New – to me – wildlife discoveries in my gardens

We live in the middle of an old-growth hardwood forest, zone 6a, in the lower Connecticut River valley region of Connecticut. Spotting and hearing wildlife is a common occurrence.

This past winter we observed a fisher circling around our snow-covered land as it followed the scent of some prey.

We often awaken during late winter nights to sounds of great horned owls conversing across tree tops and a favorite spring/summer evening activity is listening to Bard and great horned owls creating a hooting, hollering ruckus in nearby woods.

White-tailed deer, chipmunks, squirrels, possum, raccoons, skunks (thankfully, not many), silver and red fox, moles and voles/mice, snakes of the garter, ring-necked, brown and Eastern ribbon types, and multiple birds and butterflies are common sights. But recently I’ve had two new wildlife sightings in the gardens right behind the house.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA common box turtle has decided a quiet corner of a perennial bed is a cool place to hang. We saw many box turtles when we began clearing our property years ago but, once the clearing involved heavy equipment, these sightings stopped. I love turtles and hated the fact that we stomped our heavy human footprint on their landscape. Until this one moved into the garden, I had not come across a box turtle in the 14 years since we cleared the land for our house. I’m thrilled that this one has been a regular visitor this spring. A little research revealed my Eastern box turtle neighbor is mature, since it is 5-6 inches long, and eats insects, worm and slugs (yes!), berries, plant material and even carrion. Not sure of its gender but I’ll watch for eggs in that part of the garden.



The other new visitor is this Black Rat Snake. I’m not a snake lover. In fact, I cringe whenever I see snakes on television or in movies and I hate being surprised by the many small snakes living within the stone walls on our property. But I’m first and foremost a gardener, so I accept snakes’ beneficial presence. My holy-crap reaction to the sight of this 4-foot long – maybe longer – snake led to a quick look at my Field Guide to New England reference book by the National Audubon Society. I originally thought our new neighbor was a Black Racer but they tend to move away from humans quite quickly and our newest neighbor just stays put. A Google search led me to think this is a rat snake which feeds on small rodents – voles, mice, chipmunks. We have plenty of these which is the only reason I’m not insisting my husband chase this snake from its current feeding area. I first spotted it resting atop a yet-to-be-connected drainage pipe right next to the foundation of our house and adjacent to the main walkway to and from the fenced back yard. The surrounding shady planting bed is full of hosta, which will now wait until next spring to be thinned and transplanted!


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Just taking the photos and doing research about this snake gives me the heebie-jeebies … those who know me well understand what a huge step it is for me to tolerate this snake right next to the busiest warm-weather walkway on our property. But if it earns its keep by reducing the chipmunk and mice population, and it doesn’t make any fast moves to surprise me, I suppose it can hang around a while.

I’ll live with my heebie-jeebies.

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10 comments for “New – to me – wildlife discoveries in my gardens

  1. June 14, 2011 at 2:53 pm

    You’re very fortunate to have those snakes in your yard, and as you said, they will likely help out with the mice/mole/vole population. In fact, that’s probably what attracted them to your area. I’ve got the same problem..

    However, I can totally understand your squeamishness about them. Last week I discovered a rather large garter snake in my yard, the first I’d seen in many years. I was disappointed that he must have moved on because I saw him by my stone wall just one day. Interestingly, a really dumb chipmunk who lives in the stone wall approached where the snake was. The chipmunk came within inches of the snake, which was very still, and the chipmunk seemed unsure and nervous. Not sure if the garter snake was big enough to eat a rather plump chipmunk, but anyway, the chipmunk had the good sense to finally jump down off the stone wall.

    I’ve always considered snakes a sign that you’ve got a really healthy ecosystem going. So just watch out when you’re mowing, and where you place your hands when your’e weeding! Yikes!

    • joenesgarden
      June 14, 2011 at 8:38 pm

      Fern, we have lots of garter snakes, brown snakes, and ring neck snakes. They love the stone walls around our home and gardens. I’m used to seeing them and generally know where to expect them. Even though I’m snake-phobic, I tolerate them as part of a healthy ecosystem. Unfortunately, it’s the larger snakes, like the rate snake, that consume voles, mice and chipmunk. As long as the large snakes stay away from my walkways and doorways, I’m fine.

  2. June 14, 2011 at 5:33 pm

    Most people from another part of the country think of Connecticut as a wall to wall urban environment. Your wonderful post reminds us that we live in an incredible forested, wild, leafy place, with interesting wildlife all around. Your box turtle needs a name. The snake can just be called the heebie jeebie thing.

    • joenesgarden
      June 14, 2011 at 8:41 pm

      Laurie, You’re right. My turtle needs a name … still thinking of a unisex name since I’ve not yet figured out my turtle’s gender. As for the snake … it’s often called whatever blue language streams out of my mouth with each unexpected encounter.

  3. June 14, 2011 at 7:30 pm

    The turtles must be on the move now, I’ve seen two large ones crossing the road recently. As for the snake, that would totally freak me out. I don’t mind them living in my garden as long as I don’t have to see them. And seriously, I will more than likely have a nightmare about snakes tonight – thanks!

    • joenesgarden
      June 14, 2011 at 8:48 pm

      Here’s a snake update, Debbie. I was prepered to live with my heebie-jeebies but the snake decided to move closer to the steps leading to the deck so Ralph said it had to go … too close to pathways used by our granddaughter and grand-dogs. He got the heebie-jeebie thing to wrap itself up in two garden rakes, then ‘encouraged’ it into a large bucket. Once the lid went on the bucket the snake went on a truck ride to an open, human unoccupied, area about 3 miles from our house. My nightmare is finding the darm thing coiled around the drainpipe again in a few days. I hope snakes don’t have homing instincts similar to dogs!

  4. June 15, 2011 at 6:48 am

    Thought I’d let you know that early this a.m. I dreamed I was telling someone about the large black garter snake I saw, and then we both saw 3 or 4 snakes together in a group. They were moving rapidly, in sync with each other so that they appeared to be moving through water.

    Not a nightmare, but vivid nonetheless!

    • joenesgarden
      June 15, 2011 at 7:00 am

      Oh my, Fern … what a dream!

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