In the four years we have been here we have had some problems with "the demons that inhabit the world beyond our fences." For instance, after finally completing the chicken coop we had a raccoon tear through the chicken wire and kill a chicken, a turkey, and take off with our pet rabbit, Bunny Foofer Doo. Which had us, as recent transplants in to the country, angrily scratching our heads and pondering what the point of chicken wire is if it isn't strong enough to keep predators away from the damn chickens. (A question that I still don't have an answer to.) The next year, during a huge drought, we had something jump the fence in the middle of the day and take off with a duck and 2 chickens. The locals were kind enough to narrow this animal down to a bobcat or coyote... they were also kind enough to give an unsolicited recipe for how to kill the animal painfully and illegally. I'll spare you the details. Also, on a regular basis (spring through fall), we carefully and methodically remove and relocate snakes from our property.
All in all though... until now, that has been the extent of our wildlife problems. For some reason,though,this spring and summer has amplified the issue. This entry to my blog has been months and months in the making. As soon as I thought I was done with wildlife problems something else would wreak havoc on our lives and I would feel compelled to document and record that interaction for the masses. First lets start with a mouse...
Like Sherlock Holmes my investigation skills were unearthly. "I swear I didn't leave a mess of pecan shells in the pantry." "Is that poop or is that just some lentil, rice, or legume thing?" "I have cats, there couldn't be a mouse." "Is it coming in from the top?" "Is it coming in from the bottom? " "Certainly it can't squeeze through that hole." Yet, it did squeeze through that hole and it managed to squeeze through some other hole that I couldn't find once that original hole was sealed up. Unable to stop this 2 inch menace from making it's way through my food supply I resigned to continuously feed it pecans in hopes that it would leave all the other food alone until I could devise a plan. The thing was, I had tried metal live traps before and had never been successful, actually, at one point, witnessing the creature release itself from its forced imprisonment. The most "humane" death would seem to be poison. A choice I hated but compared to my husband's suggestion of sticky paper, a choice I preferred.
Once I finally succumbed to the idea that killing it would be the only way to rid ourselves of this vermin we set out poison... but the mouse didn't eat the bait. We mixed it in the pecans; the mouse still didn't eat the bait. We wrapped the bait in bread; the mouse refused to eat the bait. Nick finally coated the bread with icky, sticky, gooey, yummy icing; the mouse stuck up a cute hand drawn sign that read, "I know better than to eat that bait." At approximately the same moment that I concluded that we should just name the mouse Fred and consider him a pet I found a teeny tiny plastic live trap and caught the rodent. He now resides a mere 50 miles away. We weren't taking any chances.
Just as quickly as that problem resolved itself a new one came on to the radar... Bees.
I like gardening. I think I will subject you to current pictures of my garden-
A few months ago, as I was planting something or pulling something up, I heard a hum reverberating in the air. I looked up as a cloud of bees engulfed me. They had found a nickel sized gap in the boards of my house and were proceeding to move their gazillion bee bodies in an orderly fashion through said hole. Had I only known then what I know now, I could have just disrupted the bees at that point and I wouldn't have to be telling you the rest of this story. However, I didn't and currently I have a hive of thousands and thousands of bees buzzing away happily under the floorboards of my daughters room. I do have a plan for this though. It is long and technical and involved actually buying a hive of bees from one of the members of the local beekeepers club out here. The other week, Nick drove over an hour to his house to purchase the beehive. Upon exiting the vehicle the beekeeper guy told him to, "Get your bee suit on". Nick quickly informed him that he didn't own a bee suit. At that point the beekeeper looked him from head to foot and said, "bees don't like black shirts and you shouldn't be wearing shorts." After those words of wisdom he paused and then asked very point blank, "Are you sure you've thought this out?" To which, my husband smiled and responded, "We never do."
(Side note: I take umbrage with that comment. I very much consider myself a planner. I planned, very well up to step 1 of this adventure.... and now that step 1 is complete I am working fervently to figure out and organize a step 2.)
*** This bee story is to beeee continued...
In the midst of the excitement of tackling the world of beekeeping I was raising 2 baby ducks that I had rescued from a local duck pond. They were orphans that had fallen over an embankment and were trapped. I took them home and babied them. Their names were Cheeto and Dorito. When they were finally big enough to go out with our older ducks I released them and they sat out with the others, happily. Happily until one night, during a storm, Cheeto was taken and dismembered and Dorito was mauled. Of course, I was completely heartbroken and vowed vengeance on whichever of God's creatures had committed this heinous act. Immediately I donned my best Sacajawea type tracking skills and set off in to the creek to look for tracks.
(Side note: If you are planning to buy a new or used home NEVER get one with a creek that runs through it. This creek will be used as a selling technique... peaceful and tranquil... adding diversity to your landscape... but in actuality a creek is nature's highway for predators. Consider yourself warned!)
Immediately I spotted the raccoon tracks and set up a trap to catch the four legged assassin. Faster than I could yell, "Towanda" I had caught the criminal and celebrated by telling my husband how we should just take him out to the pond and drown him; plotting his soon to be demise blow by carefully constructed blow. With a methodical laugh we strapped the cage doors down with zip ties, heaven forbid it make an escape before I could enact my retribution.
Here is a picture of the raccoon that I soon named Toast:
However, my friend, Michelle, had it right when she responded to my murder plot with, "And when have you ever hurt an animal?" So, I stashed the beast in a shed because... it was chilly out that night and I didn't want it to get cold.
The next morning I ran out and snapped this cute picture of the poor thing. It's big brown eyes staring at me in a mock plea having only heard my side of the conversation with Michelle where I muttered something about it needing to atone for its sins.
It's sweet and demure demeanor was only a ruse and by the time Nick was up and ready to drive the creature the required 50 miles away it had turned in to a rabid beast. It lunged at the cage walls, snarling and growling while Nick hoisted it up in to the bed of the truck. Not wanting to handle the animal further he quickly threw him next to the tailgate of the truck and in doing so made him extremely visible from the rear view mirror as they departed.
I am now going to retell the story as Nick told it to me, exactly 3 minutes AFTER leaving with the raccoon:
He eased out of the driveway and Toast was clearly agitated in the back. As he drove down the road in front of our house he could see, in the rear view mirror, that the animal was thrashing around. By the time he started to round the corner the cage was flipping in circles. Without much concern (because after all, we had zip tied those doors) he accelerated. As he reached 50mph he looked in the mirror to see that Toast had stuck his arms out of the cage and was proceeding to drag himself, like a legless zombie, up to the cab of the truck. Nick then said, almost simultaneously the cage disappeared from his view and the raccoon appeared standing up looking in to the window, screaming angrily like a velociraptor in Jurassic Park. At that point Toast looked over the edge of the truck, jumped, rolled, and took off running. Seems that, even with the zip ties in place, the door could be pushed up about two inches. Don't ask me, I don't understand it either. It was either divine intervention or Houdini came back reincarnated in the form of a raccoon.
I haven't had any other tracks appear in my creek. Apparently, torturing an animal and letting it go down the road from the house has a similar effect as driving it 50 miles away. I haven't had any mice again either.
Every day for the next two weeks I checked Doritos's wounds from the raccoon attack. Toast had bitten her neck, ripped at her right leg, and damaged her eye but by the end of the two weeks you could hardly see where the injury had been. As a special treat I walked out to the pond to feed my ducks vegetable scraps and noticed 5 turtles jumping in to the water as I approached. (If you have read my blog you know that I don't much care for turtles. Not because they aren't lovely, fascinating creatures but because they tend to migrate and get trapped in the confines of my fencing and perish. Hence, I try to monitor the pond for these amphibians.) When I didn't see Dorito immediately I became concerned. She is my social diva and will come running if she senses the opportunity for food. After a brief search I saw her standing, solemnly, next to a tree. Warning bells went off.... something had to be wrong. I walked out to find that her chest and neck were ripped open, she stood in shock, blood dripping to the ground. I snatched her up and ran to find Nick, knowing immediately what had done this to her. A snapping turtle.
A snapper is like a regular turtle but on steroids and with severe anger management issues. They pretty much look like this:
After quickly wrapping Dorito's wounds and giving her an injection of antibiotics; we corralled the other ducks and penned them away from the pond. I left them there for several days while researching and pondering how to humanely catch a snapping turtle. The options for catching one are extremely limited. Traps, fishing, and shooting. Each had their benefits and risks. We started with the least lethal.
Nick spent a few hours constructing and reconstructing the perfect trap. It was nothing more than a box, really, with a screen on the bottom to allow for water flow. The ramp, which was bated with some sort of chicken entrails, ended with a teeter-totter mechanism. The idea being that the turtle would crawl up to eat the bait and would be dropped in to the water within the trap.
We spent two months bungling the capture of the turtle. The trap seemed to attract fire ants immediately and even, if I pretended, that the turtles would have really enjoyed the hike up the steep incline and plummet in to the trap, nothing would ever make a willing choice to tangle with fire ants. Thus Nick's hard work and brilliant construction was for not.
Baiting proved to be more lucrative but after spending $25 on various fishing supplies we could only go so far as to boast hooking the turtle twice but not so far as to say we actually caught it. In hindsight, the fact that the turtle managed to evade us for so long was probably best for Dorito. She wouldn't have healed as well had she been allowed to swim in the pond and being segregated from the flock would have alienated her further. At least, that is what I choose to focus on. As anticlimactic as it is, all of the turtles just seemed to get up one day and leave. Perhaps the snapping turtle died (it had eaten two fishing hooks) and sunk to the bottom of our pond. OR maybe they just all migrated. They like to do that, after all.
Sometimes (usually) the problems we find ourselves in are self inflicted.
Immediately following The Great Snapping Turtle Incident of 2013, one of our chickens sneaked off and laid eggs in a pot. She was always around when we were feeding or giving treats and so I never noticed her disappearance. However, one day, Nick found her, sitting diligently on her eggs. My casual, initial reaction was to gather up the eggs and throw them away but seconds later the realization came that I didn't know how long she had been sitting and... after only three days the babies were born.
I tried to bear witness to every single one of their births... mostly because I had a hard time really fathoming how a chicken can be contained in something so small and/or how they manage to break out of an egg without inertia to assist them.
8 babies were born and I was very conscientious of where I housed them. At night, because of the threat of snakes, I placed them in a cage with grates that were 3 inches long and half an inch wide. Even with my precautions a snake still managed to get in to the cage one night. It killed and consumed two of my babies. In some sense, I am sure you can feel my conflicting emotions as I stood there, compassionate to a snake who was only trying to exist, and angry at a snake who was now too fat to be able to squeeze back through the bars that it had somehow originally fit through. I quickly grabbed the snake screaming. Nick was inside so I drug that snake (Literally, because even held high his tail touched the ground) through my house searching for him. "It ate my babies," I yelled out. Two lumps clearly visible in his body. Nick's response? "We could cut the snake open and get the babies out." This comment led to a long "discussion" about if rat snakes are constrictors. Which is usually how it goes between Nick and I. Clearly, other things were pressing but right then seemed like a reasonable time to debate it and then ultimately whip out the smart phone and Google it. I was right. They are.
As if this wasn't enough... a few days later, as I was doing my morning chores, the sea of chickens parted to reveal a snake right where I was about to step. Now, I am bragging here- just to show you how much I have grown in the past four years. When I jumped and screamed like a lunatic.. I didn't think, "AHHH, snake!" I thought, "AHHH, copperhead!" I feel that is some real progress and shows just how effectively I have acclimated to country life.
Thankfully the snake was dead and, probably, for about 15 minutes I stood there poking at it, staring at it and concocting a story for what happened to it. Finally, I decided a hawk had killed it and dropped it. I have seen them fly over numerous times with snakes. The thought of one flying overhead and dropping another copperhead on me still haunts me, however, the idea of something dropping a kitten never occurred to me until...
My daughter and I came back from an auction late one night. We slowly walked from the driveway and into the house. My husband stood and talked with us for a bit until he said he heard something outside and disappeared. He came back moments later holding a screaming, four week old, orange, kitten.
That kitten was not there when I had walked by minutes earlier. My house is not near the road in order for someone to have dumped her. My property is fenced and surrounded by trees and open fields all of which, clearly, harbor predators. The only feasible conclusion I could reach was that a bird, flying over head, lost what was going to be their dinner and it fell on my driveway, screaming noisily. A later visit to the vet confirmed that she had sustained injuries that would support my theory.
I admit, this year has been wacky. Moving back to the urban sprawl of my hometown doesn't seem unappetizing. There my worst wildlife dilemma was ants in the kitchen. My mind is tired of trying to outsmart the wildlife... primarily because I really believe, that regardless of my wholehearted attempts, they are actually winning... and laughing about it at their monthly meet and greets (where that damn snapping turtle is probably the guest speaker). Perhaps I am overreacting; it has been a rough several months. I am just not sure there is any end in sight. Yesterday I noticed a mess of pecan shells in the pantry again.
(Here is a picture of Dorrito, whom we have renamed Princess Lucky Pants. Renaming happens often around here... mostly with chickens. For instance Chica became Chico when we realized she was a he and Romeo became Mona when we realize he was a she. We also renamed Battle Bird to Octomom when she had 8 chicks and Nicki to Blind Bird when she caught Bird Flu and her eyes sealed shut for a few weeks.)