Monday, July 31, 2006

Wild Kingdom

We're being overrun by wild animals at the Meehan homestead - just not the usual ones.

There are, for example, no bears. We keep our bird feeders filled, place our vegetable scraps in the compost, even provide nighttime outdoor lighting so the ursine creatures can see clearly, and sit poised in the family room with our digital camera at the ready - but still nothing. Maybe we have to move to one of the tonier suburbs, or improve our computer-aided photo enhancing skills in order to get onto the five o'clock local news.

There are rabbits, but unlike prior years they seem utterly oblivious to our vegetable garden and its rows of lettuce and burgundy beans. In previous times we've had as many as three of these long eared conies indulging their appetites on our tasty green offerings. They exhibited a special fondness for the green leaves of the latent legumes, memorably on one occasion leisurely sitting and munching on them while Marsha stood within reaching distance and verbally hurled horticultural obscenities into their aurally acute ears. They also were undeterred by our old standby "mucho caliente" Tabasco sauce and water spray. But now, even though there are two of them, neither one seems interested at all in what is growing inside our small backyard plot.

Instead both of them, one fully grown and the other looking smaller and much younger, seem totally fascinated by the small green clover and other weeds that still grow in our lawn in spite of several years of industrial strength organic lawn care. (Which of course is better than (a) having them ravage our garden or (b) finding them back-down and feet-up in the grass, pickled and preserved by Scott's latest "weeds-be-damned" product.)

There are however three even more mysterious and, in some cases actually nefarious, outdoor houseguests that are making news at our humble abode.

First is what we believe to be the only single, i.e. partner less, pigeon in the entire world. We noticed him early this spring when we were doing an informal count of the Rock Dove descendents in our yard and came up with an odd number. It was too early for this season's offspring to be around, and all of the birds that we could see looked to be adults - so we began to pay closer attention to these bird visitors from the city and noticed that at the end of the day, when all the others had left in pairs, one solitary male remained. And he's still here - from first thing in the morning 'til closing time, day in and day out, rain or shine. Other than the fact that we'd prefer not to have any pigeons at all (although it's pretty low on the list pigeon avoidance still is one of the main reasons that folks move from the 'urbs to the 'burbs) Walter, as he has come to be called, is pretty close to the perfect yard guest - quiet, polite...and clearly very lonely.

Unlike our second live-in - the plastic eating squirrel. Because the tree rats used to destroy them we use a bird feeder made out of old soda bottles with a screw-on perch. For the past couple of years however the bushy tailed rodents that occupied our oak trees have mellowed to the point that it actually seemed possible to replace this slightly tacky looking device with a nicer, more upscale model.

And then, a couple of weeks ago lying in bed we heard a noise that we couldn't place - kind of like finger nails rapidly scratching on wood. During breakfast in our feeder-view family room Mars suddenly jumped up and ran out the door shouting "You! Squirrel! Stop that right now!" and I looked up to see a totally nonplussed bushy-tailed rodent trying to pretend that he wasn't leaning over a newly constructed jagged hatchway into the seeds.

As Mars proceeded the tree rat receded. But he quickly returned when she came back inside. And she and he have continued this little tango intermittently over the past week of so.

I sprayed the bottle with the aforementioned Mexican mace apparently with no success based upon what we heard from bed this morning from bed and what we saw when we checked out the feeder minutes later. I'll continue to spray because, "why not?" - but I doubt it will have any effect. I suspect that we would be better off, as non-soda drinkers, just hitting up our friends and relatives for their discarded containers, or stocking up on duct tape to either cover up the holes in the bottle or, better yet, to wrap around the mandible of the little polymer puncturing pest.

The third member of the crew is invisible - at least so far - except for what he/she leaves behind. What we have come to call the "veiled, vomiting varmint" has been besmirching two of our perennial beds pretty much every day now for the past several weeks - never once leaving any clue other than its little (or big) contribution to our mulch. You can hardly swing a dead cat in this neighborhood without hitting, well, a live one - so we assume that it's one of them, but we have no proof. And short of spraying some generalized animal repellant just about everywhere, everyday, there doesn't seem to be much of a solution.

That is unless one of those Avon or Simsbury folks has an extra bear that might be available for a few days - one that's looking for a little variety in its diet and a lot more challenge in its food gathering. I'm sure we could work out some kind of equitable deal - I mean there's got to be plenty of people out there who've never, ever seen a real live pigeon up close - let alone Walter, the world's only bachelor one.


Update: Since the original penning of this treatise a couple of new things have come to light. But, as a former boss of mine used to say, "Why spoil a good story with the facts?" So the above dissertation remains as is. But here is the latest info. The rabbits apparently were not satisfied with the nutritious grass and clover in our yard and wandered into the garden - one day I saw them scurrying into the adjacent iris bed, two days later the entire bean crop had been decimated.

And the weird varmint vomit turns out to be something called yellow slime mold (AKA dog vomit fungus) - an unharmful albeit unattractive organism that appears in moist, warm areas such as mulch.

The plastic-eating-tree-rat and Walter the bachelor pigeon are still with us. We are currently looking for a good recipe that uses two rabbits, one squirrel, and several bean leaves & stems.

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