I live in a delightful community where neighbors talk more about wildlife sightings than the upcoming election. The conversation is most lively in spring and early summer, when creatures are migrating, de-hibernating, nesting and raising their young.
Last year’s buzz was the one-note hoot of a juvenile great horned owl, alone and hunting for food. This year it’s a flock of ravens so noisy they wake everybody up. Are they discussing our chickens as a potential meal? Or just driving away an owl by keeping it awake, so they can hog its prey?
Everyone agreed that the tiny peeper frogs in the ponds were late with their singing this year. (“Was it too cold?”) I worry about amphibians, whose numbers are decreasing. But toads are now out and about, some nickel-size, some the size of a large fist. They hop along next to us as we weed.
The dragonflies that hover over our pond are waiting for more mosquitoes, which have been blessedly sparse this year. (“Too dry?”) The pond did lure a pair of mallards, though. No ducklings yet, but my hairdresser (“Top this!”) saw a newborn fawn near his place, still wet from its birth.
My neighbor Mark has a motion-activated camera in his yard and photographed what looked like a cougar, until a rear shot showed a bobcat’s stubby tail.
The most entertaining species we host is the killdeer, a bird that inhabits farm fields, zipping around on long, wire-thin legs. We always have a pair, calling to each other with high-pitched voices. Their nest is a masterpiece, a shallow saucer on the ground with a perfectly symmetrical cluster of four eggs, speckled to match their surroundings. We search for them and leave the area around them untouched until they hatch. The babies skitter around in formation, squeaking responses to their attentive mom and dad.
Because we feed ourselves from our land, we’re unsentimental about certain creatures that thrive and multiply by consuming our crops. We’re hoping that after two years of peak vole numbers, we’ll get a break from these voracious rodents, thanks to a consequent rise in predators such as foxes and hawks. On a recent morning as I was brewing coffee, I looked out the window and saw movement at the hole where voles enter our home greenhouse — at times a vole motel. After a few sips from the mug woke up my brain, I realized that the furry blur running in and out was not a large vole but a small weasel, followed by its larger parent. “Great news!” I shouted to my husband. Those weasels knew where to find their favorite snack.
This week, while working in a greenhouse where I grow market flowers, I found a little coiled garter snake, easily identified by its pale stripes. Noticing me, it flicked its red tongue and poured itself through a three-quarter-inch hole in the pipe rail that forms the greenhouse’s base. The next day I saw a larger one there, and a transparent, papery skin that it had shed. Snakes are good for rodent management, too.
If you think that living with wildlife is a pleasure that only country bumpkins like me can enjoy, pick up a copy of Tristan Donovan’s book “Feral Cities: Adventures With Animals in the Urban Jungle.” Wherever you live, read Sara Stein’s 1993 book, “Noah’s Garden.” Keep your land poison-free. Let some outdoor spaces be a little untidy. And keep your eyes open. You’ll have some good stories to tell.