Wildlife abounds along the Potomac, even in the heart of Washington. The pavement-pounders get all excited, as they did this week, when the occasional bobcat or fox wanders up Embassy Row, but the Rock Creek and riverbank regulars take such sightings as a matter of delightful course.
The established wild residents within our city limits include deer, wild turkey, otter, beaver, raccoon, possum, red fox (and the odd gray fox), osprey and other hawks, owls, herons, Canada geese, a whole raft of turtles ranging from tiny to humongous, and lots of snakes, including copperheads.
Last winter 13-year-old Jimmy Warring was sitting with a friend on Castle Rock, downriver from the railroad underpass on Canal Road, when a deer ran by.
"Another deer came by 30 feet from us, stopped and then ran off," he said. "It had six points."
"There are plenty of deer around here," said Dickie Teehan of Washington. "I've seen nine at one time but usually I'll see between three and five. It's hard to spot them in the summer because of the foliage, but they're there, plenty of tracks all over the place."
Ray Fletcher, of the Fletcher's boathouse family, has spotted as many as 11 deer in one short walk along the C&O Canal. Two weeks ago, staffers from the National Zoo came to Fletcher's to fetch a deer that had broken its leg while crossing some driftwood.
Beavers are all about. They can be seen along both banks of the river and in the canal. Their lodges are usually in pools and ponds, often unnoticed because they look like piles of driftwood.
Dan Ward of Fletcher's, who says the wildlife boom has paralleled the recent progress in cleaning up the river, was downriver from the boathouse when he encountered a red fox.
"I was crouched down behind a tree waiting for a friend who was walking through the woods," he said. "Just as my friend came within a few feet of me, this red fox jumped up on a boulder and stood for a second. Then it leaped off and ran away."
Teehan and Ray Fletcher have seen red fox a few times, but Teehan recalls only once having seen a gray fox.
"It was out at Widewater, up past Angler's Inn," he said. "I caught a glimpse of one shoot across the towpath. But I've never seen any around Fletcher's."
Ray Fletcher contends that there are more grays than reds. "They're just harder to see," he said. "People notice red fox more because of their coat. I've seen gray fox walk across the parking lot."
Canada geese are a common sight along the Potomac. Ospreys and herons can be seen fishing from Fletcher's dock. The shy wild turkeys stay hidden along the banks of the river.
"You have to be quiet when you're looking for turkey," Ray Fletcher said. "They spook easy. If they take off, they're gone. I've seen them fly across the river."
If the creature that created such a stir on Massachusetts Avenue Tuesday was a bobcat, it may have been the same one reported to the Fletchers recently by two fishermen. Perhaps it was tired of a diet of fish and mice and wanted to sample some leftover canapes on Embassy Row.