Country living means fully embracing critters
Willis Webb

Retirement four and a half years ago involved moving into a house that not only was “out in the country” but that was perched on a river bank. The house sits 10 feet above the ground upon concrete and steel pillars that are anchored in more concrete and steel — beams 3- 4 feet thick and sunk into the ground — all interconnected.

Living in such a house means embracing nature and adapting to the critters around you. Most of what we see regularly are birds and insects. The first year brought an appearance or two from snakes, but a great deal of outside activity here plus the presence of Sawyer, The Famous River Wonder Dog, seems to keep the snake visits minimal.

There are also several selections that I’ve made that are not snake-friendly. First, there’s a substance that we sprinkle around the fence line and the house that is supposed to have a smell that repels reptiles. It must work, because we haven’t seen a snake in a couple of years. Then, there is an assortment of hoes, rakes, mulching forks and a pry bar that can dispatch snakes to reptilian hell (there can’t possibly be a snake heaven). And, if those methods fail, there’s a 12-gauge shotgun that tends to dispense those slithery scumbags in a score of directions.

We do manage to very much enjoy the birds who keep the insect population down.

Having an elevated house provides several advantages. First, underneath is one big carport. Secondly, there is room for a solid, secure metal storage building that houses the tools and lawn and garden equipment required to maintain 2.5 acres.

You can sit in law n chairs “under” the house and remain somewhat cooler than the temperature outside the reaches of the house’s shade. That space under the house also attracts good variety of birds and, after an aggressive demeanor toward them early on, I’ve managed to adopt a conciliatory approach to these feathered residents. My avian-knowledgeable Life Partner has identified some of our flying neighbors as Eastern Phoebes. These birds show no signs, despite my earlier objections, of abandoning their habitat to a crotchety retiree. They build nests of moss and anchor them to the house with mud.

These birds are timid. They live near waterways and build nests on rocks, under bridges and on the eaves of houses.

Phoebes are fly catchers, one major reason I’ve developed this live-and-let-live policy that paved the way for a truce with them.

Life Partner has pointed out that these birds identify themselves with their call: “Fee-bee! Fee-bee!” They have a dark head and a solid black bill and the easily identifiable flycatcher tail feathers.

Our cohabiting avians have an ability to hover, similar to a hummingbird or a helicopter, and that seems to enhance their ability to nail those pesky wasps, mosquitoes and other insect pest varieties.

My admiration for the phoebes really grew when, as I was sitting in a lawn chair, a wasp approached my head. Out of nowhere came the phoebe and nailed the wasp in midair, then f lew to the nest to share this spicy delicacy with the young phoebes, one of two broods the birds will produce in a year’s time. Life Partner told me that not only will phoebes eat wasps but spiders, worms, asps and mosquitoes on a long list of pesky insects.

I’ve really taken a liking to Phillip, the name I’ve given our resident male phoebe. Anything that can dispatch a wasp so proficiently and quickly has a place in my heart. Plus, you can get attached to such good and industrious parents as Phillip and Penelope (the name I’ve given his mate). I’ve spent up to an hour sitting and watching them catch and feed these insects to their phoebe young. Then, you can’t help but mar vel as the young phoebes take their maiden flights to also become hunters of the insects I so despise.

You go, Phillip and Penelope and your Phoebe Phamily.

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2011-05-05 digital edition

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