We’re blessed here in eastern North Carolina to have abundant wildlife. A little alligator surfaced daily behind our neighbor’s home this spring. Some of the bravest of the thousands of Atlantic Marsh Fiddler Crabs populating the shoreline of nearby Queens Creek can be found close to our house hunting for their next meal looking like big spiders until you recognize them as crabs.
Birds abound. Egret, blue and green heron, gulls, painted buntings, bluebirds and cardinals. Osprey, kingfishers, bald eagles, brown pelicans, ducks and the big birds from “off” – Canada geese – that can be seen stopping traffic on busy boulevards. Cormorants, owls, red pileated woodpeckers. The menagerie is almost endless here. Jumping mullet, flounder, shrimp, river otters, dolphins and snakes of all varieties thrive. We’ve even collected bear scat in our backyard, confirmed as bear droppings by the local Hammocks Beach State Park ranger. Fox squirrels visit occasionally, mixing with their ubiquitous brown squirrel cousins. Common five-lined and broad head skinks, Carolina green anoles, and tree and bull frogs, snapping and painted turtles and eastern box tortoises flourish here. Raccoons, opposum and coyotes too.
Unfortunately, this past spring we’ve also seen our share of animals killed by man’s predilection for cars and trucks and for speed, and animals’ inability to look both ways before crossing the street and get out of the way. It has been a killing field … like a wave of serial killers has been let loose on our area.
I’ve seen snakes (some people inexplicably run them over on purpose even though they’re one of God’s creatures, too, and have a purpose and right to live) routinely flattened in our neighborhood. Within a short, few feet of our home a turtle lies crushed. Several squished frogs are next. A little further a deer lies bloated on the side of Queens Creek Road, its legs pointed to the heavens. Less than a mile later a raccoon. And then a possum. The road kill possum is followed by a dog and then what looked like a coyote and then a black cat, perhaps this cat’s reputation for bad luck coming home to roost but nonetheless, perhaps, someone’s beloved pet. Some kind of large bird, maybe a peli-”can’t,” lies all scatter-feathered near the bridge over Queens Creek, a pair of vultures feasting on its unidentifiable remains.
In all my 20-plus years of living here near Swansboro, I don’t remember ever seeing so many animals killed at nearly all the same time by cars in such a short distance. There were almost a dozen when they were all counted up, comprising members of many of the animal genus including reptiles, amphibians, mammals and avians. They were wild and domesticated. It’s like an animal convention was just ended and as the attendees left to return home to their dens and nests, a car plowed through the street-crossing crowd, flattening them and scattering feathers and scales and fur lifelessly to the side of the road.
Thankfully there are areas where our animal friends can be protected, at least to a degree, from the dangers of cars and speed. In the neighborhood where I live a fox den has been excavated for years, several generations of skulks (what a group of foxes is called) being raised in the same den. We’ve enjoyed catching fleeting glances of them from time-to-time, mostly at dusk as they emerged looking for their next meal.
The famously shy animals must get accustomed to seeing human activity – that comfort level is actually a risk to them – because one day last week we drove by the fox den and there sat one of the kits (we’ve seen four kits following mom in the past month that disappeared into their den before we could snap a photo of them) – near one of the den’s entrances staring at us in the afternoon sun. We were able to stop and snap the photos.
The kit didn’t stay long, though, just long enough to allow my wife to get a photo of it looking our way, its ears alert, and then another photo of it turning to lope away into some nearby shrubs.
It was a rare opportunity to be able to get a picture of these beautiful creatures – one of many that thankfully populate our still, in some ways, wild eastern North Carolina.
And it was a far better view than seeing them squashed on the side of the road, unfortunately for foxes and many of their animal kin, a too-common sight.
Maybe if we slowed down just a bit and kept our eyes more intently on the road, we might save some of these creatures trying to exist with us in an increasingly populated (with humans) region.
Tideland News columnist Barry Fetzer writes from his home on Queens Creek.