posts tagged with 'wildlife'

wasp season

Today was the beginning of fall, and more importantly it was my dad's birthday! We celebrated together at my parents' house with a cookout—but we didn't get to eat outside. The weather was perfect, but as soon as we put the first bit of food out it was discovered by wasps. Not a ton of wasps, but enough to make some of us nervous. So we went inside. And now that I think about it, the nervousness might have been a little bit justified, because we've had some intense wasp experiences over the past few weeks!

Most notable was our last outing of summer camp back at the end of August. With a good group of kids we rode to Fawn Lake and set out to walk around it. Less then halfway into the walk the leading kids moved off the main trail to explore a peninsula. I was near the back of the group, and as I neared the spot where the path reached the water I heard Sam say, "I think something is stinging me..." Next came the screams.

Sam had stepped on a wasps nest, and the wasps were streaming out and stinging everyone in sight. So we ran! (actually, the kids didn't run until I yelled at them to). Unfortunately, the peninsula we were on is kind of swampy and the path is vague, so in our hurry to get away we went the wrong way, which I realized when we came to a stream that the littler kids couldn't get over. I picking them up to basically throw them across I dropped my backpack and Zion's shoes. Then we ran some more. After a few hundred yards we stopped to catch our breath, and immediately noticed that the wasps were still with us: a few in the air around us and lots more on—or in a few cases under—our clothes. So we ran some more, with a few breaks to kill the wasps clinging to the kids. Half way around the pond from the nest we finally felt safe to stop.

With all that, we weren't absolutely destroyed. Nathan, who hates bugs the most, got the most stings—maybe six. Nobody else got more than two or three, and a few of us—me included—escaped without a single one. But everyone was a little shaken up. Needless to say, we didn't linger long at the pond; and one of the five-year-olds was heard to announce that he's never going hiking again (don't worry, he already has). To recover we all went out for ice cream.

It seems like there are more wasps around this year than usual. Lots of them are interested in our compost, which means they're also interested in our food when we eat on the back porch. Even with the stings they got at the pond the kids aren't particularly worried about wasps attacking them, but it's still disconcerting to have five or six of them buzzing around your head when you're trying to eat and, often, landing on your food. They might not want to sting us, but I bet they would if we bit one by accident. So we haven't been eating outside as much here, either.

But now that it's fall we'll be free of them soon. I'm ready!

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that stings!

So we have a playhouse, only it's not quite finished. That's why I haven't written about it yet. I will when it's done, which on current pace may be when the grandchildren come visiting (we're currently on year two of construction). That's not to say it isn't any use now; it's mostly done, and definitely inhabitable. In general, that is—right now it's not, because of wasps. I first noticed them yesterday, and knocked down their nest with a two-by-three and a great deal of care. This morning I saw that they were still hanging around the fallen nest, and knocked it down more, again emerging unscathed. Then in the afternoon I checked one more time and, seeing no signs of the wasps, went to move the two-by-three out. Which is when they came attacked! I only actually got one sting, but it hurt more than it would have otherwise because of how surprising it was! And the worst part is, now I don't know where they're hanging out, so any further construction work will need to be postponed until we can get them sorted. That's not what this project needs!

turkey talk

A new addition to the early-morning chatter of birds in our neighborhood is the low, musical chortle of a tom turkey. Despite how much it really does sound like "gobble-gobble-gobble" I actually wasn't sure what it was at first; then on a walk I saw the turkey in action to dispel all doubts. It's a low and musical sound at our house, but not so much up close. He's been calling from the same spot all week, which is basically under Harvey's friend Jack's bedroom window. This starts at maybe quarter to five. I haven't had a chance to ask Jack what he things about it. But for me, already awake and ten houses away, it's nature at its finest!

who says we never do anything?!

Yesterday we at a picnic lunch and a picnic dinner, in two separate state parks. That wasn’t the plan for the day; I had thought to have a pretty quiet day at home, working and playing here like we’ve been doing a lot of the time lately. We did have an early-morning trip to to the grocery store planned, and I expected that that would be all the excitement I could handle. Only then friends invited us to join them for a walk at Great Brook Farm state park. On such a beautiful day, how could we resist?!

Harvey and Zion playing by a pond

out and enjoying life

It was indeed lovely; we played around the pond, looked at the livestock, and took a walk through the woods and fields. Then to top it all off we got ice cream—one small dish per family, to share. Hey, we're not made of money! Everyone was worn out and satisfied as we headed home.

But we didn't stay there for long. Harvey just got new swim goggles the other day, and he's been trying to arrange our first summertime trip to Walden Pond. I mentioned in passing that we might be able to head that way at dinner time—some day, when we hadn’t already spent nearly four hours exploring the great outdoors. But no, he was determined. So not much more than an hour after getting home from Great Brook we’d packed another meal and took to the road again. I was worried, with everyone but Harvey—me very much included—showing signs of dangerous tiredness, but the nearly empty beach was just what we needed and the boys ran, swam, and played for a solid hour and a half. Me, I lay on the beach and tried not to fall all the way asleep when they were in the water.

the three boys playing in the water

peaceful evening swim

Besides all the fresh air and exercise over the two excursions, we also got to see all kinds of amazing wildlife. At Great Brook the pond was full of tiny frogs, bullfrogs, and fish—including a catfish that came up to strike a cheerio one of the kids through in. We also saw lots of chipmunks and observed ants and dragonflies; Zion found a snakeskin to bring home. Walden Pond had less variety, but more excitement when a bald eagle flew across the pond to land in a pine tree down the beach. (“I didn’t see it!” Lijah tells me. He has a hard time seeing his shoes when I point them out to him, never mind a bird moving fast several hundred yards away.)

a frog in the pond

ribbet

It was all super fun. And exhausting. It took til this evening to finish washing all the tupperwares. But as we loaded the things into the car in the beautiful cool of the evening, I reflected that, some days at least, following the moment wherever it leads can be pretty nice too.

Harvey, Zion, and Havana walking in the woods

getting away from it all

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our perilous mornings

Once again, we had an exciting morning with the local wildlife. No sooner had Leah let out the hens than a fox dashed in to grab one. Hearing the commotion we drove it off empty-handed (-mouthed), but then I couldn't find the hen who had been attacked even after an extended search. After half an hour I was convinced there were two foxes in on the raid—or more!—and one of them had carried her away. Because it turns out we're surrounded by fox dens: there's one under our across-the-street neighbor's shed, and I've noticed another couple kits playing every morning outside a shed a few houses down through the back. Or maybe they're the same two, with a second home?

a pair of fox kits seen at a distance

kits taking the air

Happily, our poor hen had only fled the yard in panic, and before too long she wandered back in. Unlike last Sunday's victim, she's rather the worse for wear, with all the feathers missing from the back of her neck—clearly the Plymouth Rock breed isn't fluffy enough for complete protection. Still, I couldn't see any blood; and while she was clearly shaken for a while after the attack she seems to be entirely back to normal this evening.

It's a little stressful, I admit, having to be on guard like this. But the need for vigilance is at least motivating me to spend my early mornings outside, where besides getting to enjoy the loveliest part of the day I get to put in some serious work on the garden. Just the thing ahead of a day at the office (I don't have very many of those so I'm not really good at them).

I don't know much about foxes. Will they move on once the kits are big? Or will they all find homes around the neighborhood and continue to terrorize our flock—now with even more hunting adults? I don't have a plan in the latter case, except to keep up with the early-morning gardening when I have the energy, and when I don't leave the hens penned up until it's too bright and lively for foxes to be out and about. They might complain some, but as a creature with forethought and awareness I'm going to say that, considering the alternative, their temporary annoyance is something they ought to be able to bear!

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our exciting Sunday morning

Yesterday morning I was up early to let the chickens out before we had to go to church. As we were getting ready there was a tremendous burst of alarmed clucking from the yard—the sound the hens only make when they're running from something. I had just come downstairs so I was ideally situated to run right out the door, and right away I saw all the hens in panicked flight from a fox. Well, all but one, who was firmly grasped in its jaws.

some feathers on the grass

an alarming sign

Sure it was too late but determined not to let the fox eat my Buff Orpington, I dashed down the stairs, grabbing up a stick as I went. The fox headed for the woods with me maybe 15 feet behind, and it slowed only a moment to dive under our fence—but in order to fit through the gap, it had to let go of the hen. Who, to my complete surprise, hopped up and ran the other way! On the other side of the fence the fox paused, but when I went through the gate it took off again. I chased through a couple yards before giving up; I figured I'd do better to check on the victim!

Who turned out to be much better than I expected, than anyone would have any right to expect: a little shaken maybe, but otherwise unscathed. The Orpingtons are our fluffiest hens, and it very well may be that all the feathers kept the fox's teeth from doing any actual damage. A lot of them sure fell out—it looked like about two chickens-worth scattered over the lawn in three or four clumps.

a lot of feathers on the grass

that's a really lot

We got all the hens into their run—it took some doing to find the last one cowering in the lilac bushes by the driveway—and I was a little disappointed to see the other hens didn't show the slightest bit of consideration for their sister who had just escaped, literally, from the jaws of death. She's pretty far down the pecking order, and as they squabbled for the scratch I tossed into the run they didn't hold back from pecking her away from her fair share. As we were leaving, she sensibly retired to the roost to recover.

I half expected to find her dying when we got back, but she was still fine; she was fine all day today—totally normal in fact, and not even much thinner for having lost so many feathers. So all's well that ends well—better, even, for the house sparrows and other little birds who snatched up all the downy feathers for their nests. I only wish I'd gotten a photo of the fox, who was a fine-looking specimen; as it happened I didn't really have time.

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hens sleeping rough

Who knows why chickens do the things they do. The other night we had friends over in the evening, so it wasn't til late that I went out to shut the coop door. Stepping onto the porch I almost tripped over a hen sleeping on the porch floor; there were two more on the railing. The other six were crammed into the small open coop I made for the little hens to live in at the end of the summer. None of them were where they were supposed to be, in their own house. When it's dark chickens don't really move around much, so it wasn't hard to grab them one at a time and carry them to the henhouse, but it did take a fair while. I figure that the wind must have blown the door shut in the evening when they were still out, and when they couldn't get home they had to make other arrangements. It was open when I got outside, but whatever.

The next night I was late again. It looked like everything was as it should be—door still open, no hens to be seen outside—but I thought it would be ok to check just in case. And count. Seven hens roosting comfortably... out of nine. Hmm. This time it took me a little searching before I found the other two, cuddled up on the ground at the base of a tree. I picked em up and threw em back in. Last night it was just after dark when I got out, but dark comes early these days and the hens were once again abed—eight of them this time. The last one didn't take any trouble to find, though: she was right where she'd been the night before. Today it was wet and snowy (and we had our health department inspection) so I didn't let them out. Everyone will be sleeping where they're supposed to be!

It's not that I mind them making alternate sleeping arrangements if they don't care for the home I built for them. I'm not offended! But I do like to see them in the morning, and given the wildlife running around here I wouldn't be too sure about their survival chances outside their hardened shelter. We're hearing owls—multiple owls—hooting around the house just about every night lately, just for one example.

That said, they'd probably be fine most evenings. At least twice I've closed up the run without counting and had a hen spend a night out in the open, with nothing bad happening. The only two hens we lost to predators were both in the daytime, to hawks. But there's no reason to take chances. So at least when I'm paying attention, I'm going to take the trouble to put all of them in. Hopefully they'll figure it out on their own and stop trying to make alternate arrangements. But, as I say, they think for themselves—there's no telling the mind of a chicken.

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fox in the farmyard

Saturday morning at around 8:00 I heard some noise from the chickens out in the yard—noise that was alarming enough to send me running out to the porch. That was the correct reaction, because right there coming around the corner of the house in hot pursuit of a few of our hens was fox! I yelled for Rascal, who was still in his morning stupor: somehow hadn't noticed when the chase started in the backyard, and he took an unsatisfactory four or five seconds to get out the door after the fox. And then about half that to chase it out of the yard.

a fox in the neighbor's driveway

lean and hungry look

Two interesting things about this fox, the first one I've seen up close and personal in an adversarial situation. One, it was small: too small, luckily, to easily engage with a chicken. It was close behind three of the for several seconds but couldn't manage to get its jaws into any of them (and somehow it didn't go after the two who made bad course decisions and caught themselves in corners of the garden fence!). Two, it showed good situational intelligence. It pretty much ignored me when I came out, but left like a shot when it noticed Rascal. But then when it got outside the fence (the outer fence right now is just a reminder to any animals much smaller than Rascal) it realized almost instantly that he wasn't after it any more, and stopped to look back—look back mockingly, I'd say, though maybe it just had its tongue out to pant.

At that early hour there wasn't anyone else around outside, so the fox felt safe to trot slowly around the edge of our property, with Rascal keenly interested in its progress the whole way (it was moving so slowly I had no trouble getting the picture above; I just wish I had thought to grab my real camera). When it got to the back yard again, though, it ran into trouble: the fence is lower in the woods, and Rascal was enraged enough to jump it to rejoin the chase. That was the last we saw of the little guy, who knew to get out while the getting was good.

Not wanting Rascal running all over the universe, I put him on the leash and tried to get him on the trail—but given he's a sight hound not a scent hound, the results were unsatisfactory. There was so much fox smell around he just followed the trail back around the house, and there was no way we could figure out which direction the fox had taken off in. So that was the end of the story. A happy ending for the chickens, thank goodness, and they went right back to pecking and scratching... just as we went right back to enjoying our Saturday. And a mostly happy ending for the fox too, I suppose; as happy as I'm prepared to allow it!

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more wildlife sightings

Yesterday evening an owl landed in a tree right above me, and hung out for a few minutes—long enough for me to get the boys out to see it. Late this afternoon a swan flew right overhead with wings creaking mightily. It's the first time I've seen either from the yard; maybe it's just that I've been spending more time that usual out there standing around, or maybe the wilding of the suburbs is continuing apace... either way, I'm delighted.

the wilding of the suburbs

When I was a kid, it was a thrill to see a chipmunk. We had squirrels, sure, and voles, but a glimpse of any other wild mammal was rare and exciting. Not so much any more—there are mornings when I have to work hard not to run over any of the dozens of chipmunks running back and forth over the bike path.

And it's not just them who have apparently accommodated themselves to suburban existence. My trips along the path over the past couple years provide a representative sample of the animals you never used to see that are now definitely around, if not downright common: lots of deer, turkeys, and hawks; the occasional coyote; once a snapping turtle.

My Sunday morning baking this past weekend was interrupted by a fox in the yard (Rascal was very interested, and once we let him out he saw it off in short order). We apparently have a fisher living just about in our backyard—we haven't seen it, though we've had reports from neighbors (Leah did see one in the woods several years ago). There are lots of bats around, and an owl nearby that's been very vocal many of these late fall evenings. Last year I saw a porcupine.

Now, I don't actually know if all these creatures have always been around, and I just didn't pay attention as a young lad. I was certainly oblivious to lots of other things (girls, for example...). But my hypothesis is that they are, in fact, more common now. And I like it! If we have to live in the suburbs, I'm ever so happy to share them with the wild creatures who were here first. If nothing else they make my commute a lot more interesting.

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