The hummingbird, the fox, and the snake

We’ve had a few small wildlife events around here in the last few days. The first was the return of the hummingbirds, and the first time this year that one of them trapped itself in our garage.

hummer on a wire

This is the best shot I could get of the little bird. She (I’m pretty sure it’s a female because I can’t see any red on its throat.) was bumping up against the ceiling of the garage, as they always do when they fly in, and perched on one of the garage door opener wires for a rest. It’s right up against the ceiling.

I was not optimistic about doing anything for it, although we have rescued a few in the past. I finally decided to close the garage doors and turn on the overhead light. I put a step ladder under the light and climbed up with a towel. The hummingbird flew immediately to the light and I grabbed it as gently as I could. It was not tight enough, though, and the bird escaped. It came right back and I folded the towel around it and got it. I then opened the garage door and took her outside, where she flew away as soon as I opened up the towel.

The second event, or series of events, is our continuing story of the foxes. One, we think, makes our driveway a regular stop on its rounds. It comes by in the morning when Leah feeds the outdoor cats their breakfast, and it comes by in the evening when she gives the cats their supper. Sometimes it gets catfood, and sometimes it doesn’t. Zeke is usually on the front walk in the evening. When the fox appears, Zeke scrambles down to the gate and barks. Lately that seems to spook the fox so it leaves.

Leah is quite annoyed at the fox because we can’t leave catfood out, but, at the same time, she says she feels sorry for it. I think that’s because she worries about whether the fox is getting food. I have assured her that it’s a wild animal evolved to find natural sources of food, but she has her doubts.

On my morning dog walk Saturday, I found an example of the fox’s natural food. Just down the street from our house I saw a fox dive into the poison ivy at the edge of the woods. Zeke didn’t see it, fortunately. When we got to the point where it had been, I saw it watching us from a few feet away in the woods. I grabbed a quick shot with my phone.

fox in the woods

It’s very hard to see the fox, so I zoomed in some.

zoom fox in the woods

This is a bad shot, but it was the best I could do while holding the dogs’ leashes in one hand. The fox watched from here for a while, then, when it realized I was watching it back, it retreated deeper into the woods. When I looked down, I saw a dead chipmunk at the edge of the pavement. I think we scared the fox away from its kill, and it was reluctant to leave. The chipmunk body was gone when we came back, so I assume the fox returned and got it.

Along the way back, one of our neighbors stopped to warn me of a “rattly” snake in the road near her home. Her house is up the street from us, so not on our regular walk, but, obviously, I had to go up there to see the rattly snake. I saw the snake but I couldn’t get a picture. I wish I had been able to get some shots, because this was the first time I have seen crows harassing a snake. They were diving at it in the road, but not getting too close. The snake was in the process of slithering off the road into the weeds when I first caught sight of it.

I’m sure it wasn’t a rattlesnake; it was some kind of black snake. The crows flew away when we approached, so the snake got away.

Snakes on a road

Leah and I saw this snake last week when we took the dogs for a short evening walk.

ringneck

This is a blurred shot. It was past sunset so the light was bad, and all I had to take the shot was my phone. On top of that, this little snake was really moving. I didn’t recognize it. In fact, I’m not sure I have ever seen one before. I searched online for a black snake with a white ring around its neck and quickly found that it was – surprise! – a ringneck snake.

This link leads to an article about the ringneck snake at the Savannah River Ecology Lab website

According to the SREL site, ringneck snakes are 10 to 15 inches long. The one we saw was less than six inches, so it was almost certainly an immature example, or possibly a hatchling (see the image of a hatchling ringneck in a person’s hand at the SREL site). SREL says that the ringneck snake has one of the largest ranges of any North American snake. Its range spreads from Florida to Canada, across the US Southwest and up along the Pacific coast.

Wikipedia says, “Ring-necked snakes are believed to be fairly abundant throughout most of their range, though no scientific evaluation supports this hypothesis.” However, SREL cites a capture-mark-and-release study by Henry Fitch in 1975 that found densities greater than 700 to 1800 per hectare (2.47 acres) in Kansas. That’s a lot of snakes.

This small, shy snake seldom shows itself during the day, which probably explains why I had never seen one. But then a couple of days later I saw another one when I took the dogs on their morning walk. This one looked like it had been run over at the edge of the road, but when I nudged it with my foot, it raced off into the weeds.

I should have taken a picture before I nudged it, but I didn’t want to take a picture of a dead snake. Dead snakes are not uncommon on the roads around here. Just last week, in addition to the live ringneck snakes, I saw one large black snake and a large copperhead that had been run over. Both had apparently been sunning themselves in the road after a cool night. That was probably what the little ringneck was doing as well. Since they’re small, the ringnecks aren’t as good a target for our local drivers as larger other snakes.

Catching up

This is a catch-up post for a few things that have happened recently that don’t really merit their own post.

First, we finally got our building permit last week. Two things surprised me about it. The first is that they handed me a permit right after they confirmed that I had all the documents they require. They didn’t require any kind of approval prior to giving the permit. The second thing that surprised me was the cost of the permit. The cost made it clear to me that the building inspection department uses permits as a revenue source.

The permit box, full at last

The permit box, full at last

So now the building site has an official document allowing us to proceed with construction. Unfortunately, it has been raining so much that neighbor John, who will excavate for the basement and foundation, hasn’t been able to work. We have a chance of rain through next Tuesday, and then, at least for now, a forecast of several sunny days. Those days will come right about when we leave for a few days on vacation. John isn’t sure whether his helper will be back from his own vacation by then, so maybe they won’t be able to work until I get back. I really need to be there when the work is done. I expect some questions to come up, especially when they hit bedrock a few feet under the surface.

The second event was Zeke’s most recent bid for freedom on Saturday. I opened the door onto the deck so that our little dog Lucy could go out. Some time later, after we had forgotten about the door being open, Zeke apparently squeezed out. We didn’t realize he had escaped until at least an hour later when we called the dogs to get some table scraps and Zeke didn’t come. He was out about five hours. I drove around looking for him, but never saw him. Around 10 pm I took Lucy out for her final walk and found Zeke in the back yard.

When he saw me he glanced around, like he was considering running, but something stopped him. That something was a fairly badly sprained right wrist joint. He had some real difficulty walking, and some obvious pain from it. Here he is looking sheepish back on his bed in the living room.

sheepish zekeNote the wet spot on his bed next to his left foot.

I gave him an NSAID prescribed for the back pain he has sometimes, and that seemed to help, at least by the next day. He has recovered enough that I can take him on a short walk, which he seems to tolerate, but an hour later he limps a little more. I won’t go back to our regular walks until next week.

I also discovered that he tore his left dewclaw again. He did that originally a few months ago when he wandered away from me while I was working at the new house site. He has been licking his wrist and his dewclaw since then.

This nail is not supposed to be this color

This nail is not supposed to be this color

The last item is another turtle report. We found this one crossing Huffaker Road as we returned from our weekly huevos rancheros fix at our favorite Mexican restaurant. (We do it often enough that our regular waitress came to the table with one sweet tea, one unsweetened tear, a bowl of lemon slices, one bowl of ranchera sauce and two bowls of regular salsa in addition to a bowl of chips, even before we ordered.)

We went back to help him across the road. I know it was a “he” because of Wayne’s previous help with that identification.

Turtle, giving me the evil eye

Turtle, giving me the evil eye

He was just small enough for me to pick him up with one hand. He ducked into his shell at first, but came back out to look around as I moved him to the side of the road. He was not exactly feisty, but he was also not shy. I put him in the grass on the side of the road he had been heading towards. I hope he won’t remember any business he left undone on the other side.

An unfortunate start to the hummingbird season

I wish I could start the hummingbird season with a happier story.

On Saturday we had left the screen door to the deck open for the cats and dogs. Unfortunately, a hummingbird came in and trapped itself against the sliding glass door. I drew the curtains across the window, hoping to help it find its way back out the open part of the door. I looked from the outside, but all I saw was Lucy between the door and the curtain. I hoped that the bird had found its way back out, but a few minutes later when I looked in Lucy’s kennel, I saw this sad, little body.
dead hummingbird

Sorry to subject you to that.

I guess the hummingbird dropped to floor level after I closed the curtain and Lucy went for it.

I was not happy. (Leah says I went ballistic on her.)  I know, Lucy is a dog, and dogs are predators, so they will kill animals under the right (or wrong) circumstances. Sylvester, one of our cats, has also killed a hummingbird. Sylvester routinely kills anything he can, from lizards to birds. I expect it, but I still don’t like it. We have already had to take down a bird-seed feeder because Sylvester was using it as a hunting ground. I don’t want to have to stop feeding the hummingbirds.

I don’t like it when one of our cats or dogs kills anything around here, but I especially don’t like it when they kill hummingbirds. Hummingbirds are one of my two favorite birds. Even aside from their beauty and amazing flying ability, they seem to be interested in us, at least a little. Sometimes when I’m out in the yard, one will fly up to me and hover at eye level, staring at me. It seems to be sizing me up for something. It finds it, or not, and then flies away. A few days ago one flew up to the same door that proved so deadly a trap on Saturday and stared inside. That door is where we hang the hummingbird feeder. It seemed to be letting us know they’re back. I’m anthropomorphizing, but still, the most interaction we get with other birds is when they fly away when they see us.

My other favorite bird is the pileated woodpecker, and I think it’s for exactly the opposite reason. The pileated woodpecker seems supremely uninterested in humans and their petty activities. They’re busy and just can’t be bothered.

I get the sense that they think they’re better than us. Maybe they are

The fox and the hound

Something has been eating the outside cats’ food. We suspected that it was a new stray dog that showed up several weeks ago. The dog is so skittish that it runs at the mere hint of a human’s presence. This picture looks like a spy shot, but it was the best I could do through the kitchen window screen.

stray_winter15

The dog looks like a cross between a basset hound and some kind of Australian shepherd dog. It has a fairly large body and head, but short legs.

We have been feeding it for about two weeks. We started partly to protect the cat food, but also because the dog was outside and exposed to some pretty harsh weather. I put an old dog house at the end of the driveway, hoping it would get in during the coldest nights, but it didn’t. Neighbor Deb says it seems to be sleeping near or in one of their out buildings.

It turns out that the dog isn’t the cat food eater anyway. The real culprit is a fox. Unlike the stray dog, this fox is not at all skittish. Here he is in the driveway after scouting for food. He, or she, is a real beauty, and healthy looking.

foxindrive

I know the fox has also been eating the dog food we leave for the stray, because he left his calling card one day — poop in the dog food bowl. I have noted that kind of behavior before.

On Saturday the dogs were on the deck making a racket. I went out and saw the fox. He walked casually around in the back yard and then sat down to look at me, Zeke and Lucy.

foxsittinginback

Zeke was barking, of course, but the fox ignored him. I shouted and waved my arms, but he only stared. Crazy human. I went down off the deck to get a couple of rocks. I threw one in his general direction. He was not impressed. I threw another, trying to land it closer to him. He jumped and ran back about six feet and then stopped to watch again.

I have written about our foxes and my ambiguous feelings about having them so close to the house. I have decided that it’s best for everyone if they stay away, but they seem not to take me seriously.

But the fox is a problem for another day. Our real problem is the stray dog. With us feeding him and Deb providing unintentional shelter, he’s probably OK for the short term. I want to get him to a rescue group so they can find a good home for him, but he is absolutely unapproachable. He sometimes watches from the woods as I pass with the dogs, but if I look at him or otherwise acknowledge him, he immediately retreats.

A trap seems to be the only option. We have live traps but nothing big enough for him. We have been told that we can borrow one from the local humane society or the county animal control. We will eventually set a trap and hope he calms down once he’s restrained. Dogs will sometimes do that.

A local rescue group saves a lot of animals at our pound, so if we can get him there, he stands a chance of finding a home.