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Nature is Red in Tooth and Claw

(Alfred, Lord Tennyson: In Memoriam A. H. H., 1850)

by Charlie Tarbell

At Keoka, we live in nature, surrounded by nature. This fact is evidenced by the loons and eagles we “ooh” and “ahh” about all summer long, and is emphasized by the photos that our content manager, Claire Pendergast, captured on her game camera and shared with us all two winters ago: fox, deer, coyote, fisher, snowshoe rabbit, turkey, squirrel, bobcat prints … fairies, nymphs, trolls …

After a ferocious wind and rain storm in late December, nature at Keoka illustrated dramatically the Tennyson quote in the title of this article. It emerged in the faint gray dawn of the Wednesday morning after Christmas when I perceived a shadow moving toward the lake along the path at my property on Keoka. My initial thought was that a neighbor was checking out the ice on the lake. I tried to see who it was, but I saw no further movement.

The day emerged gray and cold. I delayed opening my south facing lakeside shades, as there was no promise of solar gain that day. When around noon I finally drew up the shades, I immediately saw a murder of crows feasting on something unidentifiable about 100 yards out on the lake, over toward Starbird Point. My binoculars were no help, so I pulled on a coat and boots and hiked around the cove and out onto the point to see what all the fuss was about. I was not brave enough to test the new ice. It couldn’t have been more than an inch thick.

The crows’ fuss was over the fresh remains of a doe carcass, about twenty feet out on the ice. I say remains, because it was mostly gone. Eaten! On the shore I could see clear signs of a struggle; quite a lot of hair and blood, with a blood trail leading down the bank and out onto the ice; to the “murder spot”. Something VERY BIG had taken and eaten that deer. But what?

The crows continued their business through the early dark. The next morning, when I opened the shades, the carcass was gone. Again, I went over to the point and again, I found the carcass, this time on the path, even more pillaged than before. I mentioned the location of the carcass to Gardner Waldeier, and he proceeded to put a game camera on the spot that evening. When he retrieved the camera the next morning, Gardner flushed a fully black juvenile eagle, without the characteristic white head, off the carcass.

The camera revealed two large Eastern Coyotes, sometimes called Coywolves, feasting on the carcass. We assumed they were also the “murderers.” I was surprised at how large the animals were. I thought coyotes were the size of small dogs, but these animals appeared to be the size of a German Shepard. As I made my way through the dark that night to turn off my Christmas lights, I was given pause; are you out there watching me?

Eastern Coyotes, or Coywolves, are very shy predators. They do not approach or reveal themselves to humans. Indeed, I’ve never seen one in the flesh. Gardner, who often skis in the deep woods up in Albany, tells me that he’ll see their paw prints in his fresh ski tracks, but has never run across an animal, even checking him out for curiosity’s sake.

When we next walked over to the point, the carcass was gone. No sign of it remained, save for the fur at the murder scene. It was an interesting week, filled with intense wind, flooding rains, and the frightening spectacle of bloody nature. It is a reminder of what we all intuitively know: at Keoka, we live in nature.

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