Tuesday, June 4, 2019

The Animals Around Us

Upper Pond With Lotus Bloom

A Haven For Birds, Bees, and Butterflies

As I have mentioned before, we purchased our home from people who were avid gardeners. The entire backyard is beautifully landscaped with shrubs that bloom from spring until the fall, and it also has two ponds and a mini waterfall. It has several birdhouses, a bee house, a bat-house, a bird feeder, and a birdbath.

Our yard is a haven for birds, bees, and butterflies. All summer long, the blossoms are alive with buzzing bees -- bumble bees, honey bees, and other types. I am not very knowledgeable about identifying butterflies, but in the last few days, I believe I have seen both Western Tiger Swallowtail and Pale Swallowtail butterflies in our yard, and a blue butterfly that might be a Blue Copper.

As well, we have many birds. We have a pair of humming birds, one with a green head and one with a red head (a female and male pair of Rufous Hummingbirds, I think). One day when I was out in the yard wearing a red shirt, one of the hummingbirds hovered only a foot away, trying to determine if I was a large red flower, I guess. The same day, a tiny bird of an unknown species that was perched on the rose arbour a few feet from me flew over and was about to land on my head. I felt the whirring of tiny wings just above me. It realized its mistake and continued on.

The birds I recognize include American robins, varied thrushes, juncos, chickadees, and sparrows. There is a yellow bird that looks like a canary (possibly the Common Yellowthroat?), and many other little birds. There are crows, ravens, and Northern Flickers. Just the other day, a Pileated Woodpecker came by and pecked at the trunk of a Douglas fir tree just beyond the back fence. Once a Great Blue Heron paid a visit to our pond. I ran out and counted the fish, but they were all still there.

Sailing past the Douglas fir trees, we frequently see bald eagles, hawks, and sometimes a pair of turkey vultures. Presently, we believe that there is an eagle nesting in one of our Douglas fir trees. We can't make out the nest, but we hear the eagle vocalizing all day long. We've also heard the call of an owl, red winged blackbirds, and ring-collared doves.

We don't use any chemicals of any sort in our yard, and I think that is why it attracts so many species. 

 

Other Species in Our Yard and Nearby


Vancouver Island Deer
As well as the birds, bees, and butterflies, there are a variety of other animals that share our space. The deer are so commonplace here that I never remember to take photos of them even though I see them almost every day in our yard or around the neighbourhood. The photo above is of a pair of deer at a new house under construction down the road from us.

Bug at the Pond
There are many wild rabbits in the neighbourhood. A large white rabbit with a black spot on its eye and a smaller brown bunny spend a lot of time grazing in our yard. One day when I walked around the streets, I counted eighteen different rabbits on my walk.

One evening, I surprised two raccoons fighting (or mating?) in a nearby ditch. Our next door neighbour has been plagued by raccoons getting into her garbage but fortunately we haven't had that problem.

I've seen two different variants of garter snakes in our yard, and Rob spotted either a salamander or lizard in the garden the other day. Sometimes a little green tree frog shows itself. We have all manner of interesting insects, including June bugs, dragon flies and damselflies. As well, we have various slugs and worms, and in the pond there are snails and leeches.

Goldfish at Feeding Time
 Our lower pond has goldfish in it. I am fascinated with the goldfish, and spend lots of time watching them each day. This winter, we wondered if they had survived as we did not see them for months. But once the water warmed up in the spring, they reappeared. Most of them made it through the winter. There were thirteen fish when we first moved here two years ago, and we now have approximately twenty-eight fish. The goldfish have been having babies! The minnows are black, grey, or brown. As they mature, they turn orange. Some of the mature fish are orange and white, and one large fish is all white.
 
Canada Geese
I also see lots of animals in the forests around us, and in the nearby little lake and ponds. On a recent mountain bike ride, I paused for a break, and a skunk walked calmly across the path I had just ridden down. I stayed very still and watched the cute little cat-like animal stroll by. 

On my forest hikes, I often stand by one of the many ponds to see what I can see. The largest pond is home to many ducks (buffleheads, mallards). One day, the two Canada geese shown in the photo were there. They were disturbed by my presence and kept swimming back and forth in front of me, honking loudly. I went back on the trail and came out again at a different viewing spot. The two geese spotted me instantly and swam over to chase me away. That same day, I saw some Brant geese come to the pond. Brant geese are a protected species that migrate through this area in the spring. When the Brants tried to land, the Canada geese chased them away.

Clams at the Estuary
I have read that there are at least six cougar dens on this peninsula where we live. Although my son and my neighbours have seen cougars here, I haven't seen one. There is reported to be a resident bear. I haven't seen it, but I did see a bear this spring in nearby Coombs. It was on the bike path, so we took a little detour on our bicycles.

My Daughter and Oysters

Abundant Ocean

Our peninsula is surrounded on three sides by the ocean and its great abundance of life. Last week, there was a pod of Orcas (Killer Whales) in the bay on the far side of the peninsula. I didn't see them, but a number of people posted pictures and videos.

There are many sea lions and seals here. In the spring and fall, from everywhere in the area you can hear sea lions barking. We have not gone fishing much, but when we went out on our friend's boat last week, Rob dropped a line. He caught and released a small ling cod. Last week, hiking along the shore with my daughter, I saw sea stars and sea anemones. We gathered some oysters and few clams.

Kate Takes a Breather
We don't have an oyster knife for shucking oysters, but we managed to shuck them using a screwdriver and one of Rob's sturdy knives. We each slurped down a couple of raw oysters, and the rest of the dozen went into a seafood chowder, along with a handful of clams. Delicious! Afterwards, we returned the shells to the beach. (Note that we carefully read the government website beforehand to make sure that we were gathering the shellfish in an area that was safe and permitted.)

 

The Pets

Oliver Sitting on my Legs
Of course, no blog post about animals would be complete without mentioning those important fur-covered family members, Kate and Oliver. Kate is our elderly Blue Heeler cross. She still loves her hikes and walks with me, but now I have to take it slowly and give her lots of rest breaks. She also likes to cool off along the way in a pond or the lake.

Oliver, our cat, also is elderly. He is quite hobbled with arthritis. He loves to bask in the sun, or sleep on a chair out on the deck. If we're in the yard, he follows us around. He's a very cuddly guy.

 

A Frog Story

A Frog in Our Pond
This spring, a frog appeared in our pond. I was thrilled to welcome this new pond resident. At first, every time I came near the pond, it jumped into the water. But after awhile, it became used to me and would just sit there blinking and sunning itself as I fed the fish.

A few days ago, I went online to try to determine what type of frog it was. We have a serious problem on Vancouver Island with an invasive species of frog, the American Bullfrog, which has been taking over wetlands and killing native species of frogs. It is a voracious predator that can eat fish, mice, painted turtles, salamanders, ducklings, and other small birds. That's why I was so excited to welcome what I thought was a native species of frog to our pond. I believed our frog was not an American Bullfrog because it was smaller than other bullfrogs I've seen, and also because it didn't produce the easy-to-identify bullfrog croak.

So, I was horrified to discover from my research that our frog was, in fact, an American Bullfrog -- a female one. Rob set up a special USB camera with a computer so we could zoom in on it to make a positive identification. Females are unable to vocalize. They can travel quite a long way to get to a pond, where they will lay up to 50,000 eggs at a time. I frantically read websites about the history of the bullfrog's introduction to the area (one website said they were brought in by restaurant owners who wanted to serve frogs' legs and when the business failed, released into the wild), watched videos of them eating all manner of things, learned that they carry amphibian pathogens, and looked at maps showing that their territory is expanding. I had a sleepless night worrying that we were harbouring an invasive species and that our pond soon would be full of bullfrog tadpoles.

Meanwhile, Rob read the frog control website to learn how to exterminate it, and then calmly followed the instructions while I refused to watch. Invasive species or not, I had become fond of "our" frog. But culling it was the right thing to do, and I am grateful that Rob was willing to do it. We no longer have a bullfrog in our pond.

9 comments:

  1. Hi Jude! Happy summer to you and all your forest friends (and a couple of domestic ones too.) You are definitely surrounded by nature and from everything I read that is incredibly healthy and helpful for living a long life! Your photos are great and are helping me get excited about our visit to your island next month. Looking forward to experiencing some of your "nature" and spending a little time IRL. ~Kathy

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Kathy. I am incredibly grateful to be able to live here in such a beautiful area. I love being surrounded by nature. The ecosystem of Vancouver Island is different that anywhere I have lived before, and it is exciting to learn about the flora and fauna. I’m looking forward to meeting you in person too.

      Jude

      Delete
  2. What a wonderful selection of wildlife! Your pond is beautiful.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Anabel: the pond is really pretty, and it’s fun watching the goldfish.

      Jude

      Delete
  3. What a beautiful pond and garden you have, Jude. Abundant wildlife, too. I look forward to seeing some of it in September.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Natalie. The garden is beautiful. We appreciate the talent of the former owners who developed it. I look forward to meeting you in person.

      Jude

      Delete
  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  5. What a wonderful world you are surrounded by, Jude. I just love wildlife, so I really enjoyed this post. And, you know so many names of the fauna!

    Once, last summer in Colorado, I was startled by a hummingbird as I tried to take a photo of the river and our campsite with my purple iPad. As I took the photo, the hummingbird partly obscured the view covered the screen. Very cool!

    It looks to me that an oyster knife should be on the wishlist or Christmas list this year. :-)

    I’m so sorry you had to go trough that frog experience. Yikes! Yes, you guys did the right thing, but still - compassionate as we are - a life is a life. I’m glad Rob managed to exterminate it. In situations like these, Mark would have to be the do-gooder as well!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Liesbet. I have always been really interested in the natural world around me and I feel awed and humbled by the beauty and complexity of it all. I love the dramatic vistas of mountains, plains and oceans, but also the tiny flowers in the moss, the dragonflies, and the patterns of tree bark. The climatic zone here is different than the harsher northern climates where I have spent most of my life, so many of the animals and plants are different. I am starting to learn the names of the plants and animals here.

      I am still sad about the frog. Every time I go to the pond, I still look for her and then remember. She was really quite beautiful.

      Jude

      Delete