Animal Visitations

Summer sunrises are complete in my yard, now that the Wood Thrushes are back for their nesting season. Their haunting voices — a cross between the airiness of a flute and the rich depth of an oboe — echo through shadowy woods as the rising sun shoots golden rays through holes in the canopy. If you don’t know this song, listen to the link provided above. It is exquisitely beautiful.

All the birds are very busy right now, either nesting or feeding nestlings or newly fledged chicks. A gang of juvenile crows loiters around my bird feeders until their lookout spots me at a window. They scatter into the deep woods, raucously laughing at me.

This year, I grew a number of annual flowers from seed, including a mix of dahlias, salvias, and snapdragons. I transplanted them in the bed along my front walk about a month ago, and they settled in nicely, blooming well. Then one morning about two weeks ago, this:

Murder victim #1

Murder victim #1

And this:

Murder victim #2

Murder victim #2

Two of the six dahlia plants I had nurtured from seeds in my greenhouse for months had been destroyed, their roots devoured. I knew immediately which critter to blame: pine voles.

Two species of voles are common in my region, but I’m fairly certain my plants were not murdered by meadow voles. I base this on what I’ve read of the habits of both species, and on the bodies I find occasionally lying in my driveway. I think a neighbor cat is likely coming to my yard to hunt, leaving trophies of its work behind for me to admire.

For years, indestructible lantanas grew in this bed. But they always grew too tall, requiring me to hack them back regularly — and I wanted to grow something different there. With the help of some strong garden assistants, we dug out the lantanas, which turned out to have woody roots so deep that we had to cut them to get the plants out. Lantanas, as you likely know, have fragrant, resinous leaves and flowers. I suspect the compound responsible for their fragrance is also in their roots, which is probably why the voles always ignored them.

But dahlias are apparently vole candy. Dahlia roots form tubers, and my seed-grown plants were already sporting these fleshy root forms. If you look at the photos above, you’ll see that the salvias surrounding the dead dahlias are undamaged, likely because salvias have fragrant resinous leaves and stems — and probably roots — just like the lantanas before them.

Too sick to seek out replacement plants myself, I sent Wonder Spouse out to find replacements that would fit with the other plantings. He came home with:

Verbena 'Candy Cane'

Verbena ‘Candy Cane’

So far, this eye-popper has been unmolested, and I predict it will remain that way, because verbena leaves are spicy too.

The other plant he brought home was a pale-flowered penta. These annuals are pollinator magnets, and Wonder Spouse did a nice job of finding a color that is compatible with the other plantings.

So far, the penta has also remained unmolested.

So far, the penta has also remained unmolested.

The other four dahlias are blooming well and are quite pretty in a petite way. I’ve been taking photos. I’ll show them to you soon.

The voles are also wreaking more havoc than usual in my vegetable garden. In fact, I think their population may have risen considerably this year, likely due to last year’s lush vegetation that was fueled by above-average rains. Every time we water the veggies, caverns open up — entries to vole tunnels. I won’t use poisons, and cats can’t get into my deer-fence-enclosed veggie garden. I’ve recently read that spreading cayenne pepper around plants and in the vole tunnel entrances will deter the voracious rodents. I’ll let you know how that works.

We had a much more interesting animal visitor about two weeks ago. As Wonder Spouse was pulling out of the driveway early one morning, he suddenly stopped and signaled me to join him. In the strip of lawn between our road and our front woods was this creature:

River Cooter?

River Cooter?

This female turtle is probably a River Cooter, but Florida Cooters are also common in my area, and the species interbreed. For sure, she’s a Cooter, and she was digging a hole for her eggs right beside our busy road!

She was a big one — somewhere between 12 and 14 inches from nose to tail. She hadn’t started laying eggs yet, and I was worried that her hatchlings would head for the road and get squashed, so I decided to relocate her to the floodplain, where we’ve seen Cooters laying eggs before.

Of course, I had to document this visitation, so I ran into the house, grabbed my camera, and stopped off to get our new wheelbarrow. She was too big for a bucket, and I know better than to try to carry a turtle that big for any distance. It’s about 200 yards from where she was digging to the edge of the creek on my floodplain. I figured using the wheelbarrow as transport was my best bet.

First, of course, I tried to get a better shot of her.

Apparently camera-shy, she started to flee -- straight for the road!

Apparently camera-shy, she started to flee — straight for the road!

I ran in front of her and with my gloved hands (turtles bite!) I picked her up and quickly transferred her to the wheelbarrow. The plastic orange tub was too slippery for her to pull herself out. I grabbed another quick photo.

She was not pleased.

She was not pleased.

Before we headed down the hill, I snapped a shot of the hole she’d started. She had made quite a bit of progress.

The hole was about three inches across.

The hole was about three inches across.

As gently as possible, I pushed the wheelbarrow with its turtle cargo down to the floodplain. I deposited her beside the weeds (mostly evil Japanese bamboo grass) growing near the creek. She sat there glowering at me.

She wouldn't move until I moved out of her line of sight.

She wouldn’t move until I moved out of her line of sight.

Once she couldn’t see me, she high-tailed it into the tall weeds beside the creek. When I walked back to where I’d left her, all I could see was a trail of freshly flattened weeds.

I hope she found a nesting spot to her liking in a nearby sand bar.

I hope she found a nesting spot to her liking in a nearby sand bar.

I don’t know how sensitive Cooters are to disruptions. I can only hope that moving her away from the road was the right thing to do. I try not to interfere with the wild creatures that share my land with me. But the image of squashed freshly hatched baby turtles was too horrible to ignore.

 

 

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