Saturday, February 26, 2011


Chaparral, or Roadrunner
not a cartoon character
Lions and tigers and bears, oh, my! Animals often appear to menace our characters or at least to give color to our novels. As readers and writers, we want the animals in the novels we read to be realistic.
When we write or read about the Southwest, our characters often encounter annoying critters on four legs as well as those on two legs. I wanted to post some of these because I've had people from other areas ask what a parricular thing was--a chaparral, for instance. When I explained they were commonly called a roadrunner, she said, "Oh, I thought that was only in cartoons. You mean there really is a roadrunner?" Yes, there is, and in fact one lives in our orchard. Others doubt that a particular animal, the Mexican black panther, for example, actually makes it as far north as North Texas.  As an eyewitness, they do!

Wily Coyote, also real
Another creature we hear far more often than we see them is the coyote. As so-called civilization encroaches, coyotes become more aggressive. You may remember reading about a young Canadian author who was attacked and killed by a pack of coyotes while she was on a hike not that far from her home. In the area of North Central Texas in which I live, we've only seen lone coyotes. Usually sightings are early morning, but we hear them from their dens under the train track a half-mile and further away.

Glen Rose (Texas) Gray Wolf
Along the same avenue is the repopulation of wolves in Texas, as we learned from Jeanmarie's post. The Texas Gray Wolf became extinct in the 1960's, but wolves are now being reintroduced in natural areas. Ranchers are not happy about this, and I can understand their anger. On the other hand, I hate to see any species go extinct. But then, I'm one of those weird tree-huggers--NOT the militant type, just privately. And I wouldn't mind if things like fire ants and poisonous snakes and mosquitoes were extinct. Not a bit!

Javelina--does "Ugly" come to mind?

We have all heard of javelinas, especially if you're from Arkansas where the Razorback is the mascot of one of the universities. I always picture them as a red cartoon like the university symbol, but the real animal is ugly as mud and meaner than you can imagine. They roam in small packs or herds--whichever is the term for swine. One of the new developments is the plague of feral formerly domestic hogs destroying crops and pastures. These also are dangerous, and authorities encourage hunters to shoot the feral animals--being careful they're not targeting some farmer's swine.

Mexican Black Panther
Here's one animal I've been accused of making up. Years ago a friend was deer hunting on Thanksgiving weekend. Her deer stand was under a large tree, and she was sitting there freezing when leaves drifted down on her. She heard a loud noise, like a kitten purring, but magnified a hundred times. She looked up, and a black panther perched in the tree overhead. Needless to say, she panicked. Moving slowly, she climbed down from the stand and sidled away. As soon as she was in her pickup, she called Parks and Wildlife to report the sighting. The Ranger told her the animal was a Mexican black panter and she was lucky the cat had already feasted on a rancher's calf further down the creek. [*Note* I've included this in one of my works in progress. LOL] Last year, our neighbors lost their elderly dog to a black jaguar who looked like a black leopard. The coat was black with darker spots in the pattern of a leopard or jaguar.

Cougar, also called Mountain Lion
 Two years ago, our nearest neighbor, a woman rancher who raises black angus cattle, was training blackberry vines on the side of her farm tank. When she reached the top of the bank, she looked across the tank and met the gaze of a large cougar. She froze, and the cougar lowered into the grass and disappeared. She never saw where it went. Another friend who walks each morning stopped to admire a herd of deer grazing as sunlight hit the meadow. While she watched, a cougar took down one of the deer. Now she walks on her treadmill and/or later in the day. LOL

Red Fox--Don't let
cute fool you
Before we wised up and kept our cats permanently in the house, we had a lovely orange tabby named Tiger who had kittens on our patio. I was talking with her when a red fox sneaked up, grabbed a kitten, and took off into the orchard. Tiger screamed so loud I would have thought she was a cougar, and we both took off after the fox. Tiger lasted longer on the chase than I did, and those who know me won't be surprised at that. I run like a duck, a very slow duck. Until then, I had no idea kittens were vulnerable to foxes.

Black Bears are edging into East Texas

My eldest daughter lives in East Texas and is a Master Gardner who also works closely with the County Extension agents. Recently they have received warnings that black bears are moving into their area as the woods of Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma are being cut. One more critter to contend with.
One day I took home from our church women's meeting a very nice lady who no longer drives. We sat in her drive finishing a conversation when a Bobcat walked by. Unsure I was really seeing a Bobcat, I asked her. She said the bobcat comes by about once a day. Her home borders a very wilderness-like canyon area so I suppose the bobcat felt unthreatened. He was not huge, really not much bigger than our large house cat, Sebastian, but I wouldn't have wanted the bobcat angry with me. Hmm, I wouldn't want twenty-pound Sebastian angry with me either. :/

Siberian Tiger grooming
As a side note, are you aware that there are more rescued tigers in captivity in Texas than there are in the wild? Sad but true. Some of the "rescue" places are humane and some are not. Most of the tigers are from people who acquired them illegally then had to turn them over or have them confiscated. Tigers, while cute little kittens, make huge pets that require a lot of food, space, and care. My friend Dee Stuart has written a great mystery novel about a veterinarian who rescues tigers and I'm eager for her to have it published. She did a lot of research, which is how I learned about the tigers. There are different species and coloration.

There are many other interesting animals in the Southwest, but I'll save them for another day or another person to post. Let me leave you with this photo that I love. I don't know who took the photo, but he has a much better camera than mine. Here's a red-winged blackbird hitching a ride on a red-tailed hawk.


  1. Fun post, Caroline!

    The repopulated wolves in Idaho have made their way to Oregon and ranchers aren't happy. I didn't realize you had bear in Texas, but then I would guess they are everywhere there are trees and some mountains.

    Fun information about the tiger. It's my favorite animal.

  2. Caroline--I see you're a nature lover, too. I didn't know that about tigers at all.
    We live outside the city limits, and while it's only about a block outside, our area is still wild to some extent. One long side--3-4 miles borders the Freeman Ranch, now owned by Texas State. The back--again a few miles--borders a shallow canyon.
    We've seen many animals in the 20+ years we've lived here.
    The red fox is out favorite, although we do know they wouldn't be cute pets. For a few years, they lived, we think, under a huge wood pile we have. We've seen the mothers parade across the back with her little kits trailing. They are darling!
    Armadillos--you forgot those!-possums, coyotes, a wolf one time, racoons, and many deer live around us. If I have dog or cat, I'd probably keep it in the house all the time.
    I know about the cougars in NT, too.
    I really enjoyed your photos--thanks. Celia

  3. Great post, Caroline and awesome pics. Whoever caught the red winged blackbird on the red tailed hawk is one very lucky, talented photographer.

  4. Caroline,
    Loved your blog. I've watched birds pester hawks to chase them away from their nests, but I've never seen a bird land on a hawk. ;-)

  5. We have the hawks, roadrunners and coyotes here. Some folks say the bobcats occasionally appear off the Caprock, but I haven't seen one. There was a red fox here a few years back. I hope we don't have the big cats. I do have a great horned owl also. He used to have his mate with him, but now only see one. Not sure what happened. I do know one thing, it's eerie when he does a one eighty with his head and looks at you.

    Great post!


  6. I live in the city, but we do have the occasional problem with wild life. Coyotes come up through the flood channels. It's scary for small pet owners.

    We also have a family of raccoons who like to sit in the neighbors palm trees.

    Enjoyed your post, Caroline!

  7. One of the weirdest animals in Texas is the Chupacabra, Every year someone kills them in South Texas. They are scary looking.
    I am reduced to the state of a mental patient when I encounter a rat. I have a real psychological problem with them.I make sure the critter people keep the rat bait houses full. I can't even watch movies with them in it. Having seen what they have done to babies(ears missing, chunks of face missing) from the slums, I am scared of those suckers.

  8. A very interesting post, Caroline. LOVE the panther and cougar pictures, and the bird on the hawk.

    Northeast Wisconsin here...I've seen bear, have heard about cougars, my hubby saw a wolf while out hunting, and we've seen a coyote out in a farmer's field while walking, and then a couple weeks later a big one ran across our horse pasture. I just hope the kitties stay in the hayloft and the critters stay out. I sure don't want to walk into the barn one day and be surprised by one of them. :(

  9. Amazing post, Caroline. And oddly enough, NC has many of the same critters. When my daughter was 5, she and her cousin saw a black bear. No one believed them until the mama bear and her cubs made the front page of the local paper.And in recent years, wolves have been re-introduced into the NC mountians. They don't always stay where they're put. And some genius thought it would be a good idea to introduce coyote into NC. Now, they're everywhere and people are losing cats, dogs, and even small cattle! Those critters travel in ravenous packs! The mountains of NC also have mountain lions and I've seen a bob cat or two in rural peidmonnt NC.

    I used to go for long walks in the woods when I was much younger. Now, I'd never go alone and never without a cell phone.

  10. Caroline--the pictures were great. I know a lot of authors use animals in their stories and to be truthful I always trust that the author knows what she's talking about and has researched her setting. I suppose there are always readers out there who will question whether or not the author "got it wrong".

  11. Carolyn, I swore I saw a wolf stalking across a meadow around Thanksgiving. No one believed me. Then about a week later, we were told a wolf had been spotted in the neighborhood and to keep small animals inside. So, hmmn. I don't know where it came from, but I know I wasn't 'crying wolf'...I really saw one.

    Great post!

  12. Ashley--same with me! About three years ago I looked out back--we have acreage--and saw a gray wolf strolling--yeah, casually as you please, across the back of our property, from one fence line to the other. I ran to tell my husband and he didn't believe me--thought I'd seen a big dog, possible a coyote. Two days later, a neighbor toward the back shot and killed the wolf. Turned out, he was very old and sick--but it scared all of us out here. The "sick" part was even more frightening. Celia

  13. Great post, Caroline! I'd never heard a Road Runner called Chaparral, but I think Cock or Bird is added when calling that bird a Chaparral.

    A few years ago, like five or six, coyotes began to show up here in Southwest Florida. So many people had no idea what they were, and lost small pets right a left for a while. We locked up our cats and dogs at night in Southern California.

    Armadillos inevitably migrated here as they did from Mexico into Texas and farther west many years ago. The scenes in Michener's Texas about armadillos tearing up "concrete" tennis courts is some of the funniest prose I've ever read.

    Raccoons! I used to work with a lady who thought the babies were sooo cute, and she didn't prevent them from entering her kitchen through the cat door to eat the cats' food. I kept telling her they grow up! They are dangerous and carry rabies.

    One day I was there alone working on the book she and I were editing for Alico Corp. and I heard noise. I checked and found a large raccoon helping itself to lunch. It ran out, but when I tried to slide the cat door closed, it stuck it's paw in and fought me lowering it. I won, but those suckers are strong! They regularly lift the heavy lids on our large garbage bins here in the condo complex.

    Skunks. Aren't skunks everywhere? And also carry rabies. And of course, here in Florida we have alligators and otters which I see in the Caloosahatchee in my backyard. People don't ordinarily think of gators or otters when talking four-legged animals, but gators can run about 25 mph for short distances on four legs, and I often see a family of otters humping along on the walk surrounding our marina basin.

    If you write, I think it's important to give your prose flavor and authenticity by including animals in your stories. Don't you think one specie or another has played a large roll in the human condition forever?

  14. Though the wildlife biologists claim there are no melaninistic phase cougar (black cats) in Texas, and that Black Cat Thicket is named after an Indian Chief by that name, too many people I know have seen them along the creek and river out here for it to be a mistake. One used to make the rounds about every three or four months. I have not seen him, but could always tell when he had come by because there was a huge increase in "lost dog" and "lost cat" ads when he did.

  15. Oh, interesting post Caroline! Sad about the baby kitten, but I love to watch the fox at my mother's house near atlanta. Down here in Savannah we have Misuagee (think I spelled it right) ducks: I'll have to post on my blog about them-have some cool pictures, they are the weirdest looking duck! The egrets are so pretty but make an awful 'chirp'. Great blue herons live on our pond and pelicans come over from the marsh every once in a while. Of course we also have gators :) Bald Eagles live at the landfill on Hilton Head where my husband works, never get good pics of them though.

  16. I so love these animals. I am a wolf fanatic. They are so beautiful. Sorry, ranchers LOL.

    I love this blog and am going to get in the habit of stopping by regularly. Beautiful job, ladies.

  17. What fantastic photos. Thanks for sharing them with us. In Boise we often see wild foxes in the downtown parks. At one point the zoo was having trouble keeping them out. But it's still a big thrill to see one running free along the river.


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