The world is made brighter outside - Keith Roulston editorial
As the days got shorter back before Christmas, our lives were brightened when we looked out the window one day and saw a huge, pileated woodpecker on one of our older maple trees.
I’m not sure if you’ve ever had the opportunity to see one of these magnificent birds. You’d remember if you had. They’re much larger than the woodpeckers we normally see and look like the inspiration for the old Woody Woodpecker cartoon character with a brilliant red tuft of feathers on their head.
Luckily this one didn’t stay very long. We’d have missed him if we were still going to work. We just happened to look out the window at the right time and there he was. He did a quick test of some of the trees, found no prospects of a quick lunch, and disappeared.
The first time we witnessed this rare creature was at least a decade ago. In that case he found an inviting meal in one of our ancient maples and quickly chiselled a huge hole in the side of the tree making a terrible racket, then flew off. We were left with a tree with a huge cavity that killed off the central spike of the tree and we had to get someone to remove it.
So, there are benefits and deficits in having wildlife in the yard. We’re not seeing nearly the variety of birds this winter. We aren’t putting out many of our bird feeders in an effort to deter field mice from being attracted and building nests under the hood of our car. This past spring we spent more than $3,000 on repairs after mice chewed wiring (carmakers, in an effort to improve the environment, started using tasty soy-based plastic wiring).
Still, we have a suet feeder for birds that like that, including Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers and larger Red-bellied Woodpeckers.
We also see Chickadees, both at the suet and Finch’s Feast at our only feeder that also attracts Goldfinches and Juncos – although they’ve seldom made an appearance in the mild, early-spring-like weather lately.
We don’t have a flock of noisy, bossy Bluejays this year since we cut out the feeders for birds seeking larger seeds like sunflowers. Still, we spot these birds flying around the yard. We haven’t seen the shyer Cardinals, though one year we had as many as five pairs at the feeders.
During the fall days, we generally had a visit each day by a small flock of turkeys. When I see the birds today, I have to remember being on hand to watch when the Ministry of Natural Resources was releasing birds captured farther south in an effort to re-establish a native population after they disappeared a century ago. I think they were successful!
When we still had snow on the ground, I sometimes spotted evidence that we had deer in our yard during the night, though I haven’t had visual proof. Other winters I’ve risen early enough to spot a few deer in our orchard, pawing the ground for windfalls, but this year perhaps there’s more variety in the bush and fields.
I understand the deer population is high right now. Certainly that’s believable from seeing the number of hunters around our property during the deer season. I have to remember when the season is, or see the hunters, to remember not to be outside and making a possible target, even if most hunters are careful.
We have both red squirrels and black and grey squirrels living in our yard. At least they’re in the yard. One year they built a nest in the car and had babies.
Years ago, squirrels liked to inhabit our attic. That hasn’t been a problem for a long time now since we had the soffit covered with aluminum, keeping the squirrels out. Mice were also eliminated when we had our old back-kitchen and woodshed replaced with a nice, new addition that blocked all the possible entrances to mice (so far). So their alternative is the car, despite plenty of suggested deterrents.
That makes our neighbour’s cat a welcome visitor. We haven’t kept a cat for several years. To be a real deterrent to mice, a cat needs to be outside at night when the mice are active. So having our neighbour’s barn cats visit and feast on any mice is a treat.
Our other visible delight are the rabbits that we see hopping around the yard. They do little damage, although usually they chew on evergreen bushes outside our back window, though they don’t do any long-term damage. This year, with little snow (lately), they don’t even bother those plants.
I’m sure we also have visits from foxes and wolves at night when we’re not active and don’t know about it. Hopefully they like mice.
So, good and bad, our natural visitors provide interest on our rural property. Since this is normally the hardest part of the winter, last Monday being Blue Monday and all, it’s brightened by the opportunity to enjoy nature. Human activity – wars and politics and all – can be forgotten simply by looking out the window.