Who’s the Real Pest around Here Anyway?

photoNo fan of squirrels am I. In the abstract, I can enjoy their wild gymnastic athleticism and pranks and admire their elegant plumy tails and all of that, yes I can. But when I hear that familiar thud on the roof when they’re jumping from the red oak to the shingles and holding their miniature NASCAR events up there, what I’m thinking is not ‘how cute’ but ‘rats’.

They are, after all, rodents. The little scarpers have nice sharp claws that scrape bits off of our roofing (see: roof confetti in gutters) and nice sharp teeth that chew chunks off of our siding (see: bare wood fringe appearing on siding near where only birds or squirrels could possibly reach) and not-so-nice habits of eating every bit of bird seed that I put out if they can reach it (see: squirrel hanging upside down by ankles from gutter like trapeze artist while he stares longingly and calculatingly at nearby-but-not-near-enough bird feeder, then dashing back down to the patio below to scarf up every seed, nut, pod and shell left below said feeder before dashing back up again for another recon) and of ‘recycling’ said bird feed onto patio, porch, garage perimeter and paths for me to sweep up after them (see: squirrel excrement scattered decoratively hither and yon).

But there are as many fans of squirrel-dom as there are less sympathetic critics like me, and there are certainly many, whether among squirrel friends or not, who think many other creatures more dirty, pesky, or persistent than I do. Take pigeons, for one. I’ve heard them called ‘flying rats’ more than once, and know that they are at least as frequently cited as disease carriers and civic troublemakers as are squirrels. Other than the remarkably tiny headed (and I confess to thinking them remarkably tiny brained in equal proportion) mourning doves that visit our place occasionally, there are rarely pigeons around there, so it’s probably simple arithmetical odds that make me like them perfectly fine when I’m so prejudiced against squirrels. As long as you don’t swing by for the seemingly sole purpose of eating my food and then expelling it back out upon me and mine when you’ve had your fun with it, I guess I’ll give you a free pass.

I should very likely just cut the poor squirrels some slack, too, in exchange for the hijinks they provide as compensatory amusement. After all, they, along with all of the other critters that call our garden, yard, ravine, neighborhood and planet home, must surely look on me as a dirty, self-centered, gluttonous and destructive interloper on their home turf, and they would not be wrong. And I sure don’t expect to be able to repay the affront by amusingly hanging by my ankles from the gutter anytime soon.

Squirrelly Behavior

photoSquirrelly, Now and Formerly

Pipkin was a rascal lad who disobeyed his mom and dad

Pestered his teachers, pinched the girls

Among the young chipmunks and squirrels

And threw hard acorns from the trees at passing mice and birds and bees

He chewed on rafters, jambs and screens

Teased babies, oldsters, in-betweens

Stole in through windows left ajar—

Alas! Could not outrun a car.photo

A Visitation from Gotcha and You-Know-Who

Ha! Just when the 100°F+  (38°C) weather has dragged on long enough for me to start whining about the lack of lively things happening in my garden and haul out the photo albums of earlier spring and summer shots to moon and maunder over, This. We came driving down to the end of our driveway last night after a concert and I saw something shining in the farthest reaches of our headlights. Then a twitch of movement. Saw a flash of pinkish color in the dim illumination.

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Halt! Who goes there?

After three years of living in Texas and only one sighting of an armadillo other than the variety occasionally spotted in a sort of worn-area-rug likeness on desolate stretches of highway, there in my own backyard were a pair of waddling ‘dillos searching the perimeter of the house for tasty bugs and grubs. I’ve known, of course, that living on a property that shares its back border with a little greenbelt ravine, we have all sorts of creatures–possums, raccoons, birds, insects, squirrels, wild rabbits, and the assortment of neighborhood cats and dogs that keep an eye on them all–there were likely armadillos too. I’ve heard from various locals of such residents as wild turkeys and coyotes, as well, and heard from a bobcat itself that it at least formerly inhabited our little slice of the semi-wildness. But other than the one unfortunate flat armadillo that I once found run over on a neighboring street, I’d not seen any hard evidence of their inhabiting this spot.

So it was a delight to see these funny, eccentric looking and shy nocturnal visitors not only in the neighborhood but in our own yard. They were remarkably unmoved by us, even when my chauffeuring spouse stopped the car, rolled up the automatic garage door and let me clamber out with my little camera to try to catch a glimpse of them to keep. They were already rounding the corner of the house almost immediately after we spotted them, so I crept indoors and out the front door. Our porch lights are meant only to light the porch, so there was no real way to see the critters in that dark, but as soon as I stepped out into the black I could hear bits of rustling off to my right. Yes, they’d come out to investigate the front flowerbeds and rummage in the buffet at the foot of the oak trees.

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You don’t scare us, we’re just deeply disinterested in your measly (and inedible) humanity when there’s an all-you-can-eat bug fest here.

Lacking any fabulous infrared spy camera or night vision goggles for the occasion, I simply took my little point-and-shoot in hand and, well, pointed and shot. Aimed for the scuffling and shuffling sounds as best I could. Caught a couple of quick little glimpses as the flash went off in its nearly random way. And rejoiced that these delightfully surreal animals had decided for once to pay me a visit when I could actually be on hand to appreciate it. Life does go on, no matter the weather, the season or the condition of my plants. After all, if the plants had continued to be too vigorous, the insects wouldn’t find such rich dining on them and there would be little fascinating forage for my miniature garden-zeppelin friends. And I do thank them for helping with the insect-control efforts here. And probably, for some free fertilizer in the bargain, especially if I startled anyone with my camera flash.

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Two long-tailed blimps bumbling around in the dirt by night . . . what could be better!