My Wild Neighbours

One of the things I love best about my life in the forest is spotting wild animals. In The Secret Lives of Animals I wrote about following animal tracks in the snow, but on occasion I have the great good luck of spotting them in the fur, feather, snakeskin and such. I live next to a pond that serves as habitat, watering hole, hunting ground, playground and swimming hole for various critters. After freeze-up, it becomes an animal highway, a convenient shortcut through the woods. I get to watch the comings and goings of all sorts of animals from the comfort of my cabin, taking care to interfere with their lives as little as possible. They were, after all, here first. I’m the newcomer.

I saw a wide variety of critters during my eight years in the yurt. But camping out in a tent – even a large, luxurious tent like the yurt – was challenging, especially during the wild Cape Breton winters. About six years in I began to make serious plans to build a house (not literally build it – I can’t build a bookshelf, let alone a house). Or perhaps I made serious plans to build a deck, and I had to design a house to attach the deck to.

There were delays (there are always delays) but some seven years ago I finally moved into my little log house, not far from the yurt. And since then I have made ample use of my deck, high above the sloping ground that leads down to the pond. Sometimes friends or, more recently, family, have joined me on the deck. But we humans are not the only ones who have enjoyed this addition to the land. It seems that many of my wild neighbours think the deck is here for them.

The influx of visitors accelerated after I finally got around to putting a railing around the deck, a safety feature for me, but apparently a pleasant perch for them. Critters seem to appreciate the high vantage point of the railing. It is a convenient place to relax in the sun, to be on the lookout for lunch, to avoid becoming lunch. Or to run around like a crazed thing and taunt the human in the house (I’m looking at you, Squirrel).

Here are a few of the deck visitors I’ve managed to capture with my clunky old camera. Apologies for the blurry pics – animals that are perfectly posed have a knack of moving just as I click. Not to mention these are often shot through window screens and less-than-crystal-clear windows. Hats off to wildlife photographers for their great skill and patience in getting amazingly crisp, clear shots of animals. It is a challenging art form.

I wrote about the adventures of this barred owl, nicknamed Ollie, in Hoots in the Holler. Ollie spent much of the day hanging around the house, looking for a squirrel snack. Find out how that went in my blog from January 2021.

In February I wrote about finding mysterious tracks in the snow in The Secret Lives of Animals. Well, it turns out there’s a new kid in town, a real tough customer. I suspect that, just like Ollie, this fisher is looking for a squirrel to snack on.

‘Tee hee hee. You can’t catch me!’

Hummingbirds like to take a breather on the railing before returning to the feeder. This male ruby-throated hummingbird was vigilant even while resting, making sure no other hummer honed in on his territory.

Other birds, blue jays and dark-eyed juncos, drop by onto the deck, but never long enough for a photo-op. Insects make for better models. They are ectotherms (cold-blooded) and like to soak up the warmth of the sun, especially in autumn when the temperatures drop.

Last July I spotted a large owl on the railing and thought: ‘Ollie’s back!’ Until he turned his head around. ‘Whoa – that ain’t Ollie!’ It was a great horned owl. What a treat!

Okay, this blog is about wild visitors to my deck, and, strictly speaking, this young bull moose is not actually on the deck. But given that it is really hard for a moose to get up on my deck (phew!) and that he is practically on what will someday be the lower deck (these things take time) my moose neighbour made the cut.

That’s it for my wild deck visitors – at least for now. But not every animal who hangs out on the deck is all that wild. My son and daughter-in-law and their dog came out to the Holler for a visit and we enjoyed lots of deck time. My grandpuppy thought it was a grand place to have a snooze. Perhaps he was dreaming of running with the wolves.

Sue McKay Miller
October 31st, 2021

Happy Halloween!

Spring Ditty

And now for something slightly different … and somewhat silly.

I wrote this ‘a cappella’ song some years ago. I have, on occasion, been inspired to sing it after a night of celebration and good cheer. There have been no such spring gatherings for the last two years – because Covid. But I did bellow it out into the Holler and it bounced back off the Highlands. Here are the lyrics.

Spring Ditty

Dark-eyed juncos jumping all around
     picking up tidbits off the ground.
Red-breasted robin sings a cheerful song
     and winter's snow
     is almost gone.
And it feels like spring is coming to the Holler
Don't you think that we should sing and holler?

Well the other night I heard a little frog peep.
     No one replied so he went back to sleep.
But the ice is melting and it won't be long
    'til that froggy pond
     is filled with song.
And it feels like spring is coming to the Holler
Don't you think that we should sing and holler?
Well hey there buddy budding on a tree,
     thanks for the things that you do for me.
And to every little shoot and every little sprout
     I'm so glad
     that you're coming out.
And it feels like spring is coming to the Holler
Don't you think that we should sing and holler?

Well some ducks dabble and some ducks dive
     but it feels like spring when the ducks arrive.
And the snow melt grows the pond into a lake
     as the sleepy Holler 
     starts to awake.
And it feels like spring is coming to the Holler
Don't you think that we should sing and holler?
Don't you think that we should scream and holler?

So there you have it. The ditty works much better when sung. I think. Maybe. This song typically fits this time of year, but as I described in April and the Albedo Effect, this year has been anything but typical, so it’s a little off time-wise. The snow and ice, usually ‘almost gone’ by the end of April, actually melted three weeks ago.

Up until recently I did hear the odd little frog try a tentative peep, followed by silence. But last night the froggy pond echoed with a chorus of spring peepers for the first time this year. The wood frogs, as usual, beat the peepers by a few days and are quacking away like drunken ducks.

Speaking of ducks, the ditty did fit, with a pair of dabblers (American black ducks, left) and a pair of divers (common goldeneyes, right) hanging about for a while now. I don’t have a zoom lens so the photos are fuzzy, but the male goldeneye is laying his neck along his back to woo the female. She doesn’t seem overly impressed.

I hope this ditty brought a smile to your face as we head into a two-week ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown here in Nova Scotia. Next month back to more serious topics like, say, funny frogs or dueling ducks. In the meantime, I hope the many signs of spring will delight, amaze, and lift your spirits.

Thanks to Lisa Finney for allowing me to use her photo of a dark-eyed junco. You can see more of her stunning photographs at www.somethingwithpictures.com.

Sue McKay Miller
April 26, 2021