Last weekend I got a call from Janet Matthew of Gillsburg. She looked out to the field behind her house to see buzzards around something dead. But there were also a couple of unidentified creatures on the ground.

A closer look showed them to be a hawk next to a bald eagle, fighting over the carcass.

“They were battling each other — and the hawk won,” Janet said.

The eagle flew off, but not before Janet had a good look at it.  

“I have never seen one, and to see it fly with that beautiful white head and that white tail, I was so excited,” she said.

To cap things off, a hunter told her about game camera photos showing a black bear on adjoining timber company property. She was enthused about that, too.

I share Janet’s excitement. Not everyone is thrilled about creatures like bears, wild hogs, coyotes or alligators, but the presence of such animals suggests we live in a healthy environment and adds a thrill to the outdoors.

I like ’em!

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I am thankful for the variety of wildlife in southwest Mississippi.

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For the past year I have been exploring a tract of woods I refer to as the Outback, and have been amazed at the variety and abundance of wildlife.

I have run across deer, turkeys, wild hogs, rabbits, quail, doves, squirrels, timber rattlesnakes, black racers, an indigo snake, hawks, Mississippi kites and vultures. My game camera has also captured armadillos, possums, raccoons, a bobcat and coyotes, including a black coyote.

Apparently there have been generations of black coyotes in my neck of the woods. I talked to a man fixing fence on adjoining property and he said he had seen them for years.

My son Andy recalled scouting for turkeys as a teenager 30-plus years ago and seeing one. He was hiding in a thicket calling when three coyotes emerged, two regular and one black. The black one looked like 60 pounds, he said.

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It hasn’t been all that long since many of these creatures were unheard-of around here. Oldtimers can recall when deer and turkeys  were trapped elsewhere and re-introduced to southwest Mississippi in the 1960s.

In my grandmother’s day, the land was in cotton fields and pea patches, and wildlife consisted mostly of small game like quail and rabbits.

Of course, in the era before hers, southwest Mississippi was a wilderness with all kinds of big animals, including red wolves, panthers, even bison.

Settlers, hunting and farming all but wiped out big game animals. Now, through conservation efforts and land-use changes (timber instead of cotton), we’re getting them back, or some of them anyway.

I’ve been outdoors editor at the Enterprise-Journal for 40 years, and I remember when bald eagles, wild hogs, alligators and coyotes were virtually unknown hereabouts.

Such creatures started appearing gradually, to the point that it was a news item when somebody saw one. Now even bald eagle and bear sightings aren’t that uncommon.

I’ve seen a bald eagle on my own road, and I’ve heard that game cameras show a bear just a couple of roads over.

I recall when alligators were so rare that when I heard there was one on the Homochitto River, I went out there, camped out and went out at night trying to shine it. We found the gator, to our great thrill.

Now they’re almost anywhere with a swampy environment.

Coyotes? I can step out my door at dusk and hear them whooping and hollering.

Hogs? Their wallows can be found in low muddy places all over the place.

Bald eagles? They’re showing up almost anywhere there’s a large body of water to nest near.

Bears? They’re still relatively scarce, but in the past year or so I’ve heard of sightings from Franklin to Walthall County as well as across the line in Louisiana.

I recently saw an article in National Geographic where people all over the world pay big money to be photographed next to animals like tigers, bears and elephants. There’s something in the human psyche that craves the presence of wildlife.

I’m not expecting to be photographed next to a bear or alligator, but I can’t help but feel good that we’ve got them and so many other wild animals in southwest Mississippi.

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