The Southern Home Bestuary: Living with our critter friends and enimies.

Looking for Love
May 28, 2009, 10:25 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Black Snakes and similar species – Ignore

Although not the black snack mentioned this rat snake is commonly killed as being poisonous when it is not. It is now in a defensive posture, but will go about its business if left alone.

Although not the black snack mentioned this rat snake is commonly killed as being poisonous when it is not. It is now in a defensive posture, but will go about its business if left alone.

During the Spring a young man’s fancy is suppose to turn to love. Well, we aren’t the only ones impacted in such  manner.

When mowing the yard a few days ago I noticed a dead limb had fallen from one of my cedar trees. Like the typical southern cedar, this limb had no bark and  was a smooth leafless stick about 7-feet  long.

On my next pass around my four-acre yard, there was not one limb, but two. The other limb was moving. It  a black snake about 7- feet long and 2 1/2-inches in diameter. This was the largest black snake that I had ever seen. We also have an indigo snake, an endangered species that is even larger, but this was a  huge black snake.

Only the day before I had encountered two black snakes mating, so it was apparently the time of year for them to get that done and make more black snakes.

One cannot tell too much about the mental state of snakes, but this big snake was moving with speed and apparent purpose towards the stick. I can only surmise that it was looking for love, and he thought he had found it in that this limb was almost the same size.

When he reached the stick he laid his head on top of it and used his tongue to test the scents.  If a snake can ever be said to sigh in disappointment, I believe this one did. Apparently grievously disappointed, it reversed back onto itself and slowly returned  to the woods to continue its search for a like-size  partner.

He was looking for love, and this time he was disappointed. My hope is that he will succeed, and I wish the same for all of us.

The Southern Home Bestuary
May 27, 2009, 7:22 am
Filed under: Uncategorized
Photos taken during initial house stabilization

Photos taken during initial house stabilization

I live in a house that was started in the 1790s that is located in the woods 8 miles from town. This is the seat of a historic Georgia plantation. This was a working plantation, and Whitehall, the name of the house, was not a grand dwelling from Gone With the Wind.  In the main house there are only six rooms. – two upstairs, two downstairs and two in the one-story lean-to portion. There was a detached kitchen, which I replaced as an office.

When I rebuilt the house, I took one of the lean-to rooms and made a bathroom out of it and put the kitchen in the matching room on the other side of the house. I also made access to the attic, replaced the original plastered walls with sheet rock, closed up half the windows, two of the rear doors and dropped the ceiling of the downstairs rooms a foot. To mask these changes I recovered the exterior with vinyl siding.  The new double-pained window sets that I installed and the foam insulation in the attic and walls helped my heating and cooling bills. Nonetheless, these alterations also provided ample room for a variety of insects, gastropods, rodents, reptiles, birds and even an occasional amphibian to homestead. Instead of only having a home, I had a biological community.  Lucky me.

Some of these creatures are harmless, others are obnoxious and a very few are dangerous; and these are just those that live inside with me. Outside is the domaine even more “wild things” that also fit in the previous categories.

This blog concerns how to coexist with those besties that live with, among and close to Southern homes.  When I describe them I will state whether they are nice to have around and need to be assisted in their life cycles, those that are harmless that we can coexist with, those whose populations need to be controlled (and how) and those that need to be evicted. 

Recent arrivals in the South from the North will quickly note that there are many more varieties of living organisms present here than they are accustomed to dealing with. Snakes get a lot of play in northern folklore about the South. Sure, we have many varieties, but only a few are poisonous. If I find a raddlsnake  close to the house, I will kill it. Perhaps I will dispose of one or two a year. The majority of the other snakes, even though they may grow to 6 or 7 feet, are harmless and are best left alone to do what they do. They mostly feed on small rodents and this somewhat thins the population of rats, mice and squirrels.  The more they eat, the fewer I am apt to have living in the house with me.

As the blog progresses I will proceed to describe my adventures with these creatures in no particular order. If a person were to do this exhaustively there would be volumes about insects, as these are by far the most numerous co-inhabitants. I will only talk about some of the more obnoxious, dangerous or interesting ones. Similarly, there are many books on birds. Those that I can identify that live with, and very close to,  me I will talk about.  Rodents and larger mammals will receive a disproportionately large mention, and these have both pest-control aspects as well as can make a significant contribution to mine and my dogs diets.

I have a history of eating what I take. This is documented in my books Practical Bowfishing (Stoeger, 2004), Crossbow Hunting (Stackpole, 2006) and Backyard Deer Hunting: Converting deer to dinner for pennies per pound (AuthorHouse, 2009). I also have another blog, Backyard Deer Hunting that features putting inexpensive eats from the outdoors on the family table.

While this blog is based on my own experiences, comments are welcome. Be warned; however, that I kill things and very often eat them. This is a part of the life cycle binding me  and the creatures that I live with and among.  I have no intentions of making this anything more than a fun, practical treatment of real-life events. Those who want to pursue this subject with more scholarly rigor, can  go to the Web and find the nitty-gritty about scientific names, related species and so on. I will not attempt to do that here.

Wood Rats and the Southern Home Bestuary
May 23, 2009, 7:58 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Wood Rats  – Remove – Trap and relocate

Wood rats are large enough to cause serious damage to house wiring and vehicles.

Wood rats are large enough to cause serious damage to house wiring and vehicles.

Being an outdoor writer and living in a 1790’s home located in thick woods, sometimes puts me in closer contact with the outdoors than I would like – like when the outdoors moves indoors with me. My most recent conflict with the “natural world” has been with wood rats.

Wood rats are hamster-size creatures and have many characteristics in common with all rodents. They prefer to move about at night and as their numbers increased they frequently woke me up at all hours in the process.  Typically they came down the walls behind my bed after dark and made their return trip at about daylight. Their running up and down the rope to a window’s sash weights sounded like a gong going off just behind my head. They also apparently delighted in scampering on top of the panels in my dropped ceiling which added to the general racket.

I sometimes had mice in the house, but these most often moved downstairs into the rooms of the house where I could easily trap them. The rats were about 10-inches long and weighed about a pound compared to the 1-inch and 1-ounce size of the mice. Needless to say they created quite a bit of noise. They also had the potential to do serious damage to things like insulation and electrical wiring. Many house fires of unknown origin are caused by rats chewing through the insulation of electrical wires and starting fires. 

I took a two week trip and returned to find that a rat  had gathered sufficient dog food and torn sufficient insulation from underneath the hood of my truck to set up housekeeping over the engine block of my ’85 Nissan. In the process he/she also chewed up a bunch of the wiring in the truck.

I did not want to poison them for feat that my dogs would eat any dead rats that they found. It took two tries to discover the correct size of Haveaheart trap to catch them. It has a toggle board in the middle of the trap that closes the door and holds the animal until I retrieve it. I set the trap under the house where I found tracks in the dusty soil. The first night I caught one. I moved the trap in the house upstairs into an opening under the first-floor lean-to portion of the house. One of the rodents ate the food in the first half of the trap and then started filling it with bits of broken plaster, insulation and whatever as if it planned to make a home. Somehow it sprung the trap and escaped.

Again relocating the trap beneath the house again, I caught two more rats on subsequent nights.  The final tally was three adults and two juvenils.  I am baited them with bits of homemade nut bread and they seem to be eager to take that.

As I have a blog about backyard deer hunting, readers might suspect that I generally eat what I kill or catch. This is true. I often talk to my Vietnamese barber Leon about eating our local “tree rats” (squirrels) and he tells me of eating rice rats back home. My wood rats however, get thrown away with the kitchen garbage. Decades ago I did put out rat poison between the floors,  and for all I know these rats have also been feeding on it. So I am not about to eat, or recommend, eating fresh-caught wood rats that live in old houses for fear of taking a little arsenic along with the meat.