Up the Beach — On the lookout for skunks, possums, penguins and the elusive Sasquatch

The cold weather has some folks sitting with their feet up against the fire or resting on the open oven door trying to get warm again. Beach folks live on the beach because it rains, not because the thermometer falls lower than 40 degrees.

About the only thing good about cold weather is that it serves as a good excuse to sit around and think.

Where are the skunks and possums?

McCrory has been thinking and decided to put his thought-monkey on someone else’s back. That particular monkey being, what happened to the skunks on the beach?

Another thought-monkey came along with his. That being: Yeah… and what happened to the possums, or to say it correctly, opossums? Sheesh. When was the last time you saw either of them? Seems like they all took a hike about 2006 or so, and have been gone longer than the local four-legged skunks.

I am also confident that cougar predation does not limit the growth of these populations. For skunks especially, because their greatest predator is the great horned owl. Skunks and opossums are both omnivores, with a diet consisting of a variety of insects, small rodents and plants.

They both den in hollow logs, burrows, human structures, trees, etc. Consequently, the beach doesn’t make for very good habitat for either species. although I am sure they occasionally wonder out to the beach in search of food.

Although you don’t see much sign of them on the beach itself, I am sure they are present just inland where there is more vegetation that provides cover and food.

Oddly enough, where logging occurs, skunks will move into the areas. Doesn’t seem like this is happening in the beach area. When it is extremely cold, skunks do “den-up,” although they do not hibernate.

Skunks generally weigh from three to 10 pounds, about the size of an average house cat. You rarely hear about cats sprayed by skunks but dogs are often the target for the obnoxious smell following a tangle with the striped-colored critters. Skunks are the most widely distributed of the US small mammals, ranging from coast to coast and from the central Canadian provinces to Mexico.

For years skunks were included in the Mustelidae (weasel) family. Like so many scientific subjects, advances in scientific knowledge have lead to the conclusion that skunks should be placed in their own family of Mephitidae (in Latin mephitis means stench).

Now where all this leaves the possums is anyone’s guess. But talk on the beach seems to be that they certainly are not being spotted anywhere.

Master Hunter permit program

In other critter news, The Washington Department of Fish &Wildlife will be accepting applications for its Master Hunter Permit Program Jan. 1-Feb. 15.

The program enlists master hunters for controlled hunts to remove problem animals and in other volunteer projects involving increased access to private lands, habitat enhancement, data collection, hunter education and landowner relations.

All the goals fit into the varieties of interests among the beacher folks. Master hunters bring to mind the valuable work performed by Bill Hulet and Ralph Flowers in the advances made in working with bears, developing bear feeding programs to protect valuable timber crops, plus being some of the legendary, unique folks in the county.

Geese galore

Wonder how this will set with the folks pondering the preponderance of the geese on the golf course and various school grounds this winter. Will the geese realize all goose management areas will close by Jan. 20 and will return to less populated areas?

Be on the unusual bird ‘look-out’

In other bird news, the Western Ornithological Society reviewed unusual bird sighting in Grays Harbor and Pacific counties and the Records Committee accepts as valid the sighting of a Humbolt penguin on Willoughby Rock and will continue researching its place of origin (Peru and Chile).

Folks along the beach should watch out for species in Pacific County that have been accepted as scientifically valid sightings. Those species are a scissor-tailed flycatcher and the great-tailed grackle.

Bottle Beach birding trip

For those interested in birds and birding, on Sunday, Jan. 19, at 10 a.m., Dianna Moore, the local beach birding guru, will lead a field trip to Bottle Beach and Westport. Meet the birders at the Sears parking lot at the SouthShore Mall if you’re coming from the north. Bring your Discover Pass or car pool with someone who has one.

You can also learn more by attending the February Grays Harbor Audubon Society meeting that has been moved a week to Sunday, Feb. 9 in order to accommodate the fanatics who watch the Superbowl.

Of Sasquatch and Yeti

Cold weather makes one also think about white polar bears, white snow and a white critter — the Abominable Snowman. The true believers in Sasquatch may think they are a related critter that didn’t cross the Siberian land bridge or float ashore in a cedar canoe from the south.

An Oxford University genetics professor, Bryan Sykes, has conducted DNA comparative studies between Himalayan Yeti hair samples and a database of animal genomes. He discovered some interesting conclusions. The hair samples from animals that had been identified by local Himalayans as Yetis shared a ‘fingerprint’ with a polar bear jawbone.

The bone found in the Norwegian Arctic is at least 40,000 years old. However, Sykes tests revealed those Yetis are not related to modern yetis, but are direct descendants to prehistoric bear.

So there it is.

More deer on local roads

Now, if someone could just give that scientist hair samples out of the northern Grays Harbor woods, perhaps local bears might become an endangered species and the Master Hunters would have to take on the Ocean Shores deer population. (Just bear in mind the latter is a joke…)

The increased deer population in Ocean Shores is of concern to the Police Department that consistently cautions folks to take it easy on the city streets. The collisions between cars and deer are on the rise. This year’s crop of little fellas are just not as skookum as fawns in the past when it comes to crossing the road without looking.

In the outlying areas elk are moving to lower elevations in search of browse, as well, so be wary on rural roads, especially in the early morning and early evenings. Hitting an elk is similar to hitting a D-9 Cat head-on.

Tapio retires

In the wondering about department, what are the beach folks going to do without Don Tapio? The WSU Extension leader has been invaluable to the area’s Master Gardeners and perplexed homeowners. With his recent retirement, he will be greatly missed by all.

Historical calendar

Before the New Year gets much older, better head up the beach to Moclips for your 1914 historical calendar from the Museum of the North Beach. This year the focus is on logging, which will surely bring back some nostalgic thoughts.

And while you are sitting, warming your cold feet by the fire, for heaven’s sake, would you please let the rest of us know where in the heck those skunks and possums went?

Gene Woodwick may be reached at 360-289-2805 or genewoodwick@coastaccess.com.


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