Thursday, February 2, 2012

Scenes from the Marsh: Oopsiecoot

My marsh withdrawals continue, and I keep clinging to memories, knowing the next duck season is now nine months away.

And the Oopsiecoot is a good one.

It's appropriate that my last Scene from the Marsh was about Charlie's awesome sniper - er - ghillie suit. We've been having a little debate in the comments on that post about the effectiveness of ghillies, and the Oopsiecoot is Exhibit No. 1 in my case.

It was the second-to-last day of season - aka, Saturday - and we were hunting a spot we'd never been in before because all our good spots were taken.

My usual hunting peeps spread out: Charlie and Alison in one patch, me and Hank in another, Don in the next one, his nephew in one farther west of us. Things were fairly slow, but every time someone got up and walked around, it would stir up the coots, and they'd go looking for new spots to hang out from an altitude of, oh, 5 feet over the marsh.

Source: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Now, there's nothing unusual about coots flying near hunters - most hunters here won't shoot them on purpose. Hell, even Hank and I don't shoot them often, and Hank knows how to prepare them.

But when we're wearing our ghillies, the coots come really close.

I watched one approaching our tule patch Saturday and it quickly became clear that bird was going to come right over us, oblivious to our presence. This happens a LOT when we wear our ghillies.

When it got right between Hank and me, literally a foot and a half over the tules, I shouted, "BOO!" And just as the word was leaving my lips, Hank reached up, and his hand got literally within a foot of that coot.

That bird came UNGLUED, wings, legs and crazy white beak flailing in all directions. We just laughed and laughed and laughed.

This is what we love about the marsh - the comedy that never makes it into all-too-serious hunting TV.

When Hank and I were talking about it later, he reminded me of a story Charlie had told me, and had told Hank that day: Charlie had a duck come over him like that one day, really low. I think it was a wigeon or a gadwall - Charlie will correct me here.

When he reached up to startle that duck, it screamed.

If you know anything about ducks, you know a scream is not really part of their vocabulary. Wish I could've been there for that one.

Does this make us all sadistic bastards? It's possible. But I freely confess that I think it's just as funny to startle humans this way. I can only hope that the ducks laugh as hard as we do, in their own quacky way. They must, because ruddies like to startle us like this all the time.

This reminded me of one of my favorite videos by my students. It is all at once over the top, funny, and weird. Check it out:

© Holly A. Heyser 2012


ingrid said...

Holly, I've read many of your posts over the last few years, and I do realize we see the world through different lenses. But I have to say, this one really got to me. I understand all of the reasons hunters have given me over the years, for why they hunt -- some more reasonable to me than others. But to distress an animal and hope that the bird might also find it humorous ... I can't even imagine that would be the bird's reaction. As photographers (same goes for rehabbers), we try so very hard not to distress or disturb wildlife. Those birds are coming 'unglued' precisely because they know what interaction with humans means in the marshes. Photographers aren't permitted in these areas with ghillie suits, so I would venture to say, most human interaction in those zones of marshes end quite poorly for the birds.

Holly Heyser said...

Well, then, Ingrid, I strongly recommend that you don't read my next Scene from the Marsh, because that one doesn't get away.

I'm a hunter, Ingrid. I kill birds and eat them. This coot learned a lesson that many I shoot at haven't mastered. In this case, we laughed at the bird. Just as often, we are startled by the birds and laugh at ourselves.

I just don't buy into the worldview of perpetual, pathetic, tearjerking animal victimhood - including human animals. We do our best to live, then we die, usually not at a time of our choosing. In between, if we're lucky, we enjoy good times and laughs.

At least I do. But I'm pretty sure I'm not alone.

The Suburban Bushwacker said...

I'm sure i'm not the only one who thinks the duck has gotten over it by now ;-)

Blessed said...

We had a duck fly into the blind with us once - that was pretty humourous for us too - the duck made a hasty retreat!

Phillip said...

Those ghillie suits are pretty impressive. They work as well on people as they do on wildlife, and even give some leeway for movement if you've got a little breeze. I've threatened to get one a bunch of times, but they aren't exactly designed for the kind of hunting I usually do (and I don't need that kind of concealment for hog or deer hunting anyway).

One of my favorite things about hunting is when I get it together enough to have game get really, really close. I've had deer bed down within a few feet of me as I sat on the ground, and a turkey almost stepped on my leg once as I leaned back against a log. I could have reached out and grabbed it, but wrasslin' with a 20lb turkey didn't sound like much fun. Those wings are strong.

Coots are pretty funny-looking anyway, but I can't say I've managed to startle one quite like ya'll did. I bet it was hilarious.

burntloafer said...

Heh heh heh... reminds me of when I was trapping one spring. The flooded bottom land I trapped backed up against a railroad bed, while the main openings between the tree lines ran perpendicular to the tracks. I was checking beaver traps from a canoe.

I would go slowly down one slough, turn, and make my way back up another; pretty soon I noticed that by going my slow speed I was literally herding coot.

By the time I got to the third slough, there were thousands of coot, and, you guessed it, there was one trap way up there by the tracks that I had to get to. By this time I was pretty amused, and wanted to see what these crazy birds would finally do when they realized they could no longer swim away.

I got about 500 feet from the tracks when they started to turn and fly.

And fly.

I have never seen so many coot! And they were barely over my head by the time they got to me.

I did a Holly - yelled "Boo!" - but I stuck up a paddle as well.

Killed a coot, dead as a door knob.

I felt pretty badly, as this was not my intention, but I did eat it, and frankly it was pretty tasty.

Most illegal things are tastier, I guess.

Oh yeah, final note - once the birds had all escaped back to where they came from, and I finally stopped laughing, I looked at the water and noticed more coot poop than I have ever seen, or hope to see again...

Holly Heyser said...

SBW: Yeah, that or he's still enjoying telling all his friends.

Blessed: OMG, that must've been hilarious. The question is why didn't anyone grab it? Or was it a merganser?

Phillip: Yeah, i'm pretty sure the only other hunting I'd do in a ghillie is turkey hunting. This jacket definitely picks up burrs, which I learned the hard way hunting up at Sac one day in a horrible pond with no tules and tons of burr-producing grasses.

Wise choice on that turkey! I'm thinking Hank was lucky he didn't accidentally get a hold of the coot, because those birds are ferocious. Charlie had warned me about them - he went to pick up a cripple one day and it sliced the hell out of him. Hell, when I shot a few for Hank earlier this year, I picked up one that was clearly dead, but its feet were still trying to claw me. They ain't ducks.

Burntloafer: ROTFL, man! And you're probably lucky the coot hit your paddle, not your hand - they have sharp little beaks.

Did you skin it? We've found that they're absolutely fine without skin and fat.

Peebs said...

Suburan @7 min is their normal memory time from what I've been told by the "experts" of course these experts are the ones who told me that steelhead and rainbow trout are different fish and closed rockfishing in this area only to open it right in the middle of their spawning season. I wouldn't hunt deer in a ghillie probably end up someones target, the one I have came with a meshscreen over the face I cut it out because it cut down on how far I can see. I put in velcro strips so I pull it up and lock it so you can only see my eyes.

hodgeman said...

I think the duck just had something happen that a lot of prey animals have happen to them...they get caught by a predator, fight like mad and get away.

One day something will catch him and he won't get away.

Since when did humans become non predatory animals? Being that we are predators- I don't think the duck believes what happened was terribly unusual.

Anonymous said...

If I have told this before, please forgive, I seem to be repeating myself more and more.

In 2004, we removed the swimming pool from our yard. It had been there since the early sixties, built by a previous owner of our house.

It was late summer, early fall of that year. It is not unusual for us to have the back door to the garage open as well as the kitchen door to the garage open.
Just past dusk, I am sitting in the living room. I hear a noise in the kitchen, glance up and see a duck, a wild duck, walking across the kitchen floor. Both of us and the cat go to the kitchen. The duck leaves the kitchen and heads for the garage, leaving duck poop shaped calling cards as she goes. She tries to fly in the garage. It is quite something to see a hen mallard rise up to fly in the garage. Also impressive is the amount of load lightening they can do all over the various tools and such that populate our garage. She must've made herself about a 1/4lb lighter. Eeeeww.

We backed off and turned the light of when she landed. Turned the outside light on. Checked back about a half hour later. She was not to be found in the garage.

I am thinking she learned a lesson or two.


Holly Heyser said...

How did the cat take that, Jean? My kitties don't particularly like large birds.

And Hodgeman, I agree. Seems like a reaching hand isn't much different from a reaching coyote in terms of scare potential.

Anonymous said...

The cat stayed behind us but was totally fascinated. He had a very good understanding of who would protect him, who's butt he could beat, and who not to tangle with.

I learned a whole lot from that cat.


ingrid said...

You wrote, "I just don't buy into the worldview of perpetual, pathetic, tearjerking animal victimhood - including human animals."

That's not how I see it at all. I see it as an issue of respect. When I'm lucky enough to be present with wild animals -- or when I've had to handle them injured in the hospital -- I see it as a privilege, not a right or entitlement to do with them as I see fit. That doesn't suggest a mentality of victimization. It's just an awareness of the animal's nature, and an understanding for how much stress our presence causes them. You're my friend on FB, so you know that in my personal life, I don't live out a philosophy of public victimization. But animals, in many cases, are legitimate victims. And I don't believe it makes person pathetic if they try to defend the well-being of the disenfranchised among us.

Holly Heyser said...

So, I'm guessing you don't like the Jack Links commercials?

ingrid said...

lol, well, thanks for the jolt of humor in my self-serious thread. But you see -- I don't like what the people are doing to Big Foot. But here Sasquatch gets the last word. The malice gets its payback or, in the case of the overturned golf cart, its blowback. Justice is served. Even if it is a jerky ad. ;)

So, if I went out in the marshes with you, and you purposely scared the bejeezus out of a coot for laughs, but the coot got the final word, I guess I might see it differently.

btw: I just met a Sasquatch 'expert' over the holidays. It was one of the best conversations I've had in a while. Based on what I learned, I don't think Sasquatch would fall for the can trick.

Holly Heyser said...

That's the thing, Ingrid: Ducks startle the bejeezus out of me all the time.

Will this individual coot get the last word? Doubtful. And it obviously passed up on the opportunity to crap on Hank. But I guarantee you I'll be startle by coots several times a year, and I might scream, and if I do, Charlie will definitely laugh at me.

ingrid said...

But your life is never in danger because of a duck buzzing you, whereas human interaction for a duck in the marsh is often a life or death matter. I often hear or read hunters talking about how this animal got the last laugh -- or otherwise portraying the hunted as if it's one big game for the animal, too. I admit, it bugs me a lot when people fail to acknowledge it's a lethal proposition for the animals in question. I've been up close and personal with animals whose stress level can reach lethal proportions, just by being in our presence in a rehabilitation room. It breaks my heart to witness that and I guess I can't imagine inflicting that on purpose. But I also think that creating humor around the situation is a human defense mechanism for the actions that we might otherwise find unpalatable. Animals DO have a sense of humor, they play, they are clever, they have full emotional lives, of course, I believe that. But I don't believe that they see humor in the situation of being the hunted, anymore than humans would. In fact, when humans are the hunted, we portray the situation in most frightening and horrifying terms. I mean, if you knew a woman who was being stalked by a human predator, wouldn't you think twice about scaring her suddenly, even if you find it funny to scare someone else in a different context? Context changes everything.

Holly Heyser said...

Sorry, Ingrid, I'm just not buying it. I think you're projecting an awful lot of human emotion onto animals.

This is not to say that I don't respect animals, or that I don't think they have emotions. Far from it - and as much should be obvious in my body of work on this blog.

Rather, I'm saying that humans have a particularly warped view of predation because of 1) our status as a near-apex predator and 2) the way we've warped the world to eliminate 99.9999 percent of our losses to predation. I think you're projecting that human sense of entitlement to a life free of predation stress that simply does not exist - not for animals, not even for humans, in truth.

Predation stress is the norm for prey animals. It is simply their life. It's not freakin' PTSD.

Why am I even arguing with you on this point when I'd rather be reading a good book and getting ready for bed? Because I just don't get you. Jesus, Ingrid, I kill animals all the time, and I write about it in the starkest of terms, and you're wringing your hands about us startling an animal? I mean, would you feel better if I just shoot the coot next time and write about that?

ingrid said...

Actually, I'm not. I understand your disagreement with me, but to suggest that as an underlying motive is simply wrong. I've worked in a hospital where medical and technical experts have educated me on stress responses. I've done field rescue where understanding the behavioral motivations of animals is critical to helping them. We're not even supposed to talk in the rooms because of the intense stress our presence creates for wild animals. These are documented, physiological responses. So, you may not "get" me or ever understand this particular side of the issue, but it's not "projection." It's response and attenuation, based on scientific observations that have, over time, become the norm among those who work with or observe wildlife.

Second, the human predator interaction is nothing like the predation from, say raptors (for birds). I just recently saw another horrible goose hunt, and then a week later, after hunting season, spent a long time observing, again, the geese in response to Bald Eagles. If you took the time to do that, you'd see that you simply cannot equate the two in terms of animal response, environmental disruption, and the amount of hunters and kills in the span of a very short time. So, it's not some delusional position to suggest that human presence causes a very different outcome and thus a different response from wild animals. But hunters don't see the other side of it, by virtue of what they are engaged in.

That's far from pretending that life is predator-free for wild animals. You invariably go back to that in your disagreements with me, patronizing me even though you understand how much time I've spent with wild animals, in the outdoors I've had a lot more experience in this regard, than most people I know and have spent a lot more time with wild animals than you have, actually. That I've chosen to view the situation through a compassionate and non-violent lens from a human standpoint, lens does not imply stupidity or naiveté. On the contrary. I've come to my positions precisely because I know what the reality is for wildlife.

Lastly, the main reason the post got to me initially is because of the issue of respect. I hear constantly how hunters are the greatest stewards of the land, how hunters love animals and respect wildlife. That they hunt only for meat, but outside of that, take no enjoyment in the pain they cause animals. I can't think of one wildlife person I know, in the field or elsewhere, who would take pleasure in startling a bird. Most of us feel quite badly for disrupting natural behavior if we happen to do it. So, what seems to you like me wringing my hands over startling an animal is actually a bigger issue of perspective over how we interact with those animals. You find it funny. I find it disrespectful. You have a right to your views, but then don't be surprised when us non-hunters have a cynical view toward hunters when they say the love and respect the wildlife around them.

That's it. Done.

Holly Heyser said...

I've had to let this one sit a while.

I understand your distress at my suggestion that you're being naive. You are one of the people who taught me that it's an unfair accusation to level at everyone who chooses to view hunting from a position of compassion for the animal. I don't make that suggestion lightly anymore.

And while I have not had your rehab training, I too have witnessed the stress of a captive wild animal. Doves that I have trapped for banding have whimpered when I pulled them out of that trap and held them immobile while I slapped a band on their leg and examined them for age and gender clues. It's heartbreaking, and I try to go as quickly as possible to minimize the stress. (Unfortunately, many of these birds will go into that trap over and over again.)

What I'm saying is that I don't doubt that animals experience stress. I just don't believe that a moment of fright in the marsh - a moment of nothing but fright, because no harm was done - is the equivalent of the stress experienced by a captive wild animal.

Is it mean to startle an animal (human or otherwise)? Or mean to laugh at an animal or human who reacts visibly (and/or audibly) to being startled? It's entirely fair to answer "yes" to those questions - in fact, I left that option out there in plain view when I wrote,
"Does this make us all sadistic bastards? It's possible. But I freely confess that I think it's just as funny to startle humans this way."

I just think that a hand reaching from the tules is far less traumatic than being shot at. And I think the fact that I would perpetrate the non-fatal act for a laugh doesn't make it worse than the potentially fatal act I would perpetrate for a meal.

Clearly, we are always going to disagree on that point.

harada57 said...
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