Thursday, August 12, 2010

Location, Location, Location

I'm a big believer in allowing things that are alive to stay that way. Not everyone holds that same view, I realize, especially out in the countryside where my little farm is. Routinely I hear neighbors shooting at coyotes, snapping turtles, snakes, and wild hogs. Sometimes even stray dogs. I'm certainly not naive enough to think I can influence the behavior of those around me; all I can do is manage what happens on the 27-acre microcosm that I pretend to have some say over.

And what happens is this: Until an animal proves they are not just troublemakers but repeat offenders, I hold no grudges. We're all in this together, trying to survive. I've lost very dear furred and feathered friends to coyotes and owls and hawks. But we're also not overrun with mice and rats and rabbits because of those same predators. They simply don't discriminate. So I do what I can to protect my beasties in what ways I can while giving them as much freedom as possible to live relatively happy lives.

That doesn't mean I don't take an active part in trying to control the environment. Potential predators are often shepherded along through my relocation services. I've run after a number of coyotes myself and sent the dogs after several more to chase them off the property. I've broken up fights between my chickens and hawks and sent the hawks on their way. I've grabbed my trusty rake and big storage bins and moved a few nonpoisonous snakes from Point A to Point B, especially when there were young chicks or ducklings at Point A.

I did once have a crisis of conscience when I found a large rattlesnake in my backyard. With my ducks. And my dogs. When I first saw it, I didn't know it was a rattler, and I stepped back in the house and grabbed a broom and a bin to capture it. When it coiled up and raised its head in the classic pre-strike pose, I still didn't catch on because it was the first (and so far only) rattler I've seen on the property. Only when it raised its tail and shook the tip of it did I recognize it for what it was. I looked from the 4-foot snake to the 5-foot broom and decided I needed heavier artillery. For a moment, I did consider killing it. Even if it struck in self-defense, it was a big snake with plenty of venom to kill a curious duck or do serious neural damage to a 40-pound dog trying to intimidate it.

I took a deep breath and the moment of irrational panic passed. Just because this was the first time I had seen the snake didn't mean it hadn't been hanging around for awhile -- and nothing bad had happened so far. I stepped back in the house and picked up a 6-foot metal pipe and locked the dogs inside. The only plan I had was to encourage the snake to leave the yard as far from the house as possible. Beyond that, planwise, I had nothing. Luckily, the rattler was simply a creature that wanted nothing more than to be left alone to go about its business of eating small prey. I expected it to attack the pipe. It didn't. I expected it to resist being moved. It didn't. Although it did move toward the house instead of away from it, which had more to do I suspect with my lack of snake wrangling skills than any motive on its part. It disappeared through the chainlink fence and slithered under my wraparound porch.

For a couple of days after, I kept the cats inside, watched the dogs, wore shoes, and was especially careful where I stepped. But I never saw the snake again.

Oh, Snap

I was reminded of all this a few days ago when I saw a turtle crossing the front lawn. While we have our share of red-earred sliders and box turtles that hang out in the ponds and creeks, this was no big, slow, shy guy that ducks his head and feet into his shell at your approach and lets you pick him up without a fuss. No, no. This was a snapping turtle.

Snapping turtles are not made like other turtles. For one, theirs is a small shell; too small for them to pull their head and feet into. For another, these guys have sharp claws and a wicked beaked mouth with a bite like a pit bull. They're quick and they're aggressive. I have never met one yet that allowed itself to be herded easily into my relocation bin. They lunge at me and attack the rake handle, leaving gouges in the wood from their bite. Did I mention they also hiss?

This one was no different. After a bit of a pole dance to get it into the bin, I carried it off to an unused back pasture and released it there, away from my dogs and fowl. And this time I snapped a couple of pictures. For a size perspective, that's an 18-gallon bin the turtle is in. This is actually a young-ish turtle and one of the smaller ones I've relocated. It will likely wander back up to the house when its almost twice this size and we'll go through the whole process again.

Yes, it's possible it will wander toward one of the neighbors instead and that shotgun pop I hear will mean it won't ever wander this way again. That makes me sad. But at least I know I've given it a chance that others wouldn't have. What it makes of that chance is out of my hands. I accept that. It's part of the price I pay for living in a place where I have the tremendously fulfilling opportunity to interact with nature and to relocate all the creatures that I do. As I said earlier, we're all in this together. That's something I never forget.


Sarah Laurenson said...

I love visiting my mom on her 5 1/2 acres. They have a lot more venomous snakes there, but I have not encountered any. Mostly it's the pack of dogs that roam the neighborhood - all owned by separate locals, the couple of deer living in her stand of woods and the cows next door. She has swallows that nest on her front porch every year. They help keep the insect population low and that's a huge blessing.

There are armadillo tunnels. but I have not seen their makers.

Phoenix said...

Oh, Sarah, you need to spend more time out there! It's so, so good for the soul.

I know how much you love animals and I know you've done some rescue work yourself (btw, how's that little kitten -- not so little any more, I bet -- doing?). And I suspect that, like me, you're a vegetarian for ethical reasons.

Yes, you really do need to spend more time with nature!

fairyhedgehog said...

You're so much braver than I am! I'm glad all we have to worry about round here are the foxes - who are mostly very shy.

In fact, we are the worst enemy of local wildlife because of the cats. I've lost track of the numbers of mice, voles, frogs, birds and other creatures our cats have caught. Putting bells on them helps but not completely. Especially as Rufus is master of the art of collar removal.

Phoenix said...

So funny you should mention that, FHH. While I was writing this post yesterday, I looked up to see one of my cats outside eating a field rat he'd caught. Oh, the irony.

I'm told we have foxes and bobcats in the area, but I've never seen either here. I'm sort of glad because of all the extra precautions I'd need to take with the chickens and ducks and cats at night. But, oohh, foxes! Wouldn't that be grand?

fairyhedgehog said...

At least your cat ate its prey. That's more than mine do! Sometimes they bring it in alive and I hate that.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Wish I could spend more time there. But when I'm there, I'm no longer married and I'm not fond of that.

Maya is doing very well. Big enough now that she can tackle her brother and chase the dog.

A recent picture.

And we caught our feral baby momma. After over a year of trying. She's spayed now and not very happy. But I'm sure she'll be much happier when she's healed up and back out in her element.

Whirlochre said...

So glad you still have hands to write with.