Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Garden Guardians

The garden/yard of Adventure Farm has a small water feature that has served to enhance the human experience as well as attract many of the area wildlife. I give much credit to my native plants and my little pond and waterfall for the beauty and entertainment I find in my garden each day. Not only do I have toads, snakes and dragonflies that are obviously drawn to the water, but also some not so welcome garden and pond visitors such as raccoons, squirrels and rabbits.  I love my snakes as anyone who knows me will attest, and I can't wait till spring to hear the toads gathering at my pond from around the neighborhood. The dragonflies are awesome too, and do a great job of taking care of the mosquitoes, both larval stage and flying, which leads me in a round about way to a recent standoff between two of my very favorite visitors and guardians of my garden. These two are at the top of my list of favorites, and at least one does a nice job of keeping some of the not so welcome guests at bay.

        Dragonfly on Garden Peas
For many years now I have had a pair of cooper's hawks that nest in the neighborhood and visit my pond frequently. One year I also had the pleasure of their fledglings hanging out in the yard for about 24 hours stumbling around like drunken teenagers as they were leaving the nest and learned to get around on their legs and wings, but that's another story. All summer at least one, the male I think, claims this neighborhood as his territory. According to Wikipedia and some birding friends, their primary food choice is birds. However, they also are known to eat small rodents and lizards, frogs and snakes. Not exactly what I want in my backyard with my friendly snakes and toads, but none the less, I'm crazy about this bird.  He guards my yard during the day and I suppose has gotten many a tasty bird meal from my yard as well.

As evening comes I have another guardian who arrives. This past spring we had a pair of barred owls nest in a wooded area on the next block. They too would use our pond and hang out around our yard into the evening. I became accustomed to hearing the call of the barred owl around 5:30-6:00 in the evening as I watered my garden and would often see one silently arriving to sit in a neighbor's tree overlooking our yard. It became a lovely ritual that I looked forward to. I began to think of the hawk and owl as taking shifts, one going to bed as the other took over.

Last week I learned how possessive one hawk is of his work shift. I was out in the garden one morning picking tomatoes before heading off for my work shift when I startled, and was startled by, the owl getting a drink from the pond before he retired for the day. He hopped away and stood staring at me. I crept back into the house to share the experience with Guy. When we returned he allowed us to observe him for a few more minutes before fluttering a few feet to the top of our backyard fence where he quietly sat watching us. Of course, the bluebirds were not so quiet. They were shouting the alarm and getting louder. I can only imagine what Mr. Cooper thought when he heard the ruckus that was not directed at him. But when he discovered the "problem" he went absolutely crazy. He drowned out the bluebirds with his screech and swooped down at the barred owl hitting him on the head. I swear he was shouting about Mr Barred taking his shift. The owl ducked and then flew to a more protected area of the fence where there was some vegetation to hide in. Actually, he didn't seem all the concerned, just annoyed. In fact the harassment went on for 15-20 minutes with the hawk swooping or sitting nearby staring, but the owl seemed unconcerned and at one point was actually looking down at the ground as if he was looking for a mouse to snack on. Guy and I were having a great time watching all this and took pictures like crazy.  After a while the hawk got tired of harassing the owl and getting no response and Guy and I decided it would be a good idea to get to our work, so we left Mr Barred on his perch and left for our day. I haven't met the owl in the morning since, but I sure hope to see him around again soon. I need him to keep those bunnies and squirrels out of my garden.

Backyard Stand-Off
Barred Owl (left) Cooper's Hawk (right)