Community, Wildlife

On the Road and Around the Pond

Oh the Road & Around the Pond

This is an exciting time of year as we await the appearance of babies. We have does with rounded bellies. We have yet to see a fawn.  The fall burning of tree stumps around the yard resulted in holes and burrows that were not always filled before winter set in.  An opportunistic skunk moved into a burrow created by the removal of a tree root. Looking out the kitchen window we spotted 4 baby skunks. The babies are really cute but not particularly welcome.

He goslings are starting to color.  The ducks paused to finally get their portraits. We have spotted only a handful of tadpoles. Those tadpoles are steadily growing. The turtles are on the move and on the road. We noticed a neighbor stopping to carefully remove a turtle on the road to the safety of a grassed area.

A pair of whopping cranes are occasionally stopping to hunt in the field. The coyote is hunting in the field and along the road. The feral cats are making regular treks along the road. -Patches

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Patches' Pieces, Wildlife

Around the Pond

New on the game cam this week is a badger.  The badger tends to be transitory with few Columbia grounds squirrels residing in the field to become dinner. The geese are being geese. The goslings are growing and hiking along the pond’s edge.  The turkeys are being camera shy.  The deer look like they need a good combing.-Patches


The Small Predators

Sixty years ago, I prowled the field by my house with a single-shot 22, specializing in gophers – Columbia Ground Squirrels.  In the sixties, the war on gophers was the sort of thing that would have made Sadaam Hussein proud – rifle fire, traps, strychnine oats and compound 1080.  The rodent population would dip, but in the next couple of years, reproduction would bring the population back up.  Ten years ago, after the cancer, I walked through the grass – and in most of the places where I remembered ground squirrel colonies, I found only a few holes, and those unoccupied.

Watching from the pickup, I realized the change – as Dad had reduced grazing, naturally the grass grew taller – and I watched a long-tailed weasel hunting the ground squirrel colony.  Five years later, as I started construction on the house, I encountered only two spots with ground squirrels – reduced grazing, and a better habitat for the small predators to hunt had changed the fields from being good gopher habitat to good weasel habitat.  I suspect the weasel population is larger now, but they’re a bit hard to count. It is amazing to see how effective and effortless the 21st century ground squirrel control is.

Long-tailed weasel. Image Credit: National Park Service

Voles have replaced ground squirrels as the rodent in the field.  A couple feral cats hunt them – but I learned more about the small predators when I took the canoe into the pond to work on an aerator.  The tale has its tragedy – I was sixty-eight years old the first time I ever tipped a canoe.  Pushed back with the paddle, a least weasel ran up my arm and perched on my left shoulder, and into the water I went.  The tiny weasel didn’t so much as get splashed – he ran into the stern, back where the flotation foam was, and peeked out as I pulled the canoe to shore.  Cute little guy, and it was funny once I got over the shock and went back for dry clothes.  It is a bit embarrassing to tip a canoe when an animal weighing less than 3 ounces startles you.  Startles, surprises, you understand.  Not scares.  Definitely not frightens.

I figured I should clean out the flotation block, and when I opened it up, I found 52 vole skulls.  The least weasel was living in the middle of the flotation foam – a well insulated home for the little guy, and from that base had been hunting voles through the winter and into the Spring.  Obviously the finest form of vole control available.  I am a bit more cautious taking the canoe out anymore – though without the element of surprise I really don’t believe a 3 ounce weasel can capsize me.  They are actually a cute little beast, as this picture shows.

By Jerzy Strzelecki – Own work, CC BY 3.0,

I’ve also seen the short-tailed weasel here – another vole specialist, white with a black-tipped tail,  The field guides for all 3 weasels describe habitat as “Found in almost all land habitats near water.”  Obviously, with the ponds, we’re near water. It looks like ground squirrel control is actually easy – don’t trap the weasels, and don’t overgraze.  I can do nothing as well as anybody.

Community, Wildlife

A Pig in a Coat

Thursday morning had an unusual announcement on the Community Page – two pigs were out on the road south of Trego School.  So long as they were on the road, I figured it was no problem, and kept doing a little maintenance on the Suzuki.  Then a red pickup came in, Kiki and the little Lass started their intruder alert, and I prepared the “hunter talk” – a chat that explains that there are too many residences past the trees to hunt safely here.

I didn’t need the “hunter talk”.  The driver asked if I owned pigs.  I had to get him to repeat himself.  Turns out there was a deputy alone on the road with two pigs, one who couldn’t move its hindquarters, a second pig with road rash, and he needed to get to work.  I loaded the Pomeranians into the Suzuki and went to be of minimal assistance.  Admittedly, the thought of a downer hog dragging itself into the woods was not particularly upbeat.  After all, last week was the picture and tracks of mama griz and baby bear.  

The first thing I saw was a crippled, shivering market size hog wearing my recruiter’s coat.  It is good to know that the neighbor you just met is the sort of person who will cover an injured pig with his own coat as he drives off to search for backup for the deputy.

Todd arrived with the Pub’s Beer Jeep – and replaced the coat with a blanket.  I kept the pigs company while the deputy searched for a place the pigs might have known as home.  The deputy returned, Todd returned, and then the owners came in with a horse trailer.  They were a lot more skilled at pig handling than we were, so the pigs were soon loaded up and on their way.  It’s a good community where a guy will give the coat off his back to keep an injured pig warm.  And I can speak to Todd’s decency in putting an injured pig in a blanket.

Patches' Pieces, Wildlife

The not so perfect Game Camera: Video

After missing what should have been great photos of bears, I decided to see if the video mode would be any better.  I don’t use video very much because I haven’t invested in the companies that make batteries;  Video uses batteries quickly. 

Video also takes lots of space on your SD cards.  And I only need so many videos of deer walking up to sniff the camera.

According to my cameras this week, no bears walked on the driveway.  A follow up confirmed no new bear droppings.  If my cameras are to be believed, only a few deer, a feral cat, and a couple of turkeys were on the driveway. I will leave the camera in video mode probably until Thanksgiving in hopes of getting a video of a stray bear wandering by or maybe a coyote or two. In the meantime, here are the turkeys.


Patches' Pieces, Wildlife

The not so perfect game camera, part 2

Marketers would have you believe the more money you spend on a game camera, the better the game camera.  If only this were true.  Over the years, I have tried several brands of camera. I am still searching for the perfect camera. I have my least favorite camera or the brands I won’t purchase again.

Game cameras can be used to monitor traffic. UPS truck on the driveway.

By far, my least favorite camera is a Stealth game camera.  The Stealth game camera is programmable and the cost won’t break the bank. I use this camera to monitor the traffic on my driveway. The camera is an older model.  It is reliable.  I change the batteries every couple of months and change the SD card about once of month.  The camera is consistent. It takes good pictures of vehicles and stills of the driveway during the winter.  It has never taken a picture of a coyote, mountain lion, or bear. 

Deer walking down the driveway

My least expensive camera is a Herters game camera.  This is another driveway camera in the perfect location. The camera has a narrow depth of field where the pictures are in perfect focus. This camera is great for monitoring vehicles as well as wildlife. I have all sorts of fuzzy pictures of feral cats, skunks, etc as well as larger animals. Occasionally the pictures are in focus. But I have good idea of the animals walking down the driveway.  The Herters camera eats batteries.  When the batteries are low, the camera stops taking pictures at night. The camera is non-programmable but easy to set up and operate.

A winter still

All game cameras miss the perfect shots.  I have had a game camera take 1000 pictures of grass blowing in the wind.   I have seen many blurs at night. But the occasional photos make all the disappointments worthwhile. Game cameras are not perfect but even blurry picture can be priceless.

Deer on the driveway. Not all the deer are in focus, but the picture still provides lots information.


Patches' Pieces, Wildlife

The Not So Perfect Game Camera

Now days, I take more wildlife photos with my game camera than with my digital camera. At 4 am on a cold wintry morning my game camera is awake, I am not. What is the perfect game camera?  The camera that takes the photos you want or need. It is the camera that is reliable, consistent, and inexpensive. Do you want a camera for surveillance with the occasional acceptable wildlife photo to show friends?  Or do you want great photos the majority of the time for wildlife photography? Does the camera record video? If so, for how long?

Since all roads lead to Rome, I have a game camera on my driveway. I use my camera for surveillance. I have seen feral cats, stray dogs, foxes, coyotes, skunks, racoons, turkeys, deer, mountain lions, and bears.  Also included would be bicycles, UPS trucks, and errant hunters.

Grizzly Bears! The pictures on the game camera alerted us to the possibility they were in the neighborhood. These ladies walked down the driveway before they walked into the yard.

Since bears are on the move and are in the general area, I am checking my camera daily for the presence of bears.  Our lack of fruit has resulted in few bear sightings this fall. Trophy hunters are looking for the presence of antlers on deer. We have no regular sightings of antlers. A coyote has been hunting in the area.  A feral cat carried a squirrel past the camera. Does are ever present.

A beautiful coyote poses for the camera.

While my old single lens reflex camera was serviceable for over 20 years, the life of a game camera is short.  Game cameras are expected to perform in all types of weather. Amazingly they do take pictures in temperatures from 20 below to 100 degrees above and in rain or snow. Wildlife have damaged more of my cameras than adverse weather.  A plastic camera with an electronic circuit board is no match for a careless deer.

A coyote stops  on the driveway at night. Nighttime photos are difficult. Common is the lack of clear detail.