Critters we have known

milksnakecoyotedeerporcupinebearturkeyrodentsamphibians -- birds -- pets

 

Visitors often ask us about animals found on the property. Here are some with whom we have come in closest contact:

 

Eastern Milksnake

A favorite who loves to linger in rock piles and stone walls. This master of chutzpah reacts as aggressively as a Tel Aviv cabdriver to any disturbance. Unlike the cabdriver, the rattle on his tail makes no noise, but this does not prevent him from shaking it furiously and rearing his head up ready to strike. (The cabdriver achieves this by telling you how he can snap your neck with a strand of his hair.) Like the cabdriver, this guy is all show, and is harmless. Just in case you want to employ your razor-sharp protective instincts, know that his is a protected species. http://www.sararegistry.gc.ca/virtual_sara/files/cosewic/sr_milksnake_e.pdf 

 

Eastern Coyote

The eastern coyotes are larger than their western cousins because of inter-breeding with wolves. They hang out in the back part of the orchard, which has been overgrown. The pups are born in the long grass – we nearly ran over one with the orchard mower last summer. They are particularly fond of a pear tree that drops a lot of fruit. Late summer nights are filled with the sounds of coyote raves, whooping and howling over the fermented pears just 200 metres from our bedroom. They are, of course, an unholy pest. It’s politically correct to hate them, given that they are not a native species, having arrived in Québec only in the 1940s. They are opportunistic feeders and that includes lambs, chickens and ducks. Thankfully, we have had no losses, so far.

 

White-tailed deer

Yes, they are beautiful to watch early in the morning as they bound across the back field and disappear into the misty meadow. They are also remorseless in browsing on apple tree buds and young trees in the late winter, making it very hard to establish our heartnut grove and any replacement trees that we plant. We are over-run with them, and after three years of banning hunters from our land, we are letting them in this year. Commercial orchards in the area are being obliged to put up deer fencing (to be eligible for crop insurance) which gives their property the look of low-security prison facility.

 

Were it not for the deer, our Golden Retriever would serve absolutely no practical function. As it is, she gives futile chase and successfully discourages them from browsing the vegetable garden. She is also adept at finding legs that have been chopped off by hunters, which she brings home and invariably ends up with a deer bone splinter stuck between her top molars. Joy.

 

Porcupine

Met once, but memorably. He was minding his own business in a wild raspberry patch. Our Golden attempted to retrieve him and was rewarded with a mouthful of quills. Of course, this happened on a rainy Saturday evening when both vets in our area were away. We managed to extract about 20 quills, but couldn’t get into the dog’s mouth, so there followed a one and a half hour drive to the 24-hour vet in the city, followed by a general anesthetic and one-hour operation to extract quills from between the poor dog’s teeth… The day after, she went straight back to the same raspberry patch. Golden retrievers serve as a warning to humankind of the consequences of interfering with natural selection.

 

Black bear

We see their traces more frequently than the bears themselves. We saw a pair of cubs once, which is the one time you don’t want to see them, as the sows can be ferocious. They emerge from hibernation at the same time we prune the apple trees and have been glimpsed at that time as well. When we go picking wild blackberries in August, they tend to get to the best patches before us – evidenced by the trampling and scat.

 

Eastern wild turkey

Boy, are they dumb. The hens nest in the raspberry patches within spitting distance of our barns and every spring they seem to lose most of their chicks to dogs and coyotes because they are so easy to find. No wonder they are endangered. Or to be precise, they seem to have become a little less endangered recently, because Québec allowed a turkey hunt for the first time in many years in 2005. If it weren’t illegal, we would steal a few eggs to incubate ourselves. We see a flock of 20-30 birds in our back field almost every time we look, and sometimes see individual birds roaming through the orchard. Their golden brown feathers are found everywhere, a source of delight for ramblers.

 

Rodent rabble

Raccoons, groundhogs, chipmunks, mice and bats galore. The dog has selflessly attacked a number of defenceless groundhogs but steers very well clear of the raccoons, we had chipmunks in the plumbing, field mice try to take up residence in the insulating material around the dishwasher on a regular basis. A bat flew straight through an open door into the house one evening and put the entire household into a state of chaos. So much for sonar. Actually, we love our bats because they feed on mosquitoes and such-like. One year, we noticed our bat population drop when the cat took up residence in the cider house attic. Now we keep him in the barn, and leave the cider-house for the bats, their numbers are up again.

 

Aquatica and amphibians

Turtles and snapping turtles are often in our ponds and the creek that runs across the property. Frogs and salamanders are abundant too. The frogs set up a polyphonic call and response between the different ponds during summer nights. Teleman must have had frogs. Our daughter, who lives on a busy city street with sirens and traffic noise rattling her windows all night long, complains that the frog song keeps her awake when she comes to visit.

 

Da boids

The barn swallow is the show-stopper. Aerial artists, handsome and inquisitive, we have a flock of juveniles reared in the farm buildings every summer. Nothing beats standing at the top of a ladder and having a swallow fly straight at you and look you in the eye before veering away, inches from your face. Hummingbirds, doves, chickadees, goldfinches, blue jays and or course crows are in abundance. If we had any free time, we would look up all the others that we have never identified…

 

Pets

Only pets in a broadly defined sense of the word, as most of them serve productive uses:

 

Atwood, the golden retriever cross, came to us after having being abandoned (she produced an unexpected litter when she was barely more than a puppy herself.) Now ‘fixed’, she is super affectionate and always eager to please. However, she is the world’s worst guard dog and is dominated by every other dog that has ever visited us, by the cat and even by the sheep, although she can hold her own against the chickens (as long as they don’t gang up on her.)

Sid retired from an indolent life as an apartment cat in the city to start a second career as a barn cat with us. The metamorphosis lasted one year and in the process, he lost all his excess weight and regained his hunter’s instinct while remaining very friendly with humans. What a great combination. He keeps down the mice in the hay loft and patrols the driveway.

Ferdinand is a Lavender Finch who lives in the kitchen and is a highly effective alarm clock as long as you want to wake up within a few minutes of dawn. He loves to out-chirp the computer modem. He is also the prime suspect in the untimely death of his erstwhile partner, Isabella, who was remorselessly pecked and who, in retrospect, was probably another male.

We have nine un-named hens who produce the inputs for omelettes and cakes… four Chanteclers, four Buff Orpingtons and a single Silver Wyandotte. The Buffs are the tamest, yet tend to be easily alarmed and are always noisy, the Chanteclers are aggressive but they never quite ‘get it’ (implying perhaps that a comb and wattle are necessary indicators for poultry intelligence?), while the Wyandotte, although firmly at the bottom of the pecking order, is the most adventurous.

Perseus and Persephone are a pair of white runner ducks. Despite their pedigree as a champion egg-laying breed, Persephone has yet to produce a single egg for us. Relying only on their natural charm, they have avoided a calling as canard à l’orange. Yes, they do run, they don’t waddle, and they don’t fly. They are currently in training for the national synchronized swimming team.

 

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