Thursday, July 16, 2009

Cape Cod Critter Critique

This is no run-of-the-mill show and you can have front row seats - by Susan

An avid gardener, I grow both flowers and vegetables. And, as any gardener knows, keeping the critters away from your landscape handiwork is a constant challenge. In my old house in Sandwich I'd fight all summer long with groundhogs that were constantly helping themselves to my veggie garden. I tried everything to thwart them... we even put up a 4 foot wire fence that was buried 3 feet deep with an L-shaped flange around our very large garden. (I had my then-husband do it, which is probably why I'm single today.) Groundhogs can be mean little buggers.. one had me cornered in the garden and, even though I was spraying the hose at him full force, he kept on coming. (I had to climb over the garden fence to get away.)

When I moved to my home here in the Mills, I decided to cut back on my gardening a bit so I'd have more free time. However, as the years have gone on, I somehow ended up with more gardens than I had before (gardening is incurable). I spent a good amount of time fighting the critter war until I came to the conclusion it's an impossible war to win. So I've adopted the old adage, "if you can't beat 'em join 'em."

Since I work out of my home, I decided to put up a bird feeder outside my office window. Watching the birds has been such a delight. So much so, that I had to put up another feeder - squirrel-proof. Then I went out to buy a hummingbird feeder but that necessitated cutting in a garden bed around it and filling it with flowers that attract the hummers.

Last year, I started buying almonds to feed my cute little chipmunk that I christened "Chip." My family will tell you I'm not a very creative namer... I had a terrier named Terry, 3 dogs named Max, a hamster named Hammie, and every goldfish I've ever owned was Goldie. Once you start feeding chipmunks, guess what? More move in. I now have Chip, Chipster, Anthony, and Chipmeister.

I've often sat here and wondered what their dens look like because they take huge amounts of almonds each day, fill up their little jowls and run off to store them in their dens. The underground stores of almonds must be unbelievable. A friend of mine jokes that, any day now, my yard will turn into one giant sink hole and my entire house will fall into the chipmunk warrens.

Now Chip, much to the dismay of my dog's veterinarian, Dr. Tom Burns, eats out of my hand. But after his warnings of nips, bites, and possible rabies (although unlikely), I now wear a heavy leather glove when feeding him. When I’m not there to dole out almonds he shimmies up the metal pole to the bird feeder and hangs out on the circular perch, where he's got a great view of his kingdom and can control the entire feeder. When birds fly up, he hangs on with one hand (er...paw?) and,standing on his hind legs, swats at the birds trying to land. He looks like King Kong on the Empire State Building. Even the big blue jays are afraid of him; he's fearless!

Shortly after that, we adopted Carl the Vole (my daughter named him). Then Hoppy (yep it's a bunny). Then along came Mr. Slowsky (a turtle). Foxy (guess) makes an occasional pass at my diner too (as I've come to call the feeding area). I saw a mangy-looking coyote in our woods last week but I think my dog (who is bigger than any coyote and barks a lot) will keep it at bay.

This spring we have a new resident, a big red-tailed hawk that circles overhead. He's not a great hunter... yet. My neighbor Linda saw him on the ground digging at her chipmunk's tunnel as the chipmunk ran out one of the other exits. (Chipmunks have multiple entries and exits to their dens.) He has dived a few times at my menagerie around the feeder and missed all but once when he carried off a little bird. I felt terrible about that and spent a few weeks trying to decide if I should be feeding the gang. But that's nature.

I gave up on trying to run the squirrels out of Dodge... I'd run out of the house barking like a dog to scare them off. I think all I did was scare off my neighbors. To make squirrel "running off" actually work it would have have to be my full-time job, because they came right back after my dog impersonation, so now I feed them too.

So what is the wisdom to all this? Enjoyment and entertainment. Now I admit it's not easy keeping them from my strawberries or raspberries (only nets work) but these animals are fascinating to watch. Even though there is more than enough food, they all chase each other all day long in order to control the provisions. "King of the mountain" plays out all day long in the most unlikely ways.

The only real downside to all of this... I've spent a small fortune on critter food. And worse... that downsizing I was going to do garden-wise.... didn't happen. I've actually ended up planting more flower beds to attract animals and more berries so that I have enough to share.

So that's my sage advice for dealing with our Cape Cod Critters: learn to live with them and enjoy their antics. The show runs continuously and changes every day.


  1. Your backyard is a wonderful preserve! The pics are especially precious and your love for the wildlife that inhabits your beautiful preserve is obvious. Keep up the great work!

  2. Do you also have a name for your rooster? Inquiring minds want to know!

  3. Enjoyed your writings on your backyard antics. We also have the same adventures with squirrels, possums, armadillos and raccoons. If you can't beatum - joinum! After all, they were here first!

  4. I can't wait to show Stephen that you have a flock of very tasteful pink flamingos! You forgot to tell all about your redwood forest you left back here in Sandwich.


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