Encounters with Wildlife in Our Bush
Curated by Cathy Wilson
By Brent Bowyer
March 28, 2023
Living on a fifty-acre bush lot in Huron County north of Wingham, we have seen many interesting animals.
There are lots of coyotes around, but we rarely see them. We do hear them yipping and yapping, especially on summer nights when the windows are open. They have caused our neighbours much grief with their attacks upon their flock of sheep. Seeing young lambs and ewes ripped apart has a way of changing your outlook on these predators (ravens too will attack newborn lambs and calves, pecking out their eyes). More than one of our barn cats has become a meal for a coyote too. The neighbour told my wife one time that he had seen coyote tracks right in her footprints after she’d been walking in the snow. It was following her. You could get a bit anxious about all this….
Once in a long while we have seen a fisher bounding through the snow across the back yard. They have a very distinctive triangular face and loping kind of run.
We enjoy the Canada geese as they fly overhead quite low sometimes and like to hear the “whooosh” of their wings beating powerfully. Hearing the squawk of the sandhill cranes as they fly overhead, long necks outstretched is wonderful too. And seeing the long-legged great blue herons and kingfishers around our little pond is a sight to behold.
We look forward to seeing all the migrant songbirds going through each spring: goldfinches, purple finches, phoebes, nuthatches, orioles, towhees, rose-breasted grosbeaks, even the occasional indigo bunting. Catbirds, mourning doves, kingfishers, all kinds of woodpeckers, grackles, blue jays, the occasional cardinal. Did you know that flickers eat more ants than any other bird?
Catching view of a snowy owl is also very special. They are quite shy of people so it can be hard to get a picture.
Wild turkeys were re-introduced to Southern Ontario some decades ago, and they have multiplied incredibly, finding the soybean, corn and wheat fields much to their liking.
Something we look forward to each spring is the chorus of spring peepers, small tree frogs, coming from the pond. Long may it last!
One fall day, our son saw a snapping turtle digging into the mushy ground next to one of our trails. He (the turtle) got himself covered with a few, thin inches of soil and moss. We wondered how that would help him keep from getting frozen that winter. Another time, a snapping turtle came up from the pond and laid about 15-20 white eggs in the garden after it had been tilled up in the spring. They looked like ping pong balls and had quite a soft, flexible outside “shell,” not hard and brittle like a hen's egg. We saw some of them hatch later on.
Beavers, well, we have a love/hate relationship with them. We love to see them and their dams at Algonquin Park. But here, as they have dammed our little creek almost every year for 22 years, we hate to have so many trees drowned and forest destroyed. Yes, they do create habitat, but they also destroy another already-existing habitat. We have tried many ways of getting rid of the beavers, including “beaver baffles,” pipes that run through the beaver’s dam and let the backed-up water through. These rodents are so persistent though that we mostly have to resort to calling in a trapper.
Likewise with groundhogs and raccoons. Groundhogs can be cute to look at when they stand up on their hind legs looking around, but if you are a gardener, you’ll dread their presence. They can quickly strip your vegetable garden of everything in it. And growing sweet corn, if raccoons are about, is a total lost cause. By the way, did you know that groundhogs can climb trees? On a hot day, we have sometimes seen them sunning on top of a fence post or up in the crotch of a tree.
A favourite thing with grandchildren is going out to look for red-backed salamanders, easy to find under logs and rocks or in the leaf litter in the bush. A few years ago, they caught more than twenty in an hour's walk.
As you go over the intermittent stream towards the back of our bush, there's a hollow soft maple tree on the right-hand side. Early on we saw a large pile of poop pellets at the bottom. One time, looking closer, we also saw a tail of an animal sticking out. It was the resident porcupine that had settled in for the long term. We look for its tail every time we go by now.
Once June comes, we’ll see lots of holes in the lawn where the skunks go digging for the June bug larvae. We try not to get too close to the skunks!
We don't see opossums very often, but one once came right up the driveway to the house and was about to enter the porch. While I don't mind looking at them from a distance, we didn't want this one too close. They are detested by those who keep horses as they carry a disease that harms the horses.
One time, when my wife was out for a walk, she happened to look up in the trees and see a large barred owl looking down at her. It didn't move; it just watched her. She said it was a mystical encounter, something you never forget, as mostly we only hear the barred owl with its “Who cooks for you, who cooks for you?” call.
One time a friend was sitting on a high ridge leaning against a tree in our bush. He was calling wild turkeys and noticed a long brown animal coming toward him. It was a young cougar! Hoping to get a photo, he slowly reached for his camera, but the cougar quickly took off. A few weeks later a neighbour looked out his back window and saw two adult cougars with some kits. A few days after that I heard some very loud snarls of a cat coming from behind our house. Many reports were coming from all over the northern part of Huron County about people hearing or seeing cougars. The Ministry of Natural Resources said they were likely jaguars escaped from private zoos, but we doubted this. Local sheep farmers were finding sheep torn to pieces in a way not typical of coyotes. There were also sightings of black bears. For a while, we took extra precautions by carrying pepper spray, bells on our arms, a long sheath-knife, and a marine foghorn to scare off the cougars and bears.
It's always quite a sight to see the deer standing on their hind legs reaching to get the rotting apples off the trees in early winter and, in late winter/early spring, coming right up close to the house, sometimes in herds of four or five to graze on the grass over the septic bed. Around that time, we go looking in the bush for the antlers (“sheds”) that fall off each year.
We feel really fortunate to live close to nature, to be able to learn more about so many animals.
All photos were taken in our bush and on nearby farms in the Municipality of Morris-Turnberry by Rennie Alexander, a good friend from Wingham who often hikes and hunts in our bush.
About Brent Bowyer
I am a retired public-school teacher aged 71. Carol and I moved to our rural bush property between Wingham and Teeswater where we bult a timber frame home in 1998, having previously lived in Petrolia, Sarnia, and Wingham. Half of our land is provincially designated wetland and most of the rest is a managed woodlot. Gardening, woodturning/woodworking, hiking, birdwatching, family history, folk music, poetry-writing, and reading are some of our interests.