Once in a while we hear of sightings of Black Bears on the Saanich Peninsula, but we seldom see any evidence of this large carnivore at Leaning Oaks. That changed in the fall of 2016 when I nearly ran into a large black bear at the bottom of our driveway. Fortunately it turned and ran into the woods immediately and seems to be very wary of humans. Unfortunately, it has also learned to knock over compost bins and rummage through the garbage and the recycling that has been put out at the curbside, which does not bode well for his continued coexistence in our neighborhood. Black bears (Ursus americanus)n Vancouver Island tend to be larger than the species is on the mainland, and active for a longer period of the year. Proper management of garbage, compost, and fruit trees tends to reduce human-bear conflicts and hopefully this particular bear can co-exist in our neighborhood.
We only know of 3 instances of cougars (Puma concolor) occurring at Leaning Oaks, although we suspect they pass through our property more often than we know. The first is a sighting from the previous owners of our property. The second was a single footprint on the top of a pile of soil dumped the from a wheelbarrow the night before. The third record is by far the most fun, when Leah had a female cougar screaming from under our bedroom window one night. Cougar screams are loud and blood curdling at anytime, but particularly so at close range and when you are alone! Click here and choose the clip of a female cougar in heat to get an idea of what Leah heard that night. There are cougar sightings in our neighbourhood almost every year however and Leaning Oaks is frequented by deer daily, so we keep hoping to catch one with our wildlife camera. Vancouver Island has one of the highest densities of cougars in the world with an estimated population of 1200 cats. This photo was not taken at Leaning Oaks - this is a slightly overweight cat from the Calgary Zoo.
We have recorded two members of the weasel family here at Leaning Oaks, River Otter and Mink. Two others are possible, Pine Marten and Ermine, although to date, we haven't observed these latter two yet.
Mink (Neovison vison ) likely are here more often than we know, hiding and hunting under our decks or in among the shrubs, largely out of site. Occasionally we catch a glimpse of one crossing a path or popping up onto on of the decks. Small birds often alert us to their presence, and alarm calls from Dark-eyed Juncos or Spotted Towhees are always worth investigating. Our longest looks tend to come when one visits the pond and hunts for Bullfrogs, such as the one in this photo.
Bullfrog hunting by mink is a frenetic affair, with the mink moving rapidly and constantly, entering every small crevice and hollow around the edge of the pond, looking for hiding bullfrogs.
Usually, our annual war on Roof Rats (Rattus rattus) begins in November when the first heavy rains of winter tend to drive Roof Rats into the garage and the house. . The past two years however, our battle with the wiley and prodigious rodent has started at the end of August as the Roof Rats have turned to our tomato patch and started to eat our tomatoes on the vine just before they ripen.
We think we finally have found the last remaining hole that they can gain entry into the house. This small opening along side the chimney required a gymnastic maneuver worthy of a Cirque du Soliel artist. Steel wool has proven to be the most evective deterrent to the chewing rodents. Roof Rats have proven to be an expensive species, most notably by eating the insulation off the wiring system of one of our vehicles. They were also the reason we eventually moved to an all metal garbage can for storing bird seed and entirely metal compost barrel.
Red Squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) were more numerous here when we first moved to Leaning Oaks, but in the subsequent years our population of Eastern Gray Squirrels (see 5.) has burgeoned. Our native Red Squirrel; a much smaller species, doesn't seem to do very well with Gray Squirrels here, and they only seem to co-exist for short periods of time. The Red Squirrel in these photo has done better than the others and has been here off and on since August - a record 7 months! Given the size of the population of feral house cats and the number of Gray Squirrels in the area, we are amazed he has managed survive.
This is another species that we know we have around, but rarely see. The other morning the dog of Leaning Oaks was very keen to follow this raccoon's meandering trail through the forest. Without the snow to capture the distinctive prints we'd never know of this visitor. Raccoons (Procyon lotor) have adapted well to living around people and in urban environments, having figured out how to scrounge through garbage, gardens and pet food to keep fed.
Many years ago we ended up with a young raccoon that we had for about eight months. Aggu could get into any cupboard in the house, unscrew the raisin jar, climb onto any surface and wiggle into the best cuddling positions!
[Note: we do NOT advocate keeping raccoons or any other wild animal as a pet]
Eastern Cottontails (Sylvilagus floridanus) were introduced to Sooke in 1964 and since then they have spread through much of the southern and eastern part of Vancouver Island. Here their numbers fluctuate widely and quickly. We've had to use wire rabbit-proof mesh on the vegetable garden (the only part of the garden we have fenced against rabbits and deer) in order to ensure we have some greens for ourselves. They do provide food for both Great Horned and Barred Owls and more than one dinner party here has had an owl-rabbit chase as the half time show. From time to time we find a rabbit stomach in the woods or on the lawn, and we don't know what predator has that modus operandi, if you do, leave a comment below.
Full disclosure: this photograph was not taken on Leaning Oaks, but on Salt Spring Island. We will keep trying for a photograph from here, but it may be a while as we have only seen them here about five or six times. We think that we can likely thank them for cleaning the pond out of invasive Bullfrogs. River Otters (Lutra canadensis) can be found by the ocean (like this photograph) or by rivers, lakes or marshes. The first one that we saw on the property was running down the driveway, possibly to a nearby lake. They move well on land, unlike the Sea Otter which would never be seen like this fellow out on the beach.
As much as we'd love to say that we have a pristine piece of land without aliens...of course it is not true. The Eastern Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) was introduced to Vancouver Island in 1966 via a zoo in Metchosin. From that time they have expanded throughout southern Vancouver Island and north past Nanaimo along the east coast. They love the Garry Oak acorns , the spilled bird feed and suet and teasing the dogs. We have done some modest attempts at control and at one point were rewarded with a native Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus), however we were unable to sustain the control. There is more on this invasive from the Garry Oak Ecosystem Recovery Team: http://www.goert.ca/documents/InvFS_sciucaro.pdf
Two biologists on a beautiful property armed with cameras, smart phones and a marginal knowledge of websites took up the challenge of documenting one species a day on that property. Join along! Posts and photographs by Leah Ramsay and David Fraser (unless otherwise stated; started January 1, 2014.