I work for a coalition of birds, squirrels, raccoons and bees. In winter I feed them as necessary and watch over them from my window overlooking the back yard. In summer I often watch over them from my chair poolside. In the Spring I welcome the newborn and I encourage and watch the bees pollinating the raspberries.
Don’t tell the others, but the bees are my favorites. An arms length away I have a small net with a long pole I use for bee rescue. The little bee girls often skim over the pool to get water. Sometimes they fly so low that they dip into the water and can’t get out. They float there buzzing, raising tiny waves. If I am not there they drown. If I am there I jump up and grab my net to save them. I shake them out of the net carefully on to a sunny place on the pool deck. They stagger around until their wings dry and then they get back to work in the raspberries. No thanks are given nor are they expected.
Sometimes I carefully work my way into the raspberry patch to watch the bees at close range. I have never been stung and do not expect to ever be stung unless I do something clumsy or stupid. They are my buddies.
I am not what you might call a birder. I am not an expert and I don’t even know the names of some that come to the feeder, but I like to watch the birds in all seasons. Regularly I have junco, nuthatch, song sparrow, towhee, chickadee, mourning dove, flicker, blue jays (those we call the Cops). Occasionally we see an exotic bird out of his\her normal range. This happens a lot in big snow years when the migrating mountain birds have to wait down here in the valley until the snow melts. We even have a Coopers Hawk that comes around to pick off a small bird or two. If I am there I chase him but then I am conflicted. Hawks must eat like all of us. I just don’t like them to eat my birds
My French wife and I often give our critters French names. I especially like the ‘lutan joyeuse’. This name means jolly little elf. Their English name is bushtit. They come in flocks to eat their suet, crawling all over each other in a noisy joyous way. Then they disappear as quickly as they came.
There are three different breeds of squirrels here in the back yard. The northwest red squirrels are the native species, the fox and gray squirrels have been imported from the east. We take care of them all.
I like to watch all the different squirrels. The northwest are tiny squirrels. They do not run, crawl or walk. They bounce on their toes like a boxer. They are much faster and quicker than the others and are fierce in defending their feeder. The other squirrels are afraid of them despite the fact that they are only half the size of the others.
We take care of a big fox squirrel family named Bubul which means in French slang ‘chubby’ due to their weakness for sunflower seeds. Bubul himself is the father of the clan. His wife and daughter are both called Bubulette because we can’t tell them apart. We don’t even know how many there are. They are especially beautiful in their brown and tan fur. They are a bit lazy.
The Gray squirrels are not so beautiful nor are they particularly quick, but they are fun. They hang by their toes on the deck rail to stretch to the feeder a few inches below and away. They have created a new Yoga Asana that we call ‘downward squirrel with half twist’. However they often fall out of the pose and are caught by the Wisteria vine.
All of them together serve as the television we don’t have. They are very entertaining at breakfast and lunch.
Sometimes we have Raccoons around and sometimes we don’t. They have a terrible habit of getting run over by cars. Right now I am looking out back and see that the birdbath was toppled again last night so I know the raccoons are still coming around.
I think they feel welcome here because as a boy I had raised a baby raccoon after finding him crying for his mom who was laying dead on the road. In raising the baby I learned the warbling language of raccoons. It sounds more like a bird call than the language of a furry creature but I speak it reasonably well.
A grown man now, when I see raccoons in the yard I talk to them and they seem to take it as an invitation. Because of the raccoons I no longer plant corn in the garden because they always beat me to the ears of corn when they ripen.
The Mountain Lion
One night a few years ago I had a visit from a mountain lion. I did not see it but I know this because when I got up on a snowy winter day I saw only one set of large tracks going across the covered swimming pool. Normally I would have expected to see a bunch of squirrel and raccoon tracks. But there were no other tracks at all. The big tracks ended about six feet from the back fence. The snow was knocked off the top of the fence where the tracks ended. Apparently the big cat had sailed over the fence.
I took some pictures of the tracks and gave them to a trapper I know. I poked a pencil into the snow beside a track to give him some sense of scale. He confirmed the tracks were mountain lion tracks. He told me that there were lots of lions well inside the city limits of Portland Oregon. “You don’t see them much but they are there. Do you see all those signs posted on telephone poles for a lost cat or dog? Well I can tell you that in many cases Fluffy is not ever coming home.”