Monday, June 17, 2013

Wildlife Welcome!

                “Where are you? Come and look at this!” My husband called me to the kitchen window yesterday afternoon. He pointed at the yard. “Look, he’s sitting up like a dog.”
                The baby groundhog had returned.  Not such a baby any more, he looked very independent, and quite cute. In his begging pose, it was easier to think of him as a prairie dog than the groundhog I knew him to be.
                Two weeks ago he had pushed away rocks coating the driveway to dig under the garden fence. He devastated the garden, devouring all the lettuce greens, kale and Swiss chard, eating each soy and bush bean and one pepper plant down to their stalks. He even ate the echinacea and dill, leaving only the tomato and recently emerging zucchini plants. We plugged up one hole after another. He had made three. Then my husband laid a metal ladder in the driveway, up against the garden fence and I set the Havahart trap nearby. I figured the groundhog was young enough that he might not be suspicious and would walk directly into the baited trap. He didn’t, but at least we stopped him. Or was it that there was nothing left to eat?  We later saw “Junior” and his mother in the backyard, several days in a row, happily grazing on clover. Then the rains came.
                Neither Mom nor Junior showed up for over a week. I didn’t know if we just weren’t in the yard or passing by the window while they were out there, or if they were avoiding the paucity of our garden. But one thing I was sure of—if they made their home under the black walnut stump at the far end of the yard, they were under water. The entire back half of our yard was soggy. When the grass became less wet and I explored toward the back, I could still see water sitting inside the entrance hole under the stump.  I placed some pulled-up weeds across the opening; if some-critter entered or exited I would know.
                Now that Junior had reappeared, and with our lettuce and kale making a comeback, I had to do something to protect our crops. During the day, still thinking Junior was a neophyte, I baited the trap with broccoli and kale, placed it outside the garden fence and covered it with branches.  But our young groundhog was not buying. I decided to put the trap out by the stump at night.
                At ten fifteen last night I grabbed a flashlight and opened the back door—and jumped back.  Three kitten-sized black and white balls of fur scattered as a larger, striped animal ran off to the right. I slammed the door shut before they decided to act on their fear.  The trap would not be set this night.
                “It’s your sign,” said my husband. “You invited them.”
                He was referring to the sign that proclaimed our backyard to be a certified wildlife habitat. It had been certified five years ago, but I only hung the sign on the back door last month. Obviously, our wildlife can read.
                This morning I checked the stump. The weeds had been moved. Someone had settled in under the stump. But who?  From past experience I knew that groundhogs wake up late. We’ve never trapped one before ten A.M. It was only 6:30 so I put the trap in front of the hole. But by one P.M. the trap was still empty. I removed it. Skunks come out at night. The last think I want to find in the trap is a family of skunks.

                So whose garden is it? The battle continues.