Big City, Little Homestead

Living rural in the city.

Month: July 2012

A sad discovery under my deck

Now that I’ve posted a happy outcome for animals living under my deck, I now have to post a sad outcome: wildlife poisoned.

A couple of weeks ago, I lifted up the most difficult boards of my deck, which I’d previously been unable to unscrew because of limited time and patience. I was having a party, and I wanted to get the deck and garden in spiffy shape. It was time. In the weeks before that, I reported on something having died under the deck. And yes, it had. Here is the first view:

Upon closer inspection, it revealed that the handsome boy rat I’d seen in my garden earlier this spring – and he was handsome! – had made his home under the boards. To the left you can see a collection of paper and plastic scraps he had used to line his nest. I find this a charming habit. When I lifted the boards above where the skunk lived, there was no such collection of “blankets.” Only rats do this, as far as I know – birds make nests only when they’re fixing to have young. Squirrels, when preparing for winter.

But in the upper corner, you can see he is not lying in state on his bed. No. And I was sad to see the decomposing body, which I buried with a little prayer. (I am grateful that creatures have chosen my property as the best place to die at.)

Instead, you see that he went to the other corner of his cabin under the deck for his last agonies. And agonies they were, because the turquoise staining you see at the tail end of his skeleton is not mouldy fur, as one might assume. It is the stain of a block of poison. And the little fellow ate a lot of it.

I only made the connection when my resident squirrels, unwittingly helpful creatures they are, positioned a block on top of the fence leading to my patio balcony. I wondered where that thing that looks like a rock came from until I picked it up: it was poison. I’m glad the squirrels only played with or consumed just a little of it, and left it out in the open from wherever they found it. I’ve put it in a container inside, I don’t know what for. As if I need evidence that someone has decided to “solve” a problem, as that’s how it’s been presented to us as.

A single rat in the backyard is not a problem. Nature itself takes care of “problems.” I used exclusion (a chicken wire fence) to keep the birds out of my lettuce garden when I feared losing my seedlings. I put hardware cloth under my composter, which otherwise might encourage the rodents to proliferate. I’m the only one doing this – feeding the birds, composting, gardening, fencing. Maybe more people should try doing this and get a sense of perspective, than assume that the presence of a rat is the fault of bird seed and composting and a problem worth the suffering that poison causes.

Ever since I moved in here six years ago, I’ve had a skunk living under my deck. Despite that it eats my day lilies when they bloom (it also eats slugs, and I have plenty of those it is welcome to!), I am quite fond of the beast. And by “it,” I’ll now refer to as “she.” I accommodate her passage to my back garden by leaving a gap under the fence, with a pile of brush as a welcome mat. She has to pass through two other properties before she can get home; thankfully my immediate neighbours seem to feel the same way about her, and don’t freak out when their dog gets a little alarmed over the silent black-and-white intruder.

I took the above photo early in the morning, around 7:30, when I saw her from my vantage chair by the patio door. She came in from her night of foraging, and took a long, long, looooong drink at the dish there. She then trundled under the deck – yippee! – and then, a minute later, waddled back out – uh oh. Was the space already occupied? She was looking rather hour-glass shaped. It seemed to me she had a couple of buns in the oven.

Aside from a slight whiff of skunk spray, I’d had no other sign my deck’s den was occupied. I had a house party in early July, for which I had to get the decks thoroughly cleaned. I hosed them down, used deck cleaning solution, scrubbed, rinsed, scraped, sanded a bit, and painted. It must have been a terrible ruckus, but I figured there wasn’t a skunk around, because my activity would have roused any normal being at any time of day. Also, the pond had lilies in it. Relevance? The skunks had always taken them before – as soon as a lily bloomed, it was gone the next day. Guaranteed.

But then, three evenings ago, I heard a rustling in the garden and wondered if I had some late-arriving birds, like grackles or starlings, who sometimes descend for a good party bath in my pond. But no. Instead, I met with this adorable sight:

My garden has a family of four skunk kits, plus Mom! And I would never know it if I hadn’t seen them. That’s how good they are as neighbours. No tearing down my garden wire fencing; just coming and going as silently as thieves to their den under the deck.

Now that I know they’re there, and have seen the little ones’ bouncing and scraping, I see more evidence in the garden now.

A garden without a resident creature is impoverished, in my view. So to make up for the meagreness of my vegetable plot, I am rich in hospitality to wildlife.

Wasp hive observations

Yesterday I hosed down a wasp’s hive that they built in the corner of my garage door, with its attendant seven or eight nurse wasps. Last year, they’d built hives in the corners of the house windows. I started the hose slow, and after a few passes of knocking the nurse wasps off, I turned on the jet and knocked the hive down.

The “girls” spent the rest of the day recovering, rescuing the larvae they could – I could only presume they were pulling them out of the husk, with the intense, careful work they were doing – and then they installed a new hive in the same place, with fewer cells. They’re back to tending it and sealing the larvae in. I think the ants took care of the rest of the non-viable hive, plus at least one wasp that appeared she didn’t make the dowsing.

I felt bad about it afterward. They’ve been rather peaceful – no threatening buzzing around humans. With the reduced size of the brood, I’ll leave the new one alone. They put a lot of work into it.

eHow used to have a good article on how the wasps made their hives, and I used to link to it, but eHow has now been taken over by people who want to kill everything.

Everything has its place, and it’s up to you to tolerate the tolerable. You do NOT need to control all “risk.”