Adjusting to life in rural Nova Scotia has been full of surprises, particularly when it has involved interacting with the local wildlife. During our time in Vancouver, our exposure to wild creatures was limited to just a few species, unless we went out of our way to drive to the Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary. At home, waking up to the sound of Crows, Pigeons, Starlings, or Seagulls was all we could expect to experience. As far as mammals were concerned, the only creatures around were the occasional Raccoon or Squirrel appearing on our deck, or smelling “eau de skunk” whenever one would trundle through the night on the lawn in front of the condo.
One would expect a bit more wildlife in a rural location but the contrast is proving to be remarkable. Yes, we are still visited by crows, starlings, pigeons and the odd seagull or two, but now we count many more unusual birds as regular visitors. Since moving to Bear River, we see Ring Necked Pheasants in our yard each day. They have become such a common sight in the neighbourhood that we now watch for ‘Bernard’ or ‘Bernadette’ to stop in and scour the lawn below the bird feeders or simply to cross our fields.
The list of regular visitors to the old apple tree is growing longer each year. During the winter of 2009/10 we were visited by just the usual fare: Black Capped Chickadees, Dark Eyed Juncos, Blue Jays, White Breasted Nuthatches, and American Goldfinches. This past winter has added quite a few more birds to the list. We now routinely see Evening Grosbeaks, Common Grackles, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, Mourning Doves, along with a stunning pair of Northern Cardinals and a less common Red Bellied Woodpecker.
Last spring and summer brought an even wider variety of animals to the yard, especially since we put in the ponds. In spite of the excavation, we were serenaded by Spring Peepers, and several other species of frog. The water also attracted more than a few odd visits. One morning we awoke to the splashes of a full grown Cormorant hunting for some of the goldfish in the lower pond. Since then we have seen Belted Kingfishers, several kinds of Swallow, a Wood Duck, a Hooded Merganser, a Green Heron and even a porcupine at the water.
Not all of our wildlife experiences have been as pleasurable or benign as our interactions with the birds. Creatures both great and small are always looking for ways to take advantage of what we are doing here. While a Yellow Warbler sang sweetly in our apple tree last summer, a pair of Painted Turtles moved into the upper pond, and discovered the water lily that I had just planted there. One lily pad after another drifted away, as the reptiles had their snack. All this took place while our potato field was being silently ravaged by Colorado Potato Beetle. I tried to get ahead of them by manually picking off the critters but eventually gave up the battle. Surprisingly we still managed to scratch a few potatoes out of the ground, but far fewer than we had hoped for!
Later in the year, as winter neared, a herd of white tail deer took to grazing our newly planted orchard. There is nothing sadder looking than deer pruned fruit trees. Shortly before Christmas, a Red Fox tried to make off with our chickens. Hector, one of our roosters, gave his life in defense of the flock, though the fox was unable to carry him off. We also have been told to be on the lookout for Coyotes, Mink and possibly Black Bear, though we have yet to spot any of them.
There have certainly been ups and downs in our experiences with Nova Scotian wildlife, but all in all, we are thankful that we are able to interact with these creatures each day. Bald Eagles and several species of Hawk or falcon are frequently sighted overhead, (much to the alarm of our flock of chickens). Between watching Ruby Throated Hummingbirds squabbling over finders rights to our flowers, or doing our best to get a step ahead of the local deer population, our lives are enriched in the process The list is only bound to grow.