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Campus wildlife

03/08/04 12:00AM By Ted Levin
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(Host) Commentator Ted Levin says campus life can get a little wild at times, and he's not talking about fraternity parties.

(Levin) Dartmouth College sits hard between the Connecticut River and the rolling hills of New Hampshire's western flank. The campus is laced with greenbelts, some so spacious you could disappear for a while. Wild creatures regularly appear on, over, and in the college.

Buildings, and for no apparent reason libraries, are a prime spot for wildlife sightings. Many years ago a friend watched a barred owl kill a gray squirrel in front of the Dana Library. I caught a little brown bat in the stacks at Baker Library, not far from the mystery novels. There's a crew of chipmunks that climb into the library staff windows at Baker. Once inside they need help getting out.

On warm February afternoons I've watched big brown bats trolling for bugs in front of the old gym, where I assume they had spent the winter hibernating in the attic, lulled to sleep by the dribbling basketballs.

This past September, a bear spent several days on campus in front of the Administration Building, outside Novack Cafe, near the town athletic fields, near the River Apartments, and in front of Baker Library, where more than fifty curious students surrounded it. eventually, the bear retreated up a nearby tree. By then, the Hanover Police and Safety and Security were directing foot traffic. The bear disappeared down a wooded ravine.

Deer are spotted regularly around campus and occasionally moose appear, backing up traffic. Last spring, a young moose created a traffic jam half way between the college and Ledyard Bridge, where watched the watchers. Several years ago, a moose trotted across the Green.

Birding around the college can both be predictable and unpredictable. Last spring, a barred owl flew into a window at Gilman Hall, after being chased by a posse of crows, while across campus a pair of amorous pileated woodpeckers drummed on an elm outside President Wright's office in Parkhurst Hall. In winter, birds from the far north settle across campus, feeding on crabapples, box elder seeds, and elm buds. During the winter of 2002, a flock of Bohemian waxwings and pine grosbeaks splashed red and yellow across an otherwise gaunt winter landscape.

Then, there are the random sightings: an adult bald eagle above the Steele Building; a peregrine falcon chasing pigeons over the Green. A couple of years ago, a pair of merlins, small, swift, pugnacious falcons nested in a pine on the golf course, not far from the club house.

No animal sighting around campus, however, compares with the 1977 Animal Control Agents Report for the town of Hanover. Listed last below 961 animal complaints, was a note that read: "Investigated a report of an otter chasing a mailman." Animal control agent Stan Milo confirmed that he received a call from a mailman, who after being chased down the street by an otter, took refuge in someone's house. The post office offered no comment.

The late E. B. White did, though. A friend sent the report to the New Yorker, and White responded, "Maybe that's what the postal service needs."

This is Ted Levin of Coyote Hollow in Thetford Center.

Ted Levin is a writer and photographer specializing in natural history. He spoke to use from our studio in Norwich.
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