Where the Wild Things Are
Living next to a large forest may be a lot of things, but boring is never one of them, and 2016 has, for whatever reason, been particularly interesting in terms of wildlife encounters. Not that I'm complaining, mind you. When we moved here in 2012 (has it really only been four years?) I was actually amazed at the lack of wildlife we saw, as if the previous owners had endeavored to scrub the land free of as many wild things as possible. No birds sang in the trees outside, and no squirrels scampered through the branches. No bees buzzed among the clover in the lawn. For a girl who grew up on the edge of a forest, the silence was downright eerie. The only things we did seem to have in abundance were mosquitoes. I vividly remember being eaten alive every time I walked outside.
In the years we've called this place home, we've worked to change that. We began by putting out bird feeders, starting with your average store-bought seed mix but changing, as I learned about the birds who lived here and their feeding habits, to sunflower seeds and then to actual sunflowers planted in the vegetable garden. Next we put out humming bird nectar (which is slowly being replaced by hummingbird nectar plants), and peanuts for the crows. For the larger animals, we put out a feeder at the property's edge filled with cracked corn, and set up a wildlife camera to capture images of whatever might be living in the depths of the forest. Finally, we immediately stopped the use of pesticides (except in the case of invasive red fire ants. I have no idea how to kill those little monsters organically) and started composting in order to provide natural fertilizers for the vegetables and flowers we grow.
It's been a long, slow road, but the difference is amazing. It seems like every day there is something new to see. I'm fascinated each time I get to experience a creature I've never seen before, and I love watching the ecosystem here slowly right itself, settling into balance. Now we occasionally see a venomous snake, but the rats and mice which were everywhere in the grass of the fields are now in check. Mosquito numbers are down; instead, we now have colonies of bats and dragonflies that descend every evening, whirling and swooping in the falling darkness. A wild hive of honeybees took up residence last year in a dead tree, and every morning they can be heard busily working their way through the butterfly garden we built.
One of the greatest benefits is that my kids now get to live in an outdoor laboratory, experiencing these animals in their natural habitat, learning alongside me. I am endeavoring to teach them (and myself) how to live with nature respectfully. Unless it's absolutely necessary for their safety or ours, we don't interfere with the animals at all. Instead, I'm trying to teach my children to love nature, to appreciate it, and to be good stewards of it.
Anyway, enough philosophy. Below are some photos of critters we've seen this year. As I get new ones I'll post them individually, but this will give you an idea of the abundant diversity around here.