Humans and critters hurry to prepare for winter

 

Over the weekend we finished the last of our urgent garden jobs, but we weren’t the only ones hurrying about. While we covered the fountains and spouting pots and raked, we were under the watchful eyes of dozens of garden critters, all rushing to complete their own autumn chores before the weather gets bad.

The local chipmunks are the most common residents. We have tons of them. The little ground squirrels build extensive tunnel systems including pantries, and right now our resident chipmunks are gathering the last of their supplies. They’ll spend most of the winter underground in torpor, only getting up every once in a while to feed.

We see them scrounging under the bird feeders for spilled seed, out front popping the tops off acorns and rummaging in the vegetable garden gathering up the remains of a couple of half-ripe pumpkins that rotted on the ground. I suspected they’ve been helping themselves to the half-eaten apples I find in the lawn, too.

Of course, the squirrels like their share of apples, too, but since they can’t use the chipmunks’ secret tunnels, it’s hazardous for them to cross the concrete drive and open terrain to reach them. Both local gray and red squirrels are happier pilfering from the bird feeders and taking cones off the spruces.

It’s harder to spot the smallest critters, but a quiet observer can spot the leaves moving where a tiny vole forages for seeds and insects. Their high metabolic rate means they sleep, then must hunt and stuff themselves to refuel several times a day. Voles are very vulnerable since they have to be out in all seasons. They battle the weather as well as predators. In our garden, vole numbers are down. They haven’t recovered from the harsh weather last winter.

While we enjoy the antics of the chipmunks and squirrels, most of the voles we see are dead. The dogs are the apex predator in our yard and excellent vole hunters. And while they’ll happily eat rabbits, chipmunks and squirrels if given the chance, there’s something unsavory about voles — they’re never touched. It’s hard not to feel sorry for the tiny creatures, so I enjoy spotting a live one even though I know it may damage my plants.

We haven’t seen many rabbits this year, although the dogs got one the other night. The body disappeared from where it had been disposed of, so there’s another garden visitor around — a raccoon, we guess. We are usually plagued by rabbits, so I have to admit I don’t miss them. They’ll be back as soon as we have a mild winter, though, and they’ll be as hungry and destructive as ever.

We’re old and set in our ancient ways, so the rasp of our rake tines fills the yard this time of year. It’s probably less efficient to rake than to use a blower, but it’s quiet and I don’t care if every leaf doesn’t get cleared away. The lack of noise and leisurely pace of the rake allows us to see the rest of the garden’s residents scurry about their business. Life outdoors in winter is hard for animals and humans. How lucky we are to be warm inside and well fed. It’s a blessing we should share.

 

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494
 

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