April 07, 2020
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When a farm transitions into a wildlife park, things get interesting

Julia Bayly | BDN
Julia Bayly | BDN
A bushy-tailed fox is the latest visitor to Rusty Metal Farm. Perhaps looking to cash in on human supplied treats?

Things are getting kind of exciting in and around Rusty Metal Farm these days. In fact, recent events have got me thinking of a possible name change. Something along the lines of Rusty Metal Animal Kingdom, please keep your hands inside the tractor at all times.

It’s no secret that living in rural northern Maine means sharing your life with various forms of slithering, scampering, walking and flying wildlife. For the three-plus decades I’ve lived on the farm, I don’t think a day has gone by that I’ve not seen something outside. Or, at the least, tracks in the snow or mud indicating a critter had strolled through.

But lately, not only have these sightings increased, so too has the variety of species. Not only that, they are a hell of a lot closer to the house. I honestly will not be surprised to one day hear a knock on the door and open to find several critters wanting to come in for a visit.

OK, so things likely will not progress to that point, but there is no doubt the local wildlife has become increasingly emboldened and less reticent to come near the house.

I attribute this to one thing — the lack of Rusty Metal Kennel sled dogs. This is the first winter there have been no huskies on the property. I suspect their presence and constant marking of their territory kept wildlife mostly at bay. Oddly, the presence and markings of tiny farm dog Chiclet does not seem to carry the same, shall we say, cachet.

Which is why not long ago I looked up from my computer, which faces the window looking out on my back porch, and looking back at me was an ermine. He was just hanging out on the woodpile, looking as if he had not a care in the world.

A day or so later, I saw what presume to be the same erimine scampering about outside my living room window on the snow and helping himself to some of the suet I hang outside for the birds.

Julia Bayly | BDN
Julia Bayly | BDN
An ermine has made himself quite at home on Rusty Metal Farm

Apparently, the ermine called his friends, because a few days later, something — judging from the tracks in the snow — larger than an ermine came to check out the suet and decided to take it to go. A fresh ball of suet put out that same day similarity disappeared within 24 hours.

It was my friend Pete who spotted the culprit — an American pine marten, something I’ve not seen on the farm in decades.

According to Maine Audubon, the marten’s only eastern United States territory is northern Maine and northern New Hampshire. Martens require a great deal of territory for its range — up to 2,200 acres — and they love uninterrupted, mature forests with standing dead trees or deadfalls. That pretty much sums up the ecosystem here on Rusty Metal Farm.

They are members of the weasel family and are predators, feasting on all manner of rodents, rabbits, birds, fish and insects. But they also like berries and have been known to frequent bird feeders for the birds and for the bird food. My marten must think he’s found Marten Club Med.

They are active year round and tunnel under the snow into tangles of tree roots to keep warm.

Not to be outdone, there is the fox who is now a frequent visitor to the house. I’m not sure what he’s after, other than last year it seemed he and my female cat Miss Kitty Carlisle were involved in an interspecies romance. I caught them both outside one evening sharing a snowbank and gazing at each other in open fondness. I swear to God Miss Kitty Carlisle’s eyeballs were in the shapes of hearts.

Now, I’m no fool, and as much as I anthropomorphize the critters running around out there, I know full and well these are apex predators that can be death to small pets and chickens. But here on Rusty Metal Farm that has yet been much of an issue. I don’t know if it’s the suet or just a sort of live-and-let-live vibe, but so far these wild hunters have kept their paws off my animals.

Well, to a point. There was an incident last year when I spotted a fox carrying one of my chickens away. But to his credit, when I dashed outside and yelled at him, he spit the chicken out, looked at me with an expression of “whoops my bad, won’t happen again,” and ambled off.

The chicken was fine and, a year later, there have been no more chickennappings.

As for other wildlife, I know he’s hibernating now, but I have a bear that wanders in my fields and close to the house. And I’ve only seen the tracks, but there is at least one or maybe more bobcats out there, too.

I find it all very exciting and fascinating how quickly they reclaimed territory that was theirs before the sled dogs moved in 20 years ago.

Oh? And the best part of all? Readers of my column know of my animosity toward squirrels. Between the ermine, marten and fox, I’ve not seen a squirrel for weeks. I suspect these predators, when not munching on the suet, are hunting down those tree-dwelling rodents. Given that, these predators can camp out on my porch any time. Heck, they can even come in for a cup of coffee.

 


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