Our Backyard Neighbours

Garter snake in the vegetable garden, photo by Van Waffle

The Occupy Backyard movement has begun. Our yard is full of creatures availing themselves of food and shelter. It is encouraging to see how some small effort on our part draws such an enthusiastic response from nature.

A garter snake has taken up residence in the vegetable garden. Practically every afternoon I find the creature sunning itself on the straw. It warily slithers away as I go about my work. The idea of planting marigolds to deter groundhogs seems to have worked well so far. Spinach and arugula are burgeoning in the middle of the garden without interference. I went ahead and planted more marigolds around the far end where hopefully beans and squash will soon sprout.

The boss: red squirrel, photo by Van WaffleSummer birds do not need feeders as badly as winter visitors, so I was tempted to forgo the expense of seed. However, I cannot resist the entertainment value. Black-capped chickadees, American goldfinches, mourning doves and northern cardinals visit steadily through the day. So do common grackles. They were so common where I grew up I would hardly pay attention, but Danny enthuses daily about their splendid iridescence. New perspectives alert the senses. Blue jays, red-winged blackbirds and house finches also frequently appear.

The goldfinch talks with his mouth full, and beautifully. “Cheery me!” he says.

The red squirrel is the undisputed boss of the garden. Even the larger grey squirrels seem disconcerted, although they will endure a brash scold while grazing scattered seeds from the deck. Earlier this week we put out a hummingbird feeder and oriole feeder on a high pole. Within hours the red squirrel had trashed the oriole feeder. For some reason the other has not attracted attention so hopefully hummers will take the opportunity.

Bee on daisy, photo by Van WaffleThe other day amidst a quarrelsome mayhem of grackles, finches and squirrels at the feeder, I looked down to see a rabbit grazing peacefully in the nearby chasm between deck and fence. Occasionally beyond the back fence, white-tailed deer drift by like ghosts.

One morning while sitting on the back deck I was startled and delighted to hear a scarlet tanager singing in the pine plantation. These songbirds are threatened by habitat fragmentation. They require large tracts of mature forest for nesting habitat. So late in the spring, this bird must have a nest nearby. It is a gift to have them in our city. I would love to put out oranges to attract them, but undoubtedly the squirrels would be too much of a nuisance.

The garden attracts a world of other creatures too quiet to notice. One of the greatest benefits of planting a garden is that it requires steady dedication. Those quiet times instill a greater awareness of things small and innocuous, the workers and foragers, all players in the great game.

Look around. What creatures do you see? Tell me. Do not give up fascination with things wondrous and commonplace.

8 thoughts on “Our Backyard Neighbours

  1. Lovely pictures, especially of the snake. I haven’t heard about planting marigold to deter groundhogs. We have a very big groundhog problem in our neighborhood in upstate NY, and now they have moved into our community garden, too. For some reason, marigolds have never really done well for us but maybe we should give them a try in the part of the yard that has more sun.
    I hope to be able to learn to take pictures of animals and insects. My camera has a long lag time when the shutter is pressed and it frustrates me. I need to learn to overcome this.

    1. A reader recommended marigolds on the first day of the blogathon so I gave it a try. I suppose their strong smell masks other milder plant smells. It obviously isn’t foolproof because today I found a marigold nibbled by something and my few pea plants recently succumbed. However, the garden has not been devastated as I would expect with a groundhog living under the nearby shed.

      Shooting nature photography takes practice but also luck. My camera has a short delay, too. That’s the trouble with automatic settings; you have to wait for the camera to focus, read the light and so on. The manual setting might work faster.

      I got lucky with the garter snake. It poised and watched me taking photos for several minutes so I had lots to choose from. I wish the birds would hold still for a moment.

  2. I typed out a long, hyperlink-filled reply to this and it vanished into the aether. 🙁

    Great post, cracking snake photo, and I miss the rich urban wildlife from my Brisbane backyards.

    1. I’d be interested to see what wildlife you would get in Brisbane!

      1. My initial reply listed all the interesting species with hyperlinks to the best pages on them I could find. I may try again some time.

        Here in Hobart I get a lot less urban wildlife. A female Tasmanian brushtail possum comes by sometimes, and I have little wattlebirds and silvereyes in the garden, but that’s about it.

        In Brisbane I had lots of different types of lizards, including eastern water dragons, bearded dragons and blue-tongues, which are all quite large, as well as a couple of snakes, possums and small hopping things and loads of birds. Brisbane used to be a very green city, with parks along the river and lots of mature trees in urban and suburban gardens. Increasing urban densities and the rise of the McMansion, combined with endless road expansion has seen that changing though, and when I left (almost 4 years ago now!) things weren’t looking so good for the critters.

        1. That’s a cautionary tale. Guelph is also a very green city but I’m afraid that development is increasingly taking priority over environmental (and social) concerns.

  3. It is encouraging to see how some small effort on our part draws such an enthusiastic response from nature.

    Indeed. My small pond has drawn everything from a toad to dragonflies, and even a blue heron was reported by a neighbor, although there are no fish in it (too shallow, heats up too fast in summer and will kill fish). I spotted a Cooper’s hawk on the fence one day, and I’ll never forget the swarm of cedar waxwings that visited. And all in the big city.

    1. That is wonderful, Joe (and nothing plucks my heart strings like a flock of cedar waxwings).

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