Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Critter Me This

Up here in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains there is no shortage of critters to keep us company. Most of them keep their distance like the jack rabbits, raccoons, possums, bobcats, mountain lions and black bears who schnuffle around outside at night when it doesn't interfere with our lives. And YES, I made up the word schnuffle.

However, one animal that refuses to go unnoticed are the rats with hooves, aka. deer (RWH). On a very regular basis they can be found eating us out of flora and fauna. I don't mind when they eat the grass, which is mostly clover anyway, its when they attack the plants that I spent My Love's good, hard earned money on that really ticks me off... thats right! I said TICKS! Or they decide that they have allowed your beautiful lantana to go untouched for far too long and decide it is overdue for some drastic pruning... and uprooting... and a ride through the lower part of the property.

And for those of you who are thinking, "Oh I know just what will work to keep those RWH out of your flowers..." Trust me, we have tried it. These are no ordinary RWH. They are cultured. They have been around the block a few times. They chase the dog. They know the tricks of the desperate two-leggeds. From human hair clippings and soap flakes to sprays and radios we have run the gamut of RWH repellents and can say for certain that the only thing that works is fencing. All our precious petunias and their garden pals are hidden safely behind screens of chicken wire. Not even "deer resistant" plants are safe. A local nursery prints out a list of them for customers containing this disclaimer, "The deer DO NOT read this list."

I took this picture of a doe outside my bedroom window around two o'clock in the afternoon. She was only 10-15 feet from me and looked quite interested as to why I was disturbing her nap.

Other smaller visitors such as rats, mice, flying squirrels, insects of innumerable varieties, lizards, snakes, scorpions and birds are subject to capture by our resident, domesticated wildlife; Flip (border collie), Booger or Daphne (cats), or Kiah, James, Eden, or Marli (human children, although at times their behavior suggests otherwise.)

My favorite of these critters are the birds. Often I can be found in my little Mom Sanctuary feeding, watching, and communing with the birds. Although I love them all for different reasons the Chestnut-backed Chickadees take the cake when it comes to entertaining antics. While other birds will flit away as soon as I raise my camera, the chickadees strike a pose. I was surprised that this little guy didn't ask to see his portrait. Every time he heard the camera click he would change positions. I called out, "OK, now pouty," But apparently that is hard to do with a beak.

This year we were blessed to find a nest of a Ruby Crowned Kinglets low enough to see inside.

Momma Bird wouldn't allow us to see the eggs but she was happy to get out of the nest for a few moments once the chicks had hatched.

Thanks to my critter desensitized kids we often have over night guests of the reptilian variety. This year a clutch of Garter Snake eggs must have hatched because the kids found three of the little guys around the yard. Not to be undone, the blue bellies were out in force as well. The snake was about seven inches long and the blue belly was about an inch and a half including the tail. Just tiny babies.

After a guest is released, our critter cage does not stay empty for long. When the snake wouldn't eat crickets we went to the pet store to see if he would enjoy fish instead. He didn't care for those either so the fish went into the frog pond and snakeypoo went back into the garden.

Like the RWH not all guests are invited. Hornets aka Meat Bees seem to enjoy attacking at every outdoor meal. Before this year we haven't had much of a problem with them but we have been doing a lot of clearing so they were probably displaced. During the summer we use our barbecue almost every night. As soon as the heat is off the bees move in. What you see in the trap is from one night. If you have ever been bitten or swarmed by these little buggars you understand the need for trapping and removal especially with kids and pets around.

Now ants are actually beneficial and I don't mind them one bit until I go to refill the hummingbird feeders and find hundreds of them inside it. In this instance I was rehanging the feeder and some of the sugar water dripped into an empty birdbath. An hour or so later there was a ring of ants around it all swollen with sweetness.

Praying mantis' are another common beneficial insect around these parts. James had caught this one and was keeping it in a bowl. As soon as he set it down I swept into action and released my little friend onto a plant in my sanctuary. I love how she followed me with her eyes as I tried to get a good picture of her. She stayed on the same plant for a few days then moved on to new surroundings.

Let it be known, though, that I am no city girl. We moved into the woods when I was eleven but even before that my main place of play was irrigation ditches around my home. Nary a day would go by that I wouldn't bring home a tadpole, snake, frog, pigeon, or spider. I raised rats as pets as a little girl and I can't remember a time when some amphibian or reptile wasn't sharing my room. Even now, besides the guest reptiles of the wild variety, we are the proud owners of three domestic corn snakes.

Red is all orange and red. Candy is orange and red with white and Mocha is gray. They all have their own distinct personalities and characteristics. Candy is by far the longest and thickest at over four feet in length and a diameter of a fifty cent piece. Red and Mocha aren't far behind though. By nature corn snakes are very docile and laid back. They are curious and love to come out for 'walks' on the lawn. The kids love to hold them. I tell people they are the Golden Retrievers of the snake world. Very family friendly and great conversation starters with company.


Plant Lady said...

Good Morning Becky,
You have quite a menagerie there with all the critters. I don't know about the species of deer in the Sierra Nevada region, but the Eastern Whitetail deer around here in North Carolina (especially the ones in my dad's soybeans fields) have an aversion to household ammonia. He takes the plastic grocery bags and puts some type of absorbant material like the thick paper toweling you find at hardware stores in the bag and then saturates them with household ammonia. The bags are then attached to wooden stakes around the perimeter of the field.

It kinda looks "tacky" but you only have to leave it out for a couple of weeks until the deer have sufficiently learned that it is there. (so they decide to go somewhere it isn't)

You may have to keep the absorbant material refreshed every three or four days as needed.

My dad has found that is the best of the "Home remedies" he has come upon so far. Hope it works for your deer. Let me know.

Plant Lady

LadiesoftheHouse said...

What a neat post! The deer are like yours down in Sequim, WA. They are laying everywhere in people's yards and sleeping in their flower beds.

The snakes look cool in the pictures--that's about as close as I like to get though LOL

Debbie in CA : ) said...

Snakes? Conversation starters with friends? It's just so hard for me to keep conversing while I am panting and gasping for air. My vocabulary just
constricts. ; )

LOVE this post! I learned so much. Great pics, fluid text, captivating subjects. Rachel will be cruising by here for a visit when she finishes schoolwork. (Can you spell i-n-c-e-n-t-i-v-e?)

Thanks for supplying the proper name for the little birdies in my fountain. (Just for the record, I knew they weren't sparrows.) XO!

chickadee said...

i would have to draw the line at snakes in the house but i love everything else. we have been disappointed not to find a single snake this year. we love finding them and identifying them, but i do not love keeping them!

Julie said...

Ummmm... is it just me, or does the fact that you hate cute, cuddly deer but love creepy snakes say something about you? :p Just kidding, Becks! Love ya! :D