Ending one chapter, starting another
In a few days, my husband and I will be leaving this place that we’ve called home for the past 20 years. We are moving just a few miles from here, in roughly the same neighborhood. We are simply downsizing.
I am excited about the move, and look forward to this new chapter in our lives. Still there are many things that I will miss, the biggest being the wildlife that we have shared our lives with over the years.
We currently have four acres, and those four acres are covered with trees. We have mostly blue oaks but also buckeyes and redwoods. Since moving here, we have planted many more trees - a small fruit orchard, over 30 olive trees, as well as several maples, in addition to adding many buckeyes and oaks that we have started from seed collected on our property.
What a joy it has been to wake up to beautiful birdsong every morning and to listen to and watch the birds throughout the day. During the night we often hear Barn Owls and Great Horned Owls calling to each other. Never once have we been annoyed to be awakened by these beautiful sounds. On the contrary, one of us will often wake the other, so as not to miss out on this experience. If the owls sound like they are quite close, we will get up, stand by the window and try to get a glimpse of them in the moonlight.
We have a small colony of Mexican free-tailed bats roosting under the eaves of our house. They work hard all night keeping the insects under control here, and occasionally as we sit on our deck at dusk, we will see them start to emerge. Sometimes, if I am awake very early in the morning, I can see them returning after being out all night working. Exciting.
Aside from ground squirrels, we rarely see mammals, as they have learned that it is best to avoid humans and that is a good thing. We know that they are here though. We see signs of them everywhere. It always thrills us to see a skunk digging in the yard very early in the a.m., and from time to time when we come home late we will see a fox running up the driveway. Often when we start our morning walk, we will see jackrabbits. The lizards love to sun themselves on the rocks, and the frogs sing us to sleep at night with their chorus.
Several years ago, a friend suggested that we put a critter camera up so that we could see what animals were visiting at night. That was one of the best things we ever did. Downloading those photos is like opening a surprise package, as you never know what the photos will reveal. We put the camera on a tree facing a sheep tank that was here when we moved in, and were delighted to see how many visitors come by from dusk to dawn. All the woodland creatures have been here – skunks, raccoons, opossums, foxes, rabbits, deer, coyotes, and occasionally a bobcat. So far no mountain lions or bears, but there is always hope! We have beautiful photos of all of them, including owls. In the spring we will have mother raccoons, skunks and foxes show up with their new offspring. The daytime photos are mostly of birds and ground squirrels. We have many sequences of red-tailed hawks bathing in the tank.
We don’t know these birds and mammals as individuals – the exception being the pair of ravens that we have watched for several years. Ravens mate for life, and this pair nest in the same tree every year. We enjoy observing the annual ritual of them refurbishing their nest, incubating the eggs, feeding the nestlings, and then finally, that day of days, when the little ones get the courage to fledge. Once fledged, these excellent parents will stay with their youngsters for quite some time. We watch them daily as the young become more independent, learn to find their own foods, become expert flyers and learn their many vocalizations. All of this occurs on our property, so we hear them all day long. No wonder ravens are such a successful species. We have hundreds of critter cam photos of them, which is good, as I will miss them.
I know that most of the species we see here, we will see at the new house, which is comforting. As we begin to move things over, I have heard ravens there, seen quail families with their little baby fluff balls, and saw a grey squirrel from our deck. My husband went to the new house this morning to take some things over and returned with a big smile on his face. “Look at this photo of our new neighbor that was standing in our yard,” he said. As I looked closely, I saw a beautiful big buck standing there looking directly at my husband. What a treat. We look forward to the next chapter and I can’t wait to meet our handsome new neighbor.
Sharon Ponsford is a a longtime volunteer with Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue and a former board member of the California Council of Wildlife Rehabilitators. She lives in Glen Ellen. If you have questions or would like to ask her about our local wildlife, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.