Our Eastern Coyote friends haven’t been around for most of the winter, but we heard their yips yesterday evening just after the sun went down. Their typical pattern is to stay a few days, dine on rabbits, mice, and whatever else they can find, and move on. They usually return a few weeks later.
Last March we had a female den up somewhere on our neighbor’s property. I saw her in the same field every day, hunting for mice in the clumps of dried grass. Must have been lucrative because she was there every morning like clockwork.
I’m curious to see if she will use the same den again this year. If she does, maybe I can get just a little closer. I was probably 100 yards away when I took the pictures last year and was amazed that the pictures turned out as good as they did.
We expanded our chicken run last fall in case the coyotes came around and we needed to keep the chickens up. We added plastic around two sides to keep out the wind and snow. They didn’t stay in there much, but it sure came in handy when we got a super cold spell in January and the big snow a week or so ago.
Our chickens are terrified of snow. Maybe because they didn’t have a chance to get used to it before we got hit with over two feet in a 24-hour period!
Today, it was 65 degrees and all the snow is gone. It sure felt good – to dogs, chickens, and humans alike. Spring is less than a month away!
Yesterday, a beautiful pair of Canada Geese suddenly appeared on our neighbor’s pond. Leisurely swimming from one end to the other, they were checking out the water and its environs to see if it was a suitable place to nest. I watched from a distance for quite a while, snapped a couple of pictures, and left so as not to disturb them.
We live in an area where strong-running creeks flowing out of the mountains vastly outnumber the slow-moving bodies of water that geese prefer, so I was a little surprised to see them. But our neighbor’s pond is made-to-order. With gently flowing water, a moderately sloped bank with no tall vegetation to hide a predator, and a surround of mowed grass perfect for eating, I’m sure the geese pair were thinking this spot would do quite nicely.
But things are not always as they seem. This morning, I happened to look out the window just in time to see a coyote loping out of the woods, headed in the direction of the pond. As I watched, out came another…and another…and another! I immediately thought of the geese, but when I looked over at the pond, they were gone. Perhaps they had seen the coyotes earlier and beat a hasty retreat. With four coyotes in the area, they would have stayed at their peril and put their young at extreme risk.
And coyotes aren’t the only predator the geese would have had to worry about. Their eggs and young would be tempting to foxes, skunks, raccoons, and even ravens. That’s why geese populations are increasing in urban and suburban areas. These areas provide excellent goose habitat with far fewer predators than a rural setting like ours. Well-kept lawns, golf courses, business parks, city parks, and recreational fields provide excellent forage. They also often contain water reservoirs, lakes, ponds, and marshes dotted with islands that provide safe nesting sites for geese.
I hated to see the geese leave, but the pond wasn’t a safe place to raise their young. With any luck, they will find a more suitable place and in just a few weeks, be parading a new family.
It’s hard to believe a whole year has gone by since I started “Wood and Field,” and what an incredible year it’s been! Thanks to the miracle that is the Internet, I’ve made many blogging friends who have shared what’s happening in their woods and fields – as far away as Finland! I remember how excited I was to get my first follower (okay, it was my husband, but you have to start somewhere, right?). Then I got more followers and the comments started to come in, and from then on, I was hooked!
I thought a lot about what I’ve learned over the past year. The first thing that came to mind is that storms in the mountains can come on fast and furious as temperatures fluctuate. I once exclaimed to my husband in exasperation after several weeks of high winds, an ice storm, a tornado, and torrential downpours that transformed the front field into a river and swept away parts of our gravel lane, “How come we don’t ever get any regular weather?”) What I’ve learned is that when you live in the mountains, changes in the weather can be sudden and severe.
The harsh turns in the weather have made me admire the resilience of wildlife all the more. The plants and animals that call the hills and valleys of the Blue Ridge home have evolved to cope with whatever nature throws at them. The lesson for me? I have to adapt, as well. I need to be more like the animals that carry out their routine despite adversity and remember that, eventually, normalcy will return. Of course, we might need to bring in a backhoe when that happens.
I’ve learned to watch the bird activity at the feeders for signs of significant changes in the weather. A special middle-ear receptor called the Vitali organ, can sense changes in barometric pressure. When I see the birds jockeying for position at the feeders and more gathered on the ground and in the trees, I know it’s time to get out the batteries and candles because Mother Nature is on a tear again!
Another lesson I’ve learned is that although we share our space with coyotes, bears, and bobcats, we can co-exist in peace. I have to admit the first time I heard the high-pitched “yipping” of coyotes in the woods, a chill went up my spine, mostly because I didn’t know what to expect. We hear them from time to time early in the morning or at dusk, but they cover a wide territory and eventually move on. We seem to have reached an agreement that they leave us alone and we leave them alone.
Finally, it’s been six years since we stopped mowing the fields and the regeneration is incredible. What used to be a hay field is now full of native grasses, wildflowers, shrubs, and tree saplings. We saw an American Kestrel for the first time this year on the farm, a species that is on the decline in Virginia. The kestrel and other birds of prey benefit directly from the overgrown fields that provide habitat for mice, voles, and other small animals.
I am looking forward to sharing many more vignettes of what’s happening in the natural world as I begin my second year of “Living with Nature in the Blue Ridge.”
All last summer and fall, we saw a lot of deer on the farm. One doe and her two fawns showed up almost every day. They would bed down in the tall grass at night, forage in the woods and farm fields during the day, and return at dusk. We did have a scare when a family of coyotes came through the area, but our three deer friends were okay (read about it here).
I haven’t seen any deer on the farm since hunting season ended. I’ve seen scat and signs of deer browsing, but nothing that would tell about their numbers. Deer hunting is a big part of the rural culture in Rockbridge County and I saw lots of hunters during deer season. I was a little worried that many of the deer would not be back this year.
We’re always on the lookout for animal tracks on our walks – that would give us an indication of how many deer were around – but the ground has been too hard. Then two nights ago, we got a ton of rain followed by an extraordinarily warm day – perfect conditions to check for deer tracks, and I set out to have a look. The first muddy spot I came to had several prints and as I walked, I was amazed at how many deer tracks I saw. They were literally everywhere!
I came back feeling really good about all the evidence of deer activity. I know that deer numbers have to be controlled because of vehicle collisions and the ecological impact of too many deer, but we love having them around. My husband and I decided when we bought the farm that our homestead would be a place that would welcome wildlife.
Looks like my wish to have the deer back this year has been granted.
“Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God’s handwriting.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
This summer, I posted a picture of a doe visiting the salt block in back of our house. At the time, she was nursing two fawns that we saw with her regularly in the fields or going through the woods. The camera-shy fawns were hidden in the brush when I snapped this picture.
Not long after I took these pictures, a small band of coyotes (probably members of the same family) came through and we feared for the deer trio. Nature gives all creatures skills for survival. The doe’s first defense is her sense of smell; her second defense is speed and agility. Her fawns still had their spots which act as camouflage, and, at this age, they have no scent, helping them to hide and escape detection. The coyotes moved on after local hunters and their dogs pushed them out of the area, but there were no further sightings of the doe and fawns, and we feared the worst.
But yesterday we got a pleasant surprise. At dusk, the doe and her two fawns reappeared. Looking fat and healthy, they grazed the tender grass in our front yard. Amazingly, the whole family had eluded the coyotes.
Even though we have to go to extra lengths to protect our blueberry bushes and vegetable garden from the voracious appetite of the browsing deer, we’re still glad they were spared.