There’s a new groundhog in the neighborhood. Well, not just in the neighborhood, but under my garden shed. Another groundhog lived under the shed until last year, then he mysteriously disappeared after the snowy winter. Perhaps he had grown too fat and lazy, living in the relative luxury of this garden with ample water, food, and cover, but I suppose when my neighbor gave up on his garden the groundhog might have departed for another patch of vegetables.
This fellow constructed a well hidden second tunnel under the plume poppies (below) only a few feet from the vegetable garden, and for a few years there wasn’t much to harvest due to this furry little guy. I didn’t notice the groundhog’s holes until I cut the poppies to the ground the following spring, and at the time I didn’t see any reason to disturb them.
In the spring following the groundhog’s departure (but before we knew he was gone) my neighbor constructed a relative fortress to protect the garden, so I suspect the new groundhog has moved in not figuring on feasting on the neighbor’s tomatoes and peppers. I filled the hole dug beneath the shed by the earlier groundhog with rocks and debris, and it appears that the new one has dug a home on the other side of the shed.
I saw the new (and considerably slimmer) guy when I was dumping some branches into the compost pile behind the shed, and saw that the window needed repair. While fiddling with the window I looked down, and there he was. After a moment he realized I was standing there and he fled back into his hole in terror. It seems that groundhogs have no sense of smell or human movement to protect them, as I’ve unknowingly wandered upon them several times so close that I could have accidently stepped on them. My sense of smell isn’t so great either, and I was more than a little startled.
I’m certain that this digging of holes under the shed can be of no good, but I don’t plan to do anything to be rid of the fellow, at least for now. I didn’t see any damage to the garden from the old groundhog, though I’m certain that my neighbor would disagree. Now that the vegetable garden is impenetrable the new guy will have to eat something, whatever it is that groundhogs eat, but if there’s no damage we’ll coexist peacefully.
I’ve planted very few plants intending to attract wildlife, but in a garden chock full of trees and shrubs there will be critters. Where there are flowers, there will be butterflies and bees, and then birds, so that in an acre and a quarter that is densely planted with plenty of water there will be an abundance of beasts, large and small.
The ponds, in particular, seem to attract a large share of wildlife, most attracted by the plentiful drinking water, but some more interested in the rapidly increasing population of koi and goldfish. A few weeks ago I went down to the swimming pond (above) to feed the fish and noticed a small koi on its side at the pond’s edge. The other fish were not flocking as usual to the edge to greet me in anticipation of of being fed, and it wasn’t until I started to scoop the dead fish out that I noticed his mouth was covered by something. Oh, a snake! Duly startled, the snake swam off with the small fish clutched in its jaws. I jumped, but I’m quite certain I didn’t scream.
Of course, this isn’t the first snake that I’ve seen in the swimming pond. Several times I’ve seen them as I’ve been floating in the pond, and usually they go the other way when I come close. I’m quite certain that there are no poisonous water snakes in northwestern Virginia, and the small snakes I’ve seen in the water are not aggressive at all, so I’m not too worried to be in the pond with them.
For the most part the wildlife does its thing with little interference on my part. After a few years of letting deer munch away on the hostas, my wife decided enough was quite enough, and since I’ve kept the vulnerable plants sprayed with a repellent so that the deer visit regularly, but don’t stop to eat.
My wife and I have seen foxes (which seem to have vanished as more civilization has encroached), and of course there are bunches of squirrels. There are tiny burrows under boulders at the ponds’ edges, and occasionally I see chipmunks scurrying around, though they seem very aware of the hawks that are perpetually circling overhead. A pest control guy attempting to keep the squirrels out of the attic (unsuccessfully) trapped a possum and skunk on successive nights, and a year or two ago a neighbor reported a bear sighting, though no one else seemed to believe it. It wouldn’t surprise me if the bear was living in our garden. Every other type of creature seems to call it home.