Backyard Encounters

As anyone who has followed this blog for a while knows (or who has picked me up to go birding!) I live in a townhouse in the sterile suburban wastelands of Kanata on the southwestern edge of Ottawa. My backyard is the size of a postage stamp, and my front yard is half the size of that as the driveway takes up the rest. We used to have two mature trees on the front lawn we share with our neighbours, until the one closest to the road came down suddenly in a windstorm. Thankfully no people were injured or property was damaged, but this was the same tree I’d seen a Pine Warbler in during the spring of 2017 and I was looking forward to seeing what else might turn up during migration. The tree closest to the house is right outside my computer room, and in recent years the Eastern Gray Squirrels have built leafy dreys right outside my window. Sometimes the squirrel sits on the branch outside its nest of leaves and twigs and stares at me while I’m working; I usually wave to it, but it just stares back at me. I always wondered if they realized that I’m the one who fills the feeders out back and tosses peanuts to them when they visit.

I have two small shrubs and a number of annuals and perennials in the backyard. Most nearby houses have trees in their backyards, which provide my best opportunity for seeing new migrants – I’ve observed Eastern Phoebe, Blue-headed Vireo, Black-throated Green Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler and Golden-crowned Kinglet in the trees out back. I think the only Field Sparrow I’ve seen in the neighbourhood to date landed on the grass in my backyard because it’s the only one out back that has an open sunny lawn.

The back garden only gets about 4-5 hours of sunlight in the morning, before the sun passes behind the house directly behind us. I’ve planted mostly shade-tolerant plants there; my columbine flowers are doing very well, as are the Wake Robin flowers surrounding the bird bath. Although “Wake Robin” is another name for trillium, the flowers I planted are a carnation cultivar called Silene x ‘Rolly’s Favourite’ purchased from the Richmond Nursery last year – a very different type of plant from the spring ephemeral trillium, and one which blooms most of the summer. I didn’t expect the abundant pink flowers to increase so dramatically in their second year; while I didn’t see many pollinators visiting, hopefully this year will be different!

The hanging plants are my attempt to brighten the side fence with some plants to attract butterflies and hummingbirds – although small now, the flowers will eventually fill out and dangle over the side. I’ve planted verbena, Million Bells, Scarlet Sage and yellow petunias for colour.

There are a few mammals around besides the squirrels and chipmunks. This morning when I woke up I noticed the bird feeder was on the ground – the local raccoon must have been around, knocking it off its hook to get the seed within. When I went downstairs and looked out the back door I did a double-take when I saw this large fellow washing himself right on my back deck – at first I thought it was a cat as I wasn’t expecting the local raccoon to still be out during the day!

I’ve already had to replace three broken bird feeders that it’s knocked down and broken this past spring – the tiny plastic bits that hold either the lid or the bottom together break off every single time. I have started bringing the feeders inside at night in the hope that the raccoon will move on, but clearly that isn’t the case!

Once the raccoon finished bathing on my deck it ambled down to the patio which is where I usually toss peanuts for the squirrels and chipmunks. I cracked open the door and took a few photos – I just love their feet, and never noticed that they were white on top and black below until I started photographing this fellow.

The raccoon was even brazen enough to return to the scene of the crime to see if there was any seed left in the feeder.

Upon finding none, it walked across the patio and started climbing the fence to the right-hand neighbour’s yard.

It paused in front of the lilacs in bloom, the casually started walking down the fence and away from my yard. I wondered what the racoon was doing for shelter – one morning in August 2015 I got up one morning only to see a raccoon sleeping the remains of a squirrel drey in the tree outside my computer room. Could this be the same individual or a descendent of that raccoon?

The raccoon wasn’t the only interesting visitor I’ve had this month. Today when I looked outside I noticed a red squirrel visiting my feeder! This is only the third red squirrel I’ve seen in my yard since we moved here – the first sighting occurred well before I started keeping records of wildlife in my yard, and the last one came visiting in May 2017 before it was killed by a car on the main road a few days later.

I call our subdivision “open” because the wide roads and small yards don’t leave a lot of room for trees to grow so thick that they form a canopy for squirrels to run through or block out the sun; as a result we see very few red squirrels, nuthatches, woodpeckers, or true “forest birds”. There are plenty of Eastern Gray Squirrels, but red squirrels are very rare.

This one was busy sniffing the area beneath the feeder and the patio for food. It looks like the chipmunks and gray squirrels have cleaned out all the food, so I tossed some peanuts onto my back deck. It didn’t hesitate to come up and snag a few for itself.

I would have enjoyed watching the squirrel for the rest of the day, but Doran and I were getting ready to leave for Prince Edward County where we’d rented a cottage for the week. Without being around to keep the feeder filled I was sure the squirrel would be gone by the time we returned (which did in fact turn out to be the case). However, it was great to host this uncommon species in my yard for the morning, and I hope it will return again. I also secretly hope that the raccoon will come back too, as long as it doesn’t break my new feeder!

2 thoughts on “Backyard Encounters

  1. Hi Gillian
    Noticed a wee blooper. Silene x ‘Rolly’s Favourite’ is not a Trillium cultivar but rather a lovely carnation.
    Enjoy your posts.

    • Hi Brian, thanks for pointing this out. It wasn’t really a blooper so much as an unclear paragraph regarding two different plants called Wake Robin. I know my Wake Robin isn’t a Trillium, but I didn’t know what it was, other than the cultivar name from the plant label. I will edit for clarity. Cheers!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s