perhaps we are but there are a few that I step aside for. Several days ago as I began mowing the yard I looked over my shoulder to find that I was being checked out by a Blue Racer. He (it) had the first six inches of his body elevated about four inches and was staring intently at that noisy thing that had just passed him. I was tempted to try my brother’s trick of chasing that racer but decided that I couldn’t run as fast as I once could. I left him living on our hill. Most of the snakes we have found on our hill have been Copperheads.

Because we feed the birds we attract squirrels—we’ve trapped and carried six or so to the far side of the place this year. We originally bought the trap because coons were visiting our deck at night.

The other birds are our favorites. Each year we await the arrival of our Hawks and it’s not unusual to see an Eagle or a group of wild turkeys. One that is unusual for this part of the country is the Indigo Bunting and one of the Orioles. This bird, male and female, looks very much like the male bluebird except it is totally blue.

There’s a flock of geese that frequent the various ponds and lakes year round and several years ago, on a visit to the Crowder place, I saw close to a quarter section covered with pelicans.  These huge birds, wingspread as much as nine and one half feet, are something to see. They never flew directly over our vehicle so that I could get a picture to illustrate their enormity.

I’ve tried to limit this article to birds. That’s hard to do when one can go outside at night and hear coyotes howl and wildcats scream. I saw one of those coyotes at my east door not long after we moved to this hill. Later, what I thought was a fawn as I picked up my Sunday paper turned out to be an enormous wildcat—which I got the Ole Miss Zoology Department to come and pick up as a lab specimen. Not long afterwards we got up one morning to see deer grazing at out back door. Last year our son, Shipp, told us that he saw at least ten deer grazing in his bean field.

To wind all this up—many years ago as my mother and I went across the levee at Taylor I saw a young bear crossing the bridge behind us.  Even later friend, Lee Rowsey, tells that something scared his penned up calves enough that they broke out of a net wire corral.

As I said above, I back up for some of these creatures that frequent our hill.  Our wish for you is a great week. It looks like the weather has tapered off. As the old farmer says, “We may have a long spell of dry weather now.”  You can always reach me at 23541 Highway 6, Batesville, MS 38606 or 662-563-9879.

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