Footprints were everywhere, going up and down the boat ramp and all along our deck, and it looked like a mud wrestling match had gone down on the boat.
“They’re back!” I yelled at my husband. He looked up from his morning coffee to see what all the ruckus was about. Yes, I always get a little excited about anything to do with nature. I was pretty sure that raccoons had once again taken up residence near our dock. Using my hunting skills, I studied their tracks and figured they had to be either raccoons or opossums.
And so it began—I was on a mission to find out precisely what was going after dark. I’ve always loved putting up trail cameras in the woods, and this time, I planned to put one up in my backyard. The very next evening, I carefully installed the trail camera on a dock post. I also strategically placed two stalks of celery with peanut butter smeared on them, hoping to get a clear photo of the intruders. The following morning, I could hardly wait to check out the trail camera when I saw that the peanut butter had been eaten off the celery.
Unfortunately, I had the camera situated too low on the post, and all I could see was a very close-up, fuzzy image. I could not tell what critter had helped itself to the peanut butter. Disappointed, I reattached the camera at a position higher up the post, and this time, I scattered a handful of nuts on the deck. To make matters worse, I found some droppings in my yard. Since we don’t have a dog or cat, I set about figuring out what was using my yard as their bathroom. As a hunter, I have learned how to identify the game animals and predators I am hunting by their scat. Don’t be grossed out—this is an essential skill for hunters. With a simple Google search, I was able to identify the scat and determined the trespasser was probably a possum. Furthermore, I found out that possum’s scat can carry diseases. My main concern was protecting my grandchildren from accidentally coming upon possum poop in my yard. My eagerness to confirm the identity of the creatures that had left these tracks and scat was at a high boil!
The next morning, I eagerly slipped the SIM card into the photo reader to see what was hanging out in the backyard. There were clear photos, not only of a possum but of a raccoon and several neighborhood cats! The camera verified that there were a lot of comings and goings with these critters at all hours of the night.
I called Russell Cavender, better known as “The Snake Chaser” (www.thesnakechaser.com), who happens to be excellent at removing from your property just about any uninvited creature you could name. He explained that we needed to wait a while longer to make sure that if there were young raccoons and possums, they were old enough to live on their own if they did not go into the traps. So far, I have not seen any evidence of young critters, but I am keeping my eyes open and the trail camera on. As July is upon us, it is time to set out the traps and move these critters somewhere besides my backyard. Regularly cleaning up the boat and the excrement mess they make is not something I am willing to continue.
THE SCOOP ON POSSUMS
- If you live in an area with lots of ticks, you might want to welcome the possums to your backyard. A single possum can consume up to 5,000 of the parasites per tick season. That means the more possums in your area, the fewer ticks you’ll encounter.
- Possums don’t have any control over “playing possum” (playing dead): This is an involuntary reaction to stress. They exude a terrible odor and can lie motionless for hours at a time, making themselves an unlikely source of dinner for predators.
- Possums are rarely affected by venomous snakes and rarely subject to having rabies. Because they are marsupials, their body temperature is not an inviting habitat for the rabies virus.
- A group of raccoons is called a nursery.
- Their best-identifying features are their black “masks” and the rings around their tails. Their masks are very helpful in preventing glare and enable raccoons to see better at night.
- Raccoons are not picky about what they eat, consuming just about anything they can get their paws on. They are not afraid of living close to humans.
- Raccoons seem to be washing their food or rubbing it to get debris off before they eat it, but do not appear to do this in wilderness areas.
- Raccoons are thought to be color blind, but highly sensitive to green light. They have excellent auditory range and can hear sounds of widely varied frequencies.
OTHER SLIMY AND CRAWLY CREATURES IN MY COURTYARD
Every year, I try my best to make my entry courtyard as welcoming as possible. My pink hydrangeas are bursting with beautiful blooms, and I added some pretty pink and white vincas to increase the drama. Not a week later, after I had planted the vincas, I noticed my flowers were shriveling up and dying. I talked to my gardener, and he said that most likely it was slugs and caterpillars that were killing the plants. He chuckled when he told me about a trick he had learned from his grandmother that was sure to work.
I got a little worried when he asked me to bring him a beer, but I did so, and he then asked for small plastic containers. He proceeded to dig holes next to the flowers deep enough for the plastic containers, and he poured the beer into the containers. As it turns out, slugs and caterpillars are attracted to the beer, and once they crawl in, they drown and die. The next day I inspected the containers, and sure enough, each one held many slugs and caterpillars. Being the “researcher” I am, I found some contradictory information about slugs. I think the slugs may have been falsely accused of killing my vincas. Slugs prefer rotting plants, and they may have helped themselves to the zinnias after the caterpillars had already attacked them!
TRAIL CAMERA FUN!
Learning about the outdoors can start at any age, I love teaching my grandchildren about nature and this was the perfect opportunity to do just that! I found these great coonskin caps at Bass Pro as well as a great nature game by Jr. Nature,
There is so much to discover in your backyard. Have you considered buying your kids a trail camera? What a fun activity for them, capturing images of animals they would rarely see during the day. Better yet, let them get silly and enjoy seeing themselves caught on camera! I admit I like to do that myself.
I spent the afternoon with our sweet grandchildren, Gibbes, Caroline, Elinor, and baby Boden. We talked about wild critters and acted goofy in front of the trail camera. We learned fun facts about raccoons and possums and we giggled when we learned about identifying animals by their tracks and their poop!