This is a small, urban neighborhood of old houses. We get some significant vehicle and pedestrian traffic during the day. The city is bordered by areas of woods, streams and trails. Because of this, we occasionally will find a deer standing the middle of the road early in the morning, the rare bear in someone’s garbage. Ducks walking down the sidewalk. The woodchuck scurrying under a porch, the dart of a fox at the end of a yard. A coyote sighting. Rumors of a fisher in the neighborhood. But this is not the norm here. Here it is mostly feral cats, the whiff of skunk, the pink eyes of an opossum in the headlights, turkey buzzards cruising for road kill. Squirrels, chipmunks. Birds at the feeders. I like to sit on the Urban Porch and watch the much less dramatic encounters.
Each spring the wood bees return to buzz around the back door. The male Carpenter Bees are large, but for the most part harmless. They seem to get excited and aggravated when you walk in and out the back door, as if you are encroaching on their territory, which I guess you are. They will hover right in front of you and look you right in the face with their big bee faces in an attempt to intimidate you. Then they zip away, come back, try to stare you down again and take off. This goes one for maybe a week or two and then they are gone – probably busy boring holes into the high reaches of your house. But the bee confrontation stops, I guess after the mating season stops. The males die off, the females lay eggs and the cycle starts again the next spring. In all the years I have been here, they have never actually hurt anybody. I admit that I kind of like them.
At the beginning of spring, a small black and white jumping spider had decided to make a web right across the front door knob and attach strings to the mailbox. When I opened the door, it sent the spider careening and then it jumped to the inside of the door frame. Some of my friends think I am a little weird like this, but I really like jumping spiders (the very small ones). I like their multiple rows of eyes and their fuzzy faces and the way they wave their little arms around. I belong to a Jumping Spider Group, if you can imagine that. So I gingerly tried to move it off the door frame and outside so I could close the door again. But it jumped again and when I stepped away, I stepped on the spider by accident. And that was that. I felt really terrible. It actually made me cry a little bit. When I think about it, it still makes me sad.
A few times as I’ve come out of the front door, I’ve discovered the occasional peanut left on the front porch, presumably deposited by a squirrel. Somebody in the neighborhood is clearly feeding them. Why they have decided to just leave whole, intact peanuts in front of the door, still in their shell, is beyond me. Is this some kind of offering, or was somebody on their way to deposit their prize inside one of my potted plants and abandoned the mission as I opened the door? Sometimes I will be sitting on a porch chair with the dog, sipping my coffee and watching the neighborhood go by, when a squirrel will dart up the stairs, determined to reach some destination. It will suddenly see us when about a foot away from my shoe, freeze, look startled, and then scramble away. This has happened multiple times. They are just so freaky….
Earlier in the week, it was about 9:30 pm when I stepped outside to take the dog out for his night time walk. I hadn’t even reached the bottom step before I almost tripped over a fairly large opossum. It didn’t react. It didn’t play dead or hiss at me or really do anything. We all just stared at each other for a bit. The dog made sort of a wimpy grumble, not quite a growl, and then stopped. I tried to take a photo of it with my cell phone, which didn’t come out that well in the dark. Since it was blocking our way, we just stood and continued to look at each other until it finally turned and ambled away. I wonder what it would have done had I actually stepped on it. I think they are kind of cool and even freakier than the squirrels….
As I watched the opossum recede and head around the fence into the next yard, it must have surprised a black cat, which came darting out from the same location at high speed and zipped across the yard in front of me.
There are house sparrows nesting in the soffit above the corner porch post. They are there every year. They used to nest inside the antique hanging light over the front door, entering where there was a panel of glass missing. Because of this, you couldn’t use the light while they nested because you didn’t want to cook the eggs (or the babies). And then after they hatched, bird poop would drop on your head as you walked in and out the door, or you would step on the copious droppings underneath. So we took down the light and they relocated themselves to the corner post.
The House Sparrows have pretty much taken over the neighborhood. They are like a gang. They outnumber everybody else at the feeders. They travel in large groups and their voices fill all the in-between spaces where the other birds call. One day I saw a parakeet flying around from tree to tree with them. Somebody must have had their budgie escape. I was glad that at least it had found some kind of community to hang out with, although I wasn’t sure if they had actually accepted the budgie or if it was wishful thinking on its part since it was clearly lost and pathetically following them around.
The Sparrows have been having orgies in the large Rose of Sharon shrub next to the porch for the last few weeks. There are a lot of males around and they are all courting and harassing the one or two females. It seems like more than the two parents are going in and out of that nest, but I’m not sure.
It was with shock when I looked up to see a Blue Jay swoop up to the Sparrow nest, grab a small hatchling and take off. The Sparrow parents began chittering with alarm. I didn’t know Blue Jays ate hatchlings. Even acknowledging this is the circle of life, I felt very sad. This pushed all my mother buttons.
A few mornings ago I came out to water the porch plants and discovered a large hornet had just started to make a small, cone-shaped nest on the ceiling of the porch. I decided to nip that project right away before it got going and turned the garden hose to a strong stream, knocking it down and washing it out onto the grass. A few hours later I returned to sit outside and saw that the hornet had come back and was actually rebuilding the paper nest in the same spot where I had just removed it. While I admired it’s perseverance, I actually said “No way, buddy” out loud to the hornet, turned the hose stream to high and blasted both the new nesting material and the hornet off the porch. It zipped around in a big circle and flew away. I figured that should do it.
Late that afternoon I stepped out to walk the dog and discovered he was back at it again in the same spot, starting another nest. I couldn’t believe his persistence. It just didn’t seem to be getting the message! I grabbed the hose and chased him off. It’s been a few days now and he’s not attempted it again. Maybe he finally got the hint. I can’t help but think some afternoon I will walk around the back corner of the house and notice it made a massive hornet’s nest in retaliation….
So that’s it this week for porch wildlife. I look forward to the arrival of the fireflies on the front lawn. That should happen soon. They appear every June for a short while. The show always fills my heart with the same childlike wonder, year after year.