Thursday, June 16, 2011

Wild Kingdom

By Deborah Sharp

I awoke to ducks in my swimming pool again today. Before you get the idea I'm going all Tony Soprano on you, let me make it clear: I don't love these ducks. The ducks aren't linked in my subconscious to a mother who withheld affection, who hatched a plan to have me whacked, and who I subsequently tried to smother with a pillow.

No, unlike the TV mob boss, I won't be plunged into anxiety and depression when my ducks leave. In fact, I pretty much hate these ducks, and wish every day they'd disappear. My only anxiety will be over how much extra the pool guy charges for additional chlorine and dealing with copious amounts of duck doody. PS, they're not the sweet-looking ducks Tony communed with, either. They're Muscovy ducks -- waddling, hissing devils so ugly I can't bear to insert a picture here. Go ahead, Google them, and you'll see what I mean.

Note to Animal Lovers: Yes, I know all God's creatures are beautiful. But the Muscovy must have been off pooping in a pool when the Lord was passing out adorable animal qualities.

Note to Ducks: Hello? I know you're not great fliers, but did you really miss that big wide river, just a few yards from the pool?

The ducks aren't the least of it. Maybe it's Florida, but some days I feel like an unwanted visitor in the wild kingdom. I'm all for Nature, until it tries to take over.

I exit the garage side door, and a Mockingbird dive bombs my head, imagining (wrongly) in its little bird-brain I want to steal the eggs from its nest in the pink trumpet vine. I walk out to do yoga in my backyard on Fort Lauderdale's New River, and the dock looks like a bombing range of iguana crap. I pick up the broom to sweep it away, and a chameleon hiding on the brown handle hops off and lands in my hair. On the seawall, I see leftovers from a Night-Heron's after-dark buffet. He's picked a land crab clean, extracting the meat from the legs and claws more diligently than a diner at Red Lobster. All that's left is an empty carapace and a couple of eye stalks.

With all the crab holes in the lawn near the seawall, I picture hundreds of the creatures madly burrowing until they undermine our house and it collapses into the water. More room for the crabs! Beneath my bare feet, I imagine a vast subterranean complex of crustaceans, the land crab version of Lord of the Rings.

Old-timers in Florida (like my dad's family) used to eat land crabs; some of the more recent immigrant populations still do. But the crabs have to be corralled and fed corn meal and leafy vegetables for a week or so, or their meat tastes nasty. Not only is it too much trouble; I kind of consider them neighbors these days. Albeit neighbors who wave big fighting pincers when you come too close:

It's funny that the main character in my Mace Bauer Mysteries has a sideline trapping nuisance critters for newcomers to Florida. I'm no newcomer. As a native, I long ago learned to embrace a live-and-let-live policy toward most of the winged, furred, and feathered creatures that share my space. Spiders, for example, live happily inside my home ... mainly because the really big ones will kick ass on the cockroaches (More genteel Floridians call those ''Palmetto Bugs.'' Take my word for it: They're cockroaches.)

But these Muscovy ducks are getting on my last nerve. If Mace really existed, I'd be tempted to hire her to wrangle the foul waterfowl out of my swimming pool and into a more hospitable spot. Mace has wrestled a gator from a golf course pond, so the ducks should be easy. Alas, she's a figment of my imagination. So I'll keep chasing the ducks into the river, yelling at them and shaking my broom. I just have to watch out for falling lizards, dodge the iguana poo on the dock, and be careful I don't tumble down a crab hole.

How about you? Any encounters with nuisance critters? How do you cope?


Beth Groundwater said...

My nuisance critters in Colorado Springs, Colorado are mule deer. They scrap the bark off trees, damaging them and even killing some. They eat any flowers you try to plant in your yard, including species that they're supposed to hate the taste of, like day lilies. And the poop! I go out in the yard every couple of weeks with a shovel and plastic bag to pick up their droppings.

They have no fear of people or cars and will stand in the middle of the street and stare at you rather than move away from your car, bicycle or you. Tourists love to stop and take their photos, but we locals think of the mule deer as "giant rats." Unfortunately, their natural predators, mountain lions, aren't as welcome in mountain suburbs and tend to stay away, so these giant rats keep on multiplying.

Keith Raffel said...

Wild animals? Running around my house, I have a 12-year old who's 1/3 gator, 1/3 mule deer, and 1/3 Florida panther.

Lisa Bork said...

We had ducks in our swimming pool one year when I was a child. Again, we were a stone's throw from a river and a lake.

Right now we have a deer who is eating my husband's garden and he's trying to think of all kinds of ways to keep it out.

Deborah Sharp said...

Beth: copious amounts of mule deer poop? Oh, my ... makes my iguana droppings seem easier to deal with! Keith: Does your teenager bite?
Lisa: Has he thought of a shotgun? Kidding, kidding. I'm an animal lover. Leaving bowls of bleach out helps with raccoons (not to drink, people, just the noxious smell! Again, I'm an animal lover)

Robin Allen said...

Thanks for the morning laugh, Deborah. Ducks hiss?

I have *a lot* of white-tail deer in my little piece of the Texas Hill Country, and deal with the same things Beth does. I don't mind them because I've left my yard natural so they can eat whatever they want. It's a shame they don't eat cedar trees because those things are a bigger pest than anything.

I also have lots of feral cats roaming around, rattlesnakes (which the roadrunners take care of), gray foxes (that dine on the cottontail bunnies and squirrels), centipedes (evil), scorpions (more evil), and spiders that I, too, use as natural pest control in my house. At certain times of the year, I've got walking sticks and praying mantis (manti?), but they're harmless.

carol said...

People writing about nuisance critters might want to friend Scott R. Mullin on FB. He is a paramedic for Miami Dade Fire Dept and is in charge of Venom One. He answers ALL dangerous critter calls (coral snakes etc) and other exotic stuff. He's busy with the camera and his site on FB is always full of great material. Carol Garvin, Coconut Grove, Fl.

Beth Groundwater said...

For our vegetable garden, we ended up surrounding it with chicken wire, then draping bird netting over the top to keep the rabbits, deer, and birds out.

Lois Winston said...

Deborah, I live 18 miles outside Manhattan, yet sometimes I feel like I'm living in the wilds. Right now I have a city of rabbits living under my deck, along with an opossum who looked very pregnant the last time I saw her lumber across my yard. (Do you know how many babies the average pregnant opossum delivers?) We're constantly waking up in the middle of the night to the smell of skunks, and the squirrels are taking over the street. I've also got a village of voles living under my backyard lawn. You'd think all this wildlife would want a less metropolitan environment. I'm only a mile from one of the busiest roads in the country!

The only thing that helped keep this invasion of critters at bay was the year a hawk set up camp nearby. I'd love to have him back! Anyone know of ways to lure hawks?

Alan Orloff said...

I hear Duck L'Orange is tasty. We've got our share of wildlife. Deer, voles, groundhogs, teenagers, foxes (not too many rabbits, tho!), squirrels, chipmunks, snakes, skunks. Right now, our biggest problem is a stinkbug infestation.

Darrell James said...

In Arizona, most of our wildlife is from the venomous end of the food chain (rattlesnakes, scorpians, gila monsters). But the most socially annoying are the javalinas (wild pigs) who eat the tops off our flowers. It's like someone licking the icing off your cupcake.

Deborah Sharp said...

Robin: Love your Texas hill country, but what a list of menacing critters. I'll send a couple of my Muscovies to take care of the centipedes; don't think they'll take on the scorpions, though.
Carol: thanks for the tip. I rode with Critter Control as a reporter way back, but they handled annoying than deadly animals.
Lois: How many babies will a pregnant possum deliver? Too many.
Alan: Are the stinkbugs distant cousins of your famed cicadas?
Darrell: Our iguanas eat the blooms from the flowers, too .. always managing to avoid the weeds!

Lesley Diehl said...

Hey Deb,

We returned to our cottage in upstate New York in April to find alarge (very large as they aren't into family planning) family or tribe of mice had moved into our kitchen. They were nearly impossible to get rid of. They just kept coming, and coming, although they seemed to get smaller, and smaller. Horrible parents to send in the kids.
We have a woodchuck i nteh back yard which Glenn threatens to make into stew, and I recently found chipmunks in my rock wall. One of them came onto the deck to watch me read my paper. I did not share it. Teh catsdown the road come to visit and the door the next street over does a noon reconnaisance throug hour yard. But ducks? No thank you. I'll stay with the mammals.

Deborah Sharp said...

Hi, Lesley. Why do I imagine that Glenn might actually know how to make woodchuck stew ;-)?
And that chipmunk sounds awfully cute.

Neil Plakcy said...

We've got little lizards everywhere, skittering through the underbrush, climbing the screens, and trying to sneak into the house when we're not looking.

Our community is surrounded on three sides by West Lake Park, so we've got lots of nocturnal visitors including raccoons and possums (or opossums, if you prefer. They don't seem to care.)

Fortunately the City of Hollywood's new design for trash cans has made it a lot harder for the little varmints to tip over. And I'm sure there are gators out there in the waterways. I've been told when you run away from one, to zigzag. Don't want to have to test that theory.

Deborah Sharp said...

Hiya, Neil (my fellow S. Floridian) Watch out for those waterways; I'm told the saltwater crocodiles are moving north from the Keys. Their teeth are even sharper than the gators'!

Sandra Kent said...

My ducks didn't really poop that much. The mother duck would lay on her eggs for twenty eight days. She chose a place away from the pool. We watched her in a Texas Hail Storm but there she was still on her eggs in hope they would hatch. Not one egg was cracked. I wrote children's book about it now at Barnes and Noble Nook called Ducks In My Pool.