The other morning, I walked past Roger as he stood stock still and quiet in the back doorway. His focused gaze clear. Shhh. Walk softly past. I’m waiting to see something come out of that wall.
This particular wall is home to an abundance of life. The rabbits who make quick get-aways when the dogs are outside. Small birds making their nest homes among the narrow little cracks. No doubt, the wall teams with bugs, worms, toads and loads of things we can’t easily see. It must be an ongoing rave of tiny movements between the rocks and the mosses. While Millie is chasing a ball, Brock is frequently sniffing parts of this wall, telling us there is a good deal more than meets the eye. The plant life is spectacular. Such a variety of mosses and lichen covering the rock surfaces it could easily impress a Japanese Zen gardener at Saihoji in Kyoto.
It’s fair to say, Roger spots the majority of wildlife. I may see it, but am often at a loss at identifying and naming. Roger sees, hears, and can identify the type of bird, animal and plant life easily. It’s a skill I seek, but am most often off the mark. Just when I think I can name the birds around Crockern, Roger will casually declare, “I just spotted a long-tailed blahdy-blah-blah”. Lacking his skill set, who am I to question?
As Roger stood quietly in the doorway, his own wildlife hide, I crept up slowly to see what captured his attention. He whispered coordinates of where to cast my view. Just to the right of the Ash tree, down four stones and next to the tuft of ferns. Do you see it? There is a small, horizontal gap. Watch that area. This break in the wall, so easily unnoticed, suddenly was clear as day. The moss worn at the bottom of a decent sized opening. Here is a faint, mini trail leading from the base of the hole out onto the yard. Why hadn’t I taken notice before? Millie and Brock frequently go sniffing about there. And while I chastised my untrained eyes, Roger pointed out the small movement in that particular void in the wall. I focused my attention and saw something. A leaf caught in a clump of moss and fluttering in the breeze? Then it happened again. It was not a fluttering leaf, but a head busily poking in and out from the wall. I too spied what Roger and the dogs already knew. We have a Stoat!
Why this wall? It seems a little close to the house. Then again, we had a badger a few years ago burrowing about 30 feet from the front door. Unlike the badger or rabbit, a Stoat doesn’t dig its own burrow. It’s opportunistic and will move throughout all the burrows and hideaways looking for prey. After it finds its prey, a Stoat will assume the home of the rodent it killed going so far as to decorate its new home with the skins and fur of said-dead-prey. C-R-E-E-P-Y. That said, I suppose it is the ultimate in up-cycling. With any number of stacks of logs, cracks in the walls, rock piles and the like, we’ve probably had a family of Stoats for some time.
Despite their approach to decorating their homes, they are adorable. Those long and bendy bodies covered in a light brown fur on its back and a creamy white throat and belly. Their tails tipped in black. Cute they may be, this small little predator is just that, a predator. My thrill in spotting it was immediately offset with concern for our chickens.
Stoats are known for being well suited to hunting small rodents and rabbits. Bring it on little Stoat! I just spent two days repairing the fourth of our six vegetable beds from rabbit damage. Our local bunnies had burrowed up into the raised bed, despite a barrier beneath the soil. I wouldn’t mind a small cull in this abundant population.
Our chickens are large hens, so should be okay with a Stoat moving into their neighbourhood. And as long as there is an ample supply of rats, mice and other rodents, a stoat should be happy moving in and out of the wall’s hidden burrows. Watching the activity at the bird feeders each morning, confirms a happy balance of supply and demand at Crockern. Our chickens should be safely out of harm’s way.
One concern is stoats are known to eat eggs, but I’m not too worried about that since Brock occasionally does the same thing. In Brock’s early puppy days, we witnessed him gingerly carrying an egg from the hens’ nest to the top of the hill. Situating himself with a view, he would delicately position the egg between his paws . Next, he would surgically make a small hole at the top of the egg, keeping the shell otherwise intact before slurp, slurp, slurping away at the raw egg. Brock’s care in his thievery is impressive, as is his glossy coat. Consequently, Roger and I check for eggs about ten times a day. Brock and stoats be damned.
To encounter a Stoat before setting out on a journey is bad luck, or so goes the myth. As we stand in Roger’s make-shift observation spot, we both feel rather lucky to have spotted this Stoat and welcome yet another member to the diverse collective at Crockern.