John Hamer

Getting to know your wildlife on Mercer Island | Guest column

  • Wednesday, August 18, 2021 12:48pm
  • Opinion

My wife and I often visit Suncadia, on the other side of Snoqualmie Pass near Cle Elum. There are lots of wildlife there: elk, deer, bears, and the occasional cougar. Plus flocks of wild turkeys and countless eagles.

When we come home to Mercer Island, smack between two of the largest cities in the state, we don’t really expect to see that many wild animals. Boy, are we wrong! This place is like a zoo. Here’s a rundown of “wild” animals we have seen just this summer.

Deer: These critters are taking over the island. A whole family – buck, doe and two fawns – were in my backyard just the other day. They were trying to raid my vegetable garden, but this year I put up a 6-foot tall black-plastic mesh fence — so they had to settle for eating my geraniums. My neighbor enclosed his entire yard in deer fence because they were eating his irises and every other flower in sight. I read the other day that deer are having more fawns, often twins, because their diets are so much better in the suburbs than out in the wild. One Island deer was hit by a car and killed the other day, and another shot with a pellet gun. Accident or angry gardener? Who knows for sure?

Raccoons: These masked bandits can be cute, but not when they are eating my cherry tomatoes in the pots on my back deck. I wrapped the plants in mesh but they are clever little creatures and the tomatoes aren’t safe. They also climbed into my grandchildren’s inflatable swimming pool and punctured it so all the air let out. Where is Davy Crockett when we need him?

Rabbits: The long-eared wascals are breeding like…well, you know. They will eat anything, including the wild strawberries by my back fence. My granddaughter had to search to find one last berry among the rabbit pellets. I loved reading “Watership Down,” but this is a real downer. Bunnies bug me.

Otters: We love to kayak, and just the other night an otter came swimming toward my wife as she paddled near the East Channel bridge. I thought of Jimmy Carter and the famous “attack rabbit” incident. This guy slapped its tail and dove under, but to where? A boat-lift repair man told me that otters were chewing through the hoses that power boatlifts, and ruining them. There otter be a law, I said.

Feral cats: Okay, these are not actually wild animals, but they’re not domesticated either. When we moved here 20 years ago, there was a wooded area behind our house and dozens of feral cats were living there. Some guy was feeding them regularly and they were feline fine. After the trees were cut to make way for more houses, a neighbor lady who had worked with the Humane Society volunteered to live-trap them and have them spayed or neutered, which spared us a constant rerun of the Broadway show, “Cats.” (Full Disclosure: My wife started feeding three of them and now they come around every evening, although one just died after living for at least 15 years.)

Crows: Know why they call them a “murder” of crows? I do. They sit on my back deck, fence, roof, wires, chairs, tables, etc. – and poop all over the place! I want to murder them. Well, okay, we sometimes feed them bread or chips or even table scraps, and my wife does try to get them to eat out of her hand. And the other day one of them brought us a “gift” of a crabapple and dropped it on the picnic table. They do that often, according to a fascinating book I read called “Gifts of the Crow.” They are really smart, and actually recognize individual human faces. But I still want to murder them at times. That poop sticks!

Bats: My grandson loves “Batman,” but I don’t think he’s ever seen a real one up close. Ugly! We sometimes see them at night down by the lake, hopefully eating the mosquitoes that are biting us and sucking our blood. Which ones are the worse vampires? Send them all back to Wuhan, I say!

Turtles: When we go kayaking in the Mercer Slough, we see lots of these guys sitting on logs in the sun, sometimes whole Ninja families. I had turtle soup once and found it quite tasty, so maybe….not.

Geese, ducks, herons, eagles, jays, flickers, hummingbirds, juncos, chickadees, robins, etc: Yes, Mercer Island is a bird lovers’ paradise and we enjoy watching them and feeding them as much as everyone else does. Cleaning up after them, not so much. The goose poop on our shared dock sometimes looks like the Mima Mounds. A few years back, a prominent Mercer Island citizen was observed shooting at Canada Geese, which is a felony, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service staked out his waterfront property but never caught him in the act. Still, many Islanders can sympathize. A little goose poop, you know what I mean?

Hey, I’m certainly not anti-animal. My father was a wildlife biologist for the Oregon State Game Commission and I grew up loving wildlife and seeing them in the outdoors. Yes, we hunted deer, elk, ducks, pheasants and other critters during the hunting seasons. However, the goal of wildlife managers like my dad was to make sure there was always a plentiful and healthy supply, but not an overpopulation that wasn’t good for human or animals. Hunters actually help fund wildlife restoration programs through hunting-license fees.

Not that I’m suggesting hunting on Mercer Island! Well, maybe that one crow that just pooped on my deck again. Where’s my squirt gun?

John Hamer is a retired Seattle Times editorial writer and columnist who lives on East Mercer Way.


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