Saturday, July 23, 2005

Morning Surprises

Old morning ritual: Get up before dawn, brew my tea and take it out on the porch to watch the sunrise. New morning ritual: All of the above minus the sunrise (porch is on the sunset side of the house.) Here at the new house, I may be watching, among other things, the bats.

Yep, we have real bats: wren-size brown ones that like to swoop down and gobble up whatever is fluttering around the porch lights. And guess who was sitting directly under the lights yesterday morning, the first time one of these speedy little bug catchers came by for breakfast and brought twenty of his friends?

One of them flew not six inches from my face, so fast I finally get that like a bat out of hell analogy. What did fearless PBW do? Why, she shrieked like a girl and ran in the house so fast she left flame trails, is what.

I really don't want to be afraid of the resident fauna, so I braved the pre-dawn Moth Tartar feast again this morning. I sat tense and quietly terrified, waiting for them and remembering everything Jeff Corwin ever said about not fearing bats. Jeff, you're a crazy man, do you know that?

The bats never showed up, and as the sun turned night sky into that lovely pre-dawn violet-blue, I switched off the porch lights and relaxed. That was when something that looked like a big silver dragonfly with its tail hanging down sort of floated by the Japanese maple near me.

I peered at it, thinking, Oh, God, what now?

It moved weird -- fast/slow, fast/slow, and not like a bug at all -- and went into the flower gardens. Since it didn't bring twenty friends with it, I stepped off the porch to have a closer look.

There hovering above the white roses was this teeny little critter, no bigger than my thumb, all silver and blue, flying on dragonfly wings. I was wondering if Celestial Seasonings had accidentally added some illegal herb to my tea when I saw that it had a beak. It finally dawned on me that I was looking at a real live hummingbird. Right there, not two feet away from me.

I watched it sample some of the roses, and then it seemed to notice me and delicately floated off around the house. I was tempted to run after it, but I was still kind of stunned and lost in the magic of the moment. I've never seen a hummingbird except on television. It was like discovering a fairy in my garden.

What's the most surprising thing you've ever found in your backyard?


  1. Anonymous12:25 AM

    A praying mantis, as long as my hand, walking crazily up the side of the house. Never seen one before except on TV and I had no idea they were so BIG. It happened last summer and was extremely cool.

  2. Tomato thief squirrels.

    I've had squirrels living in my trees, of course. A couple were even pseudo-pets. It wasn't until we lived in south Texas that I saw one make off with a tomato from the plants I'd so carefully tended.

    I didn't grow them there after that.

  3. Anonymous1:05 AM

    A raccoon, lazing on the fence when I came home from work.

  4. A very substantial, very odd fungi that I dug up this year after trying to mow it down the year before. I didn't notice it until last summer, the first one I spent at this house, and I must have stared at it for half an hour wondering if it was going to try and eat me. I only got rid of it once I had a) a very long-handled shovel and b) thick cotton gloves to haul it away with.

    I have no idea what it is/was, but it looks like something from space, and scares the everloving crap out of me. I keep finding chunks of it here and there, like it's trying to reassemble, Terminator-style. I can easily imagine it sneaking through my bedroom window to suck out my brain.

    Hummingbirds are favorite birds in my family. I always feel blessed when I see one, whether it be in the real world, or a mention in a blog I enjoy reading.

  5. Anonymous5:25 AM

    The family of foxes (mama, papa and baby) eating the catfood on the shelf outside my kitchen window. How did they even get up there???

    I'm used to feral cats, the odd possum and raccoons, but the foxes were a first.

  6. Anonymous6:08 AM

    An Orchid and a Hedgehog. Although not at the same time. A rare (around here) woodpecker was kinda cool. I nearly trod on the hedgehog though.

  7. Anonymous6:24 AM

    My dad, dead drunk, after a night out on the town with his vet buddies.

  8. Not nearly as romantic as your hummingbird, but two years ago, we had a skunk take up residence under our 3-season porch. Not fun.

    And just yesterday, we found a giant snapping turtle in my garden. Apparently, she had just laid eggs somewhere in the neighborhood and was trying to make her way back to the swamp when she ran into our chain link fence. So much for that short cut. My friend hoisted her over the fence carefully braving the hissing and groping feet and she was gone within 20 minutes.

  9. Anonymous8:26 AM

    After the stinging caterpillars and the bats, and the beginning of your watching the silvery dragonfly-thing, I was afraid you lived near Jurassic Park.

    There is nothing like a hummingbird in the yard -- it's like having an angel. In our old place in California, years ago, my brother and his wife were visiting and when a hummingbird swooped near him, he said, "The locusts are huge here." He really meant it -- he'd never seen one before, and his only frame of reference were cicadas.

    Surprising in our yard? Baby bunnies, several of them, out nibbling the dandelions, so relaxed they lay down while they ate.

    Not quite a backyard story, but a major scare as a kid -- because of your Jeff Corwin comment, this reminded me of it -- of being nine years old, living in a lake area in Virginia -- I'd run down to one of the ends of the lake where streams fed into it. I had a huge net with a long pole to it (left by the previous owners of our then-new house)because I wanted to catch a frog. As a pet.

    I stood on the bank of this stream -- I was in luck. Bullfrogs all over the place! I held my net up. But I realized the frogs were mating (to be perfectly honest, I wasn't sure at first, because some of them actually looked like two-headed bullfrogs to me). So I paused, wondering if I should wait until it was over and they all separated. I mean, this was not just a handful of frogs -- at least six paired couples were there.

    Then, I felt something on my foot.

    I looked down.

    A black-colored snake.

    Given that the only snake that looked like this in the area was popularly called a gave me the heebie-jeebies.

    It was looking at me, coiled on my foot. Well, part on my foot, part on the mud. It was a big snake.

    I closed my eyes, froze, and thought: "Don't move. Don't move. Don't breathe."

    I counted to 15.

    Opened my eyes.

    It had slithered off.

    I ran like, well, like the dickens, dropping my big frog/fish net, barefoot, just running back to the street. Holy cow, was I happy to be alive. And I never went looking for a pet frog again. However, as a result, I've never been very scared of snakes, because this first experience with them was not all that bad -- the snake, after all, had no real interest in me other than (I'm sure) keeping me away from her prized frog farm.

  10. A squirrel doing squirrel things.

    When I was returning to my apartment building, I stopped to watch a squirrel. Someone had left the front door propped open, so the curious squirrel went into the building. Seeing that someone had also left their apartment door on the basement floor also open, it scurried into the apartment. I went upstairs to drop off my groceries and then came out to see if I could find the apartment owner. As I came out, the squirrel emerged the apartment, went up the stairs and back outside again!

  11. I know bats are beneficial creatures, but I'd rather brave the "writer-eating" horses.

    As for my backyard? I don't think anything I've ever found in my backyard (including my dead St. Bernard) tops knowing I had to sleep in the bed my husband found the snake in. Especially after learning several months later that there HAD been another snake in the motor home all along. That one was curled up under the cool waterjug stored in the shower. Where was it while were were there with the dogs and cats at Christmas? I have no idea.

  12. That would have to be the approximately 8 billion tadpoles we found in my daughter's wading pool last week. The frogs have been busy. *grin*

    Aside from that, we also have fun watching the hummingbirds dive-bomb each other and the squirrels do acrobatics to steal bird seed.

  13. A moose. My husband actually saw it, sitting in his office looking out the window. It was the strangest thing. Where I'm from in Northern Ontario, Canada, there are moose everywhere. But not here in suburban upstate NY.

    This thing was running like hell through the yard. Went into the woods behind the house and kept on going. He'd had already run for several miles, as the police were trying to catch him. They never did *smile* Good on him.

    I've seen families of deer, bunnies, raccoons, cats (and the resulting carcasses left by them, not pretty,one bunny was decapitated. So sad.), dogs, about 30 turkeys treking through the yard in the early morning hours. And also, old farm tools from the 1800's, as this house was built in 1850.

    We have bats, too. They used to come down through the fireplace, but we finally got glass doors for it. We've had several at at time in the house. The hubs catches them with a towel and brings them outside.

    Last summer we came home to find a bunch of baby bats crawling around the floors, climbing up curtains and the backs of the furniture. I've never had the creeps so badly in all my living days. *Shudder*

  14. All the different locations where I lived taken together, a lot: Roe, hares, rabbits, foxes, raccoons, martens (they eat the cables inside the parking cars), red squirrels, moles, wild doves, magpies, the only poisonous viper we have in Germany, tons of hedgehogs and entire bat colonies.

    Inside houses: two raccoons, several squirrels and bats, a dormouse and three other mice, a bunch of finches (trying to pick little bits out of the fluffy white carpet in my parents' sleeping room) and a colony of swallows under the roof.

    Since the only beasts that give me the creeps are spiders, I don't mind chasing the assorted local fauna out of places where they don't belong. :)

  15. Anonymous10:18 AM

    When I was at my mother's house in Illinois, several neightbors running through her back yard hollering and pointing up. There was a tornado with one of the neighbor's brand new shed swirling in it. Fortunately no one got hurt and the property damage was minor

  16. Big, gorgeous, naked guy... Okay, okay, that's just a fantasy.

    We live smack damn in the middle of the city, streetcars, buses, the works. So catching sight of a racoon always freaks me out. I once thought they were the size of bunny rabits, but they're as big as a small/medium size dog. Also, while I've never run into one (thank god) I've heard that there are coyotes(?) in a couple of the bigger wooded city parks.

  17. When my parents lived near a canal in FL, we used to see pink flamingos in the morning. For some it's probably not shocking, but I was raised in the suburbs of NY. Moving to rural FL was like moving to another world.

  18. Anonymous11:01 AM

    You live in Wild Kingdom, PBW! I can't wait to hear about more of your discoveries.

    Here's our latest backyard surprise -- complete with photographic evidence!

  19. Anonymous12:31 PM

    A real live velociraptor.

  20. Anonymous12:41 PM

    Hummingbirds are magical, aren't they? I've only seen a couple, but they take my breath away...

    Most surprising thing I've found in my back yard? I'd have to choose between three:
    1) A deer playing hide-and-seek tag with a stray cat.
    2) A magnificent light show, put on by tens of thousands of fireflies. They put Christmas lights to shame.
    3) A half-naked man urinating in the bushes.

  21. Geez! I must live in Wild Kingdom. We've got squirrels that chew the wood trim to shreds trying to get in the attic when winter turns cold (below 30 degrees F); mockingbirds in spring and summer that sing ALL NIGHT LONG in the trees next to the bedroom (I'm convinced they have amplifiers & microphones); woodpeckers in the giant dying pecan tree; and at night, it wouldn't be a surprise to encounter a skunk, possum, or raccoon. Currently, there's a territorial war going on between the blue jays and the mockingbirds. The nicer wildlife are our resident hummingbirds and the doves who try to mate on top of the ceiling fan on the patio. Weirdest sight? Looking up through a skylight and seeing a raccon sprawled across it.

  22. July 4, 2004 we had a huge mountain lion saunter past our dining room window and walk up the driveway as if he/she owned it!

    It was a choice between grabbing the camera, or calling the neighbors. Dang, I called the neighbors and I don't even like them all that much...

  23. A water moccasin. It didn't inspire awe, but I certainly felt a jolt of fear.

  24. Alison, in case this parakeet is about 6 feet and watches TV a lot, you might ask Doug Hoffman about it.

    Life raptors? Well, I knew the net connects people all over the world, but from other planets? That's a nice surprise. :)

  25. Anonymous2:39 PM

    The weirdest thing I ever had in my backyard was a buffalo.... in Tampa, FL. Of course when you factor in that I was attending college at USF at the time and lived a block away from Busch Gardens it makes more sense. The thing did quite a bit of damage to fences and cars before they finally caught it and herded it back inside the fence.


  26. Anonymous4:14 PM

    Jaye said...

    Big, gorgeous, naked guy...

    Actually, times three and in the front yard, yeah--hadn't thought about that in years.

    When I was in college, I lived in a one-bedroom house on the same property as a rooming house for guys. I came home one day as a rain was letting up to find that three of my neighbors were tossing around a football in the rain. They were wearing baseball caps and shoes.

    Before I figured out whether to get a really good look or avert my eyes, they saw me and dashed inside. Ah well....

  27. Anonymous6:09 PM

    A bear.

    When I lived in Nelson , BC. We had bears, deer and once, a cougar inour backyard.

    Like Carter and Alison, we also had Hummingbird Feeder. It was great! They'd come and feed, and they were so pretty and special. We called them "Hummies". *g*

  28. Anonymous6:47 PM

    Actually in my backyard? Bear tracks in the snow.

    "Backyard" of my former office place? One winter day, in the tree across the river (that runs through downtown Boise Idaho) from the office was this huge, majestic full grown bald eagle. He took off and for a second flew right at those of us watching out the window, then he turned up river and away. I don't know if I will ever see anything as absolutely awe inspiring as that eagle. It was unbelievable.

  29. A full grown deer bounded through our yard last month. That's astonishing because I live in a city--sidewalks, buses, houses close together--we do squirrels and pigeons around here for wildlife.

  30. Anonymous10:03 PM

    Last week, I saw what looked like an injured bird on our deck through the back door. Lots of flapping wings and bouncing around. I walked right up to the door for a closer look, and there were actually two birds. And they weren't injured-- they were doing what the birds and bees do.... definitely the most surprising thing I've ever seen in my yard.

  31. Anonymous11:36 PM

    A bloody great Eastern Grey kangaroo. Yeah, laugh at the stereotype, but it surprised me. There he was nibbling away at the dew fresh front lawn as the sun rose over the bay. He raised his head and we stared at each for a few moments. Then, as Nature is wont to do, he dismissed me and went back to his breakfast.

    He could have bounded away (as they do), he could have come at me (as they can do when startled), but I wasn't that important.

    I went back inside, got my coffee and watched him from the verandah.

    Sometimes, it's the small interactions with nature that make a day that much more beautiful.

    Jaye Patrick

  32. Anonymous4:26 AM

    As a bonus, there's a fence that runs past my office window. I looked up with the distinct feeling I was being watched, and lo, a squirrel and a cat were peering in.

    Another time, I heard a thump-screeee....thump-screee of a lil young squirrel trying to run up the window.

    or taking out the garbage and having six cats sitting peering at me. Kinda creepy, guys.

    There's also Coco, the angst cat that will hurl himself to the ground in woe if attention is not paid. He comes barrelling out to say hi to me when I pass by.

  33. We have a raccoon that comes round every evening, begging for food at our bedroom sliding glass door. My son named him Meow Mix. Bold as brass, this raccoon!

  34. In my childhood home, we lived in a new suburban community stuck in farm country. There were a lot of animals around. A horse, chickens, rabbits, and a cow or two at the end of my street. There were a lot of lizards and garter snakes around the yard, too. Where I am now there are a lot of possums and hummingbirds. There's a woodpecker in one of the trees.

    The weirdest creature, though, is this psycho squirrel. There are at least 6 cats and most of the squirrels are smart enough to keep away. Not this one. This one stands its ground and scolds the cats. It's learned to make a sound that's like a cat's meow. It's the strangest sound you ever heard. And the cats don't mess with this squirrel. It's pretty funny seeing all the predators cowed by what would be their prey if they weren't such well-fed housepets.



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