Sir Poopalot and Other Animal Tales

This morning as I headed off to work, I saw the cutest sight – a family of squirrels cavorting in a roadside plumbago bush. Until they saw me approach, they seemed quite carefree, the babies playing and nuzzling each other and just being cute.

Squirrel Family
Squirrel Family

This has been a year of an unusually large number of animal encounters. Remember the rhyme “For want of a nail…”? That has been the story in my garden.

California’s drought of epic proportions made for a rough winter for the birds, or at least that’s how I justified their actions. To get a jump on the growing season, I’d sown a few handfuls of fenugreek seeds in February in hopes of heartwarming dishes like chicken with fenugreek stew. The birds ate EVERY single seedling that ever emerged, leaving me with the heartbreaking sight of their neatly nipped nubs.

Being of the live and let live persuasion, I decided the poor birds needed nourishment too and ordered a gigantic (and expensive) bag of black oil sunflower seeds, touted to be the very best. Really, the descriptions were so good, I felt like perhaps I should consume a few. Anyway, the birds largely ignored the sunflower seeds, showing a marked preference for my seedlings along with plum blossoms and the California poppy seeds I’d sown.

The bag of seeds in the meanwhile was discovered by an inquisitive squirrel that tore a hole in the bag. For weeks he feasted on the veritable avalanche of sunflower seeds, chewing the insides and creating a mess of shells everywhere. I’d often find the squirrel sitting brazenly on the bag, working his way through the seeds, and he’d scamper away with a show of great reluctance when we approached. This continued for a while. Live and let live.

One day I came home from work and found the entire garden dug up! Some of the newly planted plants were completely uprooted, mulch was pushed away from the base of the bushes and scattered on the pebble paths. This couldn’t be the work of just birds who occasionally like to dig around a bit in the mulch to look for insects (when they are not nibbling my seedlings obviously). It wasn’t gophers – there weren’t any holes, just the mulch untidily pushed from the base of the plants. I concluded the nighttime marauders were raccoons. I’d never encountered raccoons before and a little bit of reading around indicated that they tend to go to places where there’s accessible food such as open trash cans or (Eureka!) birdseed. So, the raccoons showed up for the seed and decided they needed something a bit meatier to go with it and ripped up the beds in search of bugs.

Of course I quickly got rid of the bag of seeds. I scattered a ridiculously expensive jar of what really amounted to some pepper and garlic powder and covered only about a fifth of the garden AND needed to be repeated every now and then. This worked for a few days. Then I scattered blood meal here and there; raccoons are supposedly repelled by the smell. I can’t speak for the raccoons, but I was certainly repelled. Instead of jasmine, lily and rose, my nose was assaulted by the unmistakable animal smell that pervaded the garden.

Next I bought a Predator Guard – a solar powered plastic board with two flashing red LED lights intended to mimic the eyes of predators. I had high hopes with this. Until the raccoons stopped by, and I imagine laughed amongst themselves, and in a classic show of one-upmanship dug right in front of the Predator Guard, literally under the very nose of supposed predator.

I wondered how someone with the best intentions i.e. me, could end up the hapless victim of so many herbivorous animals. A line I read somewhere stuck – “It’s not personal”. I finally decided to let it go. Oh, I’ll still scatter some red chili powder and blood meal, perhaps soak a few rags in ammonia and scatter them all around, but for now, I’m just going to live and let live. Mostly live.

Oh and if you were wondering who Sir Poopalot (of the title) is – it’s the name my new bunny should be called, but he goes by something a little more cute, if not quite as apt. I’ve started using his pellets (or poop to be clear) in the garden. Results pending.

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