Nancy Garberson shares these observations and photos with Winding Pathways.
This time of year, we call it “wild kingdom” in our backyard because we see deer every day. All kinds of birds and tracks in the snow from the nocturnal creatures dot the snow as well. Our dog is fascinated by the steady entertainment. It’s funny but she never chases them, she respects them as if they were family.
Watching deer roam in our yard can make us feel as if we are living in a natural paradise. Our neighbor has a pond and we have connecting woods. We think that’s what attracts the deer to our area. The deer feel safe and they have lots of water and natural food, as well as our feeder supply, to keep them happy. Another neighbor has an apple tree, which appears to be another draw for the deer. Even the bucks walk in nonchalantly to feed.
So, not only are we enjoying the winter wonderland, but we also have a steady showing of wildlife to enjoy on winter days.
Abby takes in the scenery.
The deer come to the feeder in the late afternoon.
Mice got into the hybrid system of my Prius and destroyed it. They also got into our greenhouse and ate some important seeds my husband Bob was growing. These critters are a common problem, but we have always used live traps; after all, they were here first and are just doing what they need to do to survive. That is until they crossed the line and, reluctantly, we declared war and the snap traps and peanut butter came out.
Once a nature lover, always a nature lover, though, and hoping that some good can result, Bob puts the dead mice out in places where they will be found by “someone” looking for an easy meal.
Yesterday he had an amazing experience. He had caught a couple of mice and put them out but yesterday afternoon no one had taken them, so he moved them to a more open place. As he was crouching down, he felt something soft. An owl swooped down and took the mouse while Bob still had the tail in his hand. The owl remained still in a nearby tree, for the rest of the afternoon while the second mouse stayed on the ground and we waited to see what would happen next, but nothing happened before dark. This morning both are gone.
We have hosted at least one pair of Barred Owls for many years. We rarely see them, so yesterday was a real treat, but we regularly hear them (“Who cooks for you?”) Since mice are the secondary host for deer ticks (those are the ticks that carry Lyme disease) these owls and the yearly expanding family of hawks which also lives here are very welcome.
Be sure to take in the International Owl Center in Houston, MN, this winter. Their Owl Festival is scheduled for March 1-3, 2019. Whooo’s up for it?
When the next soft snow falls, go tracking outside! A late December 2019 skiff of snow delighted us. There was not enough of the white stuff to shovel but the thin white blanket that covered our yard revealed who visited the night before.
The dimples of deer tracks were clearly visible as we went out to get the newspaper, but one set of tracks was unusual and especially interesting. Four footprints, in a rough line, kept repeating with about three feet of untrod snow between them. Just what animal created them?
A skiff of snow is best for tracking.
A small bird left tracks in the snow.
After a bit of sleuthing, we decided it was a coyote out seeking a mouse or rabbit dinner. Coyotes aren’t rare around our home but they aren’t in the yard often. We wish we could have watched it lope across the yard.
A skiff of snow makes for a delightful walk in the woods, grasslands, or wetlands. Often animals are easy to spot as their dark coats contrast with the white snow and tracking is superb. It’s usually not hard to figure out what animal made the tracks, and following them gives some idea of what the animal was doing and where it was going.
Many Websites and books help with track identification but we like www.naturetracking.com because it shows tracks of animals most likely to be in a backyard.
After a balmy fall, the television weather report promised near record cold and snow in three or four days. Mice don’t have televisions but somehow, they knew this because several of the tiny mammals successfully entered our house just before cold arrived. One scurried across the floor as we were reading the morning newspaper.
Years ago we read our then young children a delightful book about a mouse in the house. The story goes: “There is a mouse in the house. It is a very nice mouse. It has a long, long tail and shiny eyes. My mother likes the mouse. But, she says, ‘A mouse does not belong in a house.’”
We agree and have developed a strategy to keep them out – at least most of them.
One tactic we do not do is poison. Karla Bloem of the International Owl Center in Houston, MN, reminds us that poison spreads. When a predator eats a poisoned mouse, it absorbs the poison. Over time, the poison builds up and kills the predator. People end up with more mice that can cause problems.
Here’s what we do at Winding Pathways:
Encourage predators. We love to hear the barred owls call on dark evenings, and occasionally we spot a red-tailed hawk in a tree out the window. Both are outstanding mouse catchers. Owls work the night shift and hawks the day.
Keep food secure. If mice smell dinner they’ll come right in uninvited and help themselves. It’s important to never leave food out unprotected. We store grain, flour, pasta, cookies and other foods in metal or stout plastic containers with tight-fitting lids. We don’t leave fruits and vegetables on countertops.
Tighten up the house. Before it gets cold, we check our house over carefully. Any narrow cracks get filled with caulk. If we find a wider crack, we fill it with expanding foam. Often entry points for mice and insects are around pipes and wires leading into the home. Caulk and expanding foam help seal off the entry. Drain pipes sometimes are entry points. “Chore Girl” type metal cleaning pads work great for filling pipes where liquids or air needs to come and go. Wad up the metal pads and jam them into the pipe. Spaces in the cleaning pads let air and moisture enter or leave but keep mice out.
Bring out the traps. Despite our best efforts, some mice make it into the house. Usually, we don’t see them but do see their calling cards – their tiny black droppings.
Effectively setting traps
Old fashioned mouse traps still catch mice efficiently, but a few tricks make success more likely. (With the exception of the poison information in this website, we have found this information to be appropriate.)
Bait. Probably the best bait is peanut butter. It just takes a tiny dab on the trigger to work.
Placement. Where you set traps is important. Mice naturally run along walls and dart under counters if they can. Traps set in the middle of a room are less likely to catch mice than those set along a wall with the trigger on the wall side.
Place several mouse traps where mice tend to enter.
Double up. It’s usually most effective to set several traps in the same spot. So, set two or three touching each other. The first trap or two might not catch the mouse. Usually one will
Keep setting the traps until you catch no more mice. Often people assume they have one mouse, but likely, there are more. Keep trapping until they’re all gone. We dispose of dead mice by simply tossing them outside for our local opossum to eat. They can be flushed down the toilet. Always be sure to wash your hands after handling mice or traps.
We are fortunate to live at the end of a channel on a small lake. Our north facing windows face our backyard and the channel. One of our friends, who knows very little about nature, does not understand that after living here for 18 years, we still get excited when we see any wildlife in our yard and in the channel. Most of my photos are taken from windows inside the house, hoping to not spook my photo subjects. We frequently have deer coming through and we can tell which paths are being worn into the ground. During the winter we’ve taken photos of deer amidst the falling snowflakes. And, on our trail cam, we have “caught” coyotes, fox, raccoons, opossums, and neighborhood kitties.
This spring we have had a special bonus of occasionally watching a male turkey strut between our and the neighbors’ yards. Usually, he is skittish and if he spots me looking out a window, he quickly moves out of sight. One morning he must have felt like he was “king of the hill” and actually posed for photos about 20 feet from where I was watching him. I have also watched him fly over the channel near dusk and find a tree to roost in for the night. It always amazes me to watch these big birds fly through the trees, as normally you only see them walking and running on the ground.
Lounging on a log
Last summer when the water level was high, an oak tree uprooted and fell into the channel, covering both sides of the channel, and completely blocking our water access to the main lake. Because the channel is narrow, there is little clear land on either side. The oak landed at the bottom of a steep hill, so removing it was quite a process. It took a bucket truck on top of the hill, a small boat in the channel, lots of ropes, and a very talented arborist to take care of the problem. This spring the water is lower and that downed tree is now a horizontal stump about four feet long partially submerged from where it fell.
The turtles love this new sunning perch! We have never seen so many turtles at one time. So far, our biggest count has been nine painted turtles on the log. In spring we sometimes get lucky to see a large soft-shell turtle swimming in the channel and climbing out onto the shore. The females are much larger than the males.
Wood Duck- Goose Dustoff
On a recent rainy day, we spotted a pair of wood ducks. They are also very skittish and do not like to pose for photos. We watched as they flew up into a large basswood tree and perched on the branch. I think that is the first time I have ever seen ducks sitting in the trees. It was not a great day for photos, but I tried anyway.
The ducks flew to another tree, rested for a while, and then flew down to the water. Mr. Wood Duck and Mr. (Canada) Goose then had an altercation on the grass with much hissing, honking, flapping of wings, and chasing.
Male wood duck
Mr. Wood Duck was very proud of himself for chasing the goose parents and two goslings of out “his” channel. Mrs. Wood Duck cheered him on while sitting on top of our boat motor. My husband, John, had the fun of watching the goose and duck stand-off. I was trying to get to a different window without all the raindrops obscuring my view. That did not work, but it made me smile to hear John laughing and enjoying the whole spectacle.
Loving Our Wildlife
Even after nearly two decades, we still so enjoy our yard and sharing our stories about animals and plants.
Bruce Frana, a Winding Pathways visitor, saw one of our blogs on our “squirrel proof” feeder and how we discourage squirrels from gobbling up sunflower seeds we put out for birds. He crafted a similar but much more attractive version that’s in his yard. Our contraption is a box framed with 2X2 lumber with sides of 2” x 2” wire mesh. A piece of plywood forms the roof, and we attached it to a wooden table with a pair of hinges. The hinges let us lift the cage to sprinkle sunflower seeds inside.
It works. Sort of. Cardinals, chickadees, and nuthatches easily pass through the wire mesh to feed. Some squirrels and wild turkeys, which we like but get frustrated when they gobble up all the seed, can’t get through the mesh. Our fox squirrels are too chunky to squeeze through, but smaller gray squirrels manage to get in and gobble seeds. We could keep the grays out if we could find 1 ¾ x 1 ¾ mesh wire on the market. As far as we know it doesn’t exist, but if it did it would let birds in but exclude even the skinniest gray squirrel.
Bruce reports that his fox squirrels can’t enter either but the grays do. Here is a photo of his squirrel foiling feeder:
Do It Yourself “Squirrel Proof” Feeder!
Here is what he shared: “I have had a platform feeder for several years but, like your blog mentioned, turkeys, and even some clever squirrels, were able to get on top of it. I built (a feeder) based on the plan/picture you shared on your blog. I adapted the plan to the platform feeder I had and made some of my own modifications.
“As you can see from the pictures, I attached the structure onto the original platform by using hinges, just as your plan had done. I also put a pitched roof and handle to be able to easily lift the one end to place seed on the platform. The entire system is attached to a 2″ PVC pipe that slides over a steel post. I have had one ingenious small grey squirrel figure out how to get into the feeder and solved that problem, at least for now, by making the wire openings a bit smaller on two sides.” It works…sort of!”