By Anna Livia
September 5, 2011
When I was a kid one of my favorite night time stories was “Where The Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak. I remember the kid in the book had been misbehaving so he was sent to his bed without dinner. He went in his room and shut his door with a most ornery scowl. But soon his little room with its simple and scant furniture started to grow! The bed posts grew into trees, the floors grew up into grass and walls were hanging with vines, exotic fruits, animals and birds until you could no longer see the bed, or the chair, or the dresser, or the room, anymore. It was the boy’s dream come true and he was off on an adventure, soon sailing the world to visit “where the wild things are.” When he got there, they “roared their terrible roars, gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes.” The wild things were the wildest ones in the “whole wide.” But not for long, because the boy showed them how he was truly the wildest of them all. After he got done displaying how wild he was, all the wildest things made him their king and they chanted “let the wild rumpus begin!”
Let’s go back to childhood for a moment and remember what intrigued us about wildlife, animals, forests, the woods and our own back yard. As a small child, the woods were my preferred playground because it was there I could best daydream about fairies, elves, and the wonderful world of make believe. Big rocks were my castle, the likens and moss were my carpet, the trees were the houses for all my imaginary friends, the nuts were my food, the flowers were my magic wands, the butterflies were fairies. Life was great and needed no improvement whatsoever. Nature made the best playground and it engaged the power of imagination completely. Combine nature, children and the imagination and magic happens! So let’s have a little fun, go back to being a kid for now and think of what got you excited about nature. ANIMALS! Animals were always at the top of my list!
A wildlife refuge is an enhanced nature experience and I am asking you to come play in the gardens of nature, with your imagination! When I was a kid it would be fun to contemplate who was the “mightiest,” the “coolest” or the “wildest” animal of all.
So here at the Welder Wildlife Refuge what are the creatures that we are most likely to see and which of them are the “wildest” ? Is it the cunning Coyote? How about the elusive Bobcat? The husky, tusky little Javelina (these misunderstood little beasts are not at fault for their reputation as “ferocious” pigs, because they are in reality neither one, by the way.) Or is it the sly Gray Fox? Could the mostest wildest beastiest one of all be the Feral Hog? How about the mighty Alligator or the Great-Horned Owl? Or is it the unknown but deadly Common Bladderwort, a carnivorous (eats animals) plant of the wetlands? Don’t forget the venomous snakes such as the Diamondback Rattlesnake and the Texas Coral whose venom is the same kind a cobra uses (neurotoxin).
Most of these animals, earn their reputation and there is something to back up what is said about them. The exception is the Javelina, the Collard Peccary. I will tell you why shortly.
Of course, Dan and I would love to see all of these during our stay here! Maybe if we were in one of Maurice Sendak’s children’s books then viewing wildlife could be as easy as getting sent to bed without any supper. Ah, but that is not how nature works, usually anyway. In real life we have to seek, look, study, wait, stalk, take many walks and be patient. Sightings of the wild things are sometimes rare, unexpected, and always treasured moments: lots or walking and looking and moments of excitement when we see them.
So of the 10 species of “wild things” I list above, how many have Dan and I been able to see since we got here two weeks ago to the Welder refuge?
So far we have heard the calls of the Coyote nightly. That has been a treasure and always is, I don’t care if it’s every night I enjoy it just as much as the first time I ever heard a Coyote. It’s always a nearly spooky, eerie kind of peace in their emotional chorus. It sets the mood and as a group I love to hear them. Sometimes their night time voices are even humorous, with one of them having the last word trailing off at the end as if he’s finishing the sentence, as if begging the most sympathy of his audience.
We have heard the Coyotes, but we have also already been lucky enough to see one, in the daylight, by the road as we drove past Pollita (Little Chicken) Wetland. So that was major cool. You don’t see a Coyote every day.
The next day on the same road closer to Big Lake, we saw Feral Hogs. Not pretty creatures, and of course dreaded by everyone as they are an invasive and a non-native species.
We have also seen quite a few Javelinas (I will say this again, they are not in the pig family). We have seen their little herds near our dormitories, several times by the dormitories in the Live Oak community. By Live Oak community I mean literally a community of these trees in impressive numbers. They are their own habitat, they support a community of animals, like Fox Squirrels, White-Tailed Deer, Rio Grand Turkeys and of course one of my personal favorites, Javelinas. The dorms and headquarters are situated amongst the Live Oaks, some 200-250 years old. The Javelina want for the acorns I guess. I heard that others have seen them at the water spout at the Cone Garden, which is where Dan and I have been doing our evening Hummingbird watching. In fact, it was in search of the Javelina that we first discovered the great Hummingbird watching over there. (See my previous article on Hummingbirds.)
The first night we ever spent on the refuge, Selma Glasscock, the Assistant Director of the Refuge, warned us not to try to be friendly to the little white- collared rooters, since it’s a drought they have become quite “aggressive” because they are very hungry. It was also that very first evening, almost no sooner Selma left, that we saw some. Excited about arriving at the refuge, I opened the curtain in our room and lo and behold, it was crazy, I saw a Nine-Banded Armadillo, a White-tailed Deer and in the background a Javelina. None of them were having anything to do with each other. It was just funny having all three in sight right outside my window!
This was my first time seeing a Javelina. When we went outside, we saw more, a herd of them, about 10 or so, rooting about 50 feet away. They didn’t run from us. Due to their reputation and what Selma had said I half way expected them to start charging us or at the very least to check us out. But they didn’t. I saw a youngster among them, with its little short legs trotting along in step with his family. I dare say, I thought he was cute and I started with, “Aww, look at the little tiny, widdle cutie one.” After observing their behavior as non-threatening, I sent Daniel out after them with a camera. He didn’t have to get much closer before they could see him and they started running as a group the other way, their little short, steady trots. They were pretty fast actually and they had absolutely no inclination to come chasing after us.
Let’s talk about the Javelina’s reputation now. First off, they are mistaken for pigs, more often than not. Actually they are not even related to the pig, they are a family of their own and there are only three species of Peccary in the world. The Collared Peccary is the only one we have in Texas. It is considerably smaller than a pig and one reason it can’t be classified as pig is because of its anatomy. Pigs have four toes on their hind hoof, Javelinas have only three. Javelinas have 38 teeth, pigs have 34 or 44 teeth. The tusks on the Javelina are straight and they curved on pigs. Javelinas have scent glands but no sweat glands. Pigs have no scent glands but they have sweat glands. Javelinas have no tail, pigs have a tail.
The Javelina has a reputation for being ferocious and aggressive. In reality, they are not aggressive to people and though highly capable of doing some serious damage (aggravated assault is an understatement I would image). Have you seen the teeth on those guys? I have, not on a live animal, but on several skulls here at Welder. The “tusks” are quite seriously sharp too. I ran my finger along one to check. Yup, that would be some serious business and I’m sure potentially life-threatening if a person were to get attacked by a wild thing with wild “toofers” like that, buddy! I can see why people might assume something that bears teeth like that would also be dangerous. But it is not their nature to be aggressive unless cornered. They would much rather go their own way and you go yours.
As one TPWD writer puts it, “Most stories of charging javelina stem from the habit of
javelina, which are extremely nearsighted, scattering in all
directions when an alarm is sounded by one of the herd. With
20 javelina going in all directions, at least one is bound to be
headed for the intruder, and even the bravest of souls is
certain the beast is out to do him bodily harm.” And, “They will stay in the area until the cause
of the alarm is found, often making the intruder, who sought
safety aloft, feel “treed.”
The problem arises when hunters come upon Javelina with their dogs. Javelina can’t stand dogs, they are (like Coyote) a threat to their young. Javelina have a justifiable reason for their prejudice toward dogs. But since so many people are quite attached to their hunting companions and pets, they don’t “like” animals that will whoop or kill them the way a Javelina will. It is in this limited situation that the Javelina becomes aggressive and at that time can also be a threat to a human, hence the reputation and the belief by some that these are vicious animals.
In reality, they are surprisingly low-key and mind their own business. I know this for a fact because, being here on the wildlife refuge I have had occasion to see them in herds quite a few times now. Only yesterday, when Dan and I were on our way back from a walk I saw medium-sized black creatures (about half a dozen of them) rooting at a relaxed pace through a thicket. I stopped dead in the path, since we were so close. We stood there quietly in awe and in caution. The Javelinas took notice of us and the one closest to me was looking straight at me and lifting his nose to smell me. None of them were alarmed they just kept doing their thing. Once I felt safe I went forward a little bit to get a closer look, they were just fine with that. We observed them eating their dinner (roots and insects I guess) and pawing at the ground with their hooves from time to time. This was really cool. I was just glad I didn’t have a dog with me is all.
Back to my earlier list of 10 species of “Wild Things”we hope to get lucky enough to see during our time here at Welder. So far we have seen the Coyote, the Javelina, Great Horned Owl and whether we liked it or not the Feral Hog. These are the “mostest wildest” things we have seen so far. That’s four of the ten. That leaves us yet to see the: the Bobcat, Gray Fox, American Alligator, the carnivorous wetland plant and two poisonous snakes!
Of course you will be the first to hear of it, if we see any of these! Also, a Belted Kingfisher is on my personal list, as I have never seen one. They say Moody Creek, here on the refuge is good for many of these on the list. We have read that Moody Creek is good habitat for alligator, Belted King Fisher, and even Bobcat. So as soon as I am done writing this, we are off for a three mile hike called the River Walk which will take us by Moody Creek as it converges with the Aransas River. We will be going through Riparian Forrest with excellent chances of seeing something cool we’ve not seen before! I can’t believe how excited I am getting about going on this walk. I have been studying for the past few days about birds and plants I might see there that I’ve never seen before. I have really built my anticipation up about this walk and I can’t wait! I will let you know what happens.