Banner for Sara's Bestiary page

When we first moved out to Huntoon Street in September 1993, my focus was mostly on our new house, with the assumption that the surrounding acres were really for Ron, who'd already developed quite a bit of bird-watching interest. But soon various beasts began showing up, and I got hooked on looking for the next glimpse of birds small and large, as well as deer, coyotes, raccoons, 'possums, and more. Pretty soon I began moving from window to window, trying to take their pictures using a simple point and shoot camera. Gradually more animals appeared, gradually we provided more different kinds of food and water, and gradually I upgraded my photography equipment. The result was some pictures technically much better than others, but all a record of the Huntoon wildlife we see regularly and enjoy greatly.

We started out with a few birdbaths to provide water plus a variety of hanging seed feeders, stocked with black sunflower seeds, the almost universal favorite with all our bird (and other animal) visitors. One longtime favorite photo shows three feeders in winter, all occupied by multiple colorful birds. Another shows a bunch of equally colorful birds around the rim of a summer birdbath. Finally, a shot from winter 2014 shows a bunch of robins all crowded around the small open space of water on one of our frozen fishponds. We use an ordinary stock tank warmer to keep at least a small space open all winter.

birds at open area in icy fish pond  

winter birds on hanging feeders birds around birdbath rim

Orioles are always eagerly anticipated, welcome visitors. They appear in our area about the first of May, with most leaving by the end of the month but with the chance that a few breeding pairs might stay around. Beyond lots of cover and water, we offer three main foods: sugar syrup, cut orange halves and grape jelly. The last we discovered a couple of years ago, and find is very popular.

orioles and woodpecker Orioles at syrup feeder Oriole on jelly

One thing that attracts birds all year round is something called "Summer Suet." It's based on lard, rather than suet, so doesn't ever smell and it's ingredients are easier to find.

Basic recipe:

2 cups lard
2 cups chunky peanut butter
2/3 cup white sugar
4 cups instant oatmeal
2 cups white four
4 cups yellow cornmeal flour.

I heat the lard in a large 4+ pyrex cup measure, then add peanut butter to take the liquid up to 4 cups. I then decant that liquid into a significantly bigger bowl, stir in first the sugar and then the oatmeal, then add flour (it binds quickly to the oatmeal when done in this order, rather than clumping). Finally stir in the cornmeal.

birds at feeder in winter

oriole and finch at summer suet bag

Red-bellied woodpecker on Summer Suet bag

Over the years, we've had a number of notable bird visitors, one of which (whom?) was "Newt," a guinea fowl who probably had wandered off from a relatively nearby farmyard. S/he was nicknamed "Newt" by Ron, short for "Newt Guinea." Below right see two photos, one a closeup, and the other a longer shot of our screened porch, with then-cat Mrs. M looking with mild interest at Newt, who often perched on the top of the porch steps. After about a month Newt vanished - we've always hoped s/he found his/her way home. We also fairly regularly see hawks perched near bird feeders, hoping to swoop down on careless small birds as they come to feed. Fortunately, what usually alerts us to the hawk presence is a sudden absence of those targetted little birds!

Hawk on hanging feeder bar Closeup of Newt looking through porch door Porch photo of Newt and Mrs M

The stars of our bird world in recent years are definitely the turkeys that began to appear about four years ago. Of the now many photos I've taken, my favorite remains the one taken the first year we saw many turkeys (it also was used in the banner image heading this page). It shows a line of two mother turkey hens and seven chicks, all in a line crossing our side yard. That year we had a great deal of fun watching the first batch of "our" chicks grow up; since then we've had even more fun seeing what we assume are those grown-up chicks return along with increasing numbers of new descendents.

Turkey hens & chicks photo 2012 turkey bunch photo

It's especially interesting to watch the behavior of some of the (dominant?) turkey males. One, two, or even three of them fluff themselves up and spread out their tails when in presence of flock females, but apparently not in agression against each other. A non-violent competition? Guard duty against outsiders? The second photo below remains an odd favorite, a rear view of 3 males forming what appears to be almost a bouquet of spread out tails.

turkey males supervising Photo: Turkey fans

Finally, three recent favorite photos show a couple of turkeys watching a line of quail in the snow, a bunch of turkeys all roosting in a dead tree, and another bunch of turkeys walking up the start of our long drive at sunset. The roosting turkeys photo had to be taken through a screened window, which shows in places but almost adds to the graphic dark-and-light quality of the shot.

turkeys on front drive photo Photo: turkeys roosting in tree, winter 2014

photo: two turkeys watch quail line

Turning to mammals, we also have lots of those, thanks again mostly to all the black sunflower seed provided in ground feeders, plus some that falls from the hanging ones. A recent winter 2014 photo shows a bunch of deer eating at a wooden ground feeder beneath trees lit up by a streak of early morning sun.

Photo: early morning view of deer at winter feeder

The deer are also inventive about taking advantage of the water and food provided for our other visitors. They find ways to eat from seed feeders while also nibbling on trees and the dried corn cobs we throw out to supplement seed. The photo on the right, of a deer in a kangaroo poise, was taken as it repeatedly reared up to get at either the tree's leaves or its berries.

Photo: deer eating corn cob Photo: deer eating at hanging feeder station in winter Photo: deer eating tree Photo: deer rearing up to eat tree

The deer also regularly share eating space with non-dangerous fellow creatures such as our turkeys.

Photo: male deer sharing ground feeding patch with turkeys

In addition to deer, coyotes and raccoons are also very regular visitors for both food and water. Over many past years we've seen a number of packs of coyote pups grow up, although less so in recent years. The photo of the six pups was taken quite a while ago, thus its fuzzier resolution.

Photo: coyote at ground feeder Photo: 6 coyote pups Photo: 3 coyote pups

Raccoons (including mothers and their kits) continue to visit regularly, and to be especially entertaining in the contortions they use to eat from tempting hanging feeders. The kits-on-a-tree shot was taken after some sound or movement led the mother to signal the kits, who immediately climbed the tree to greater safety. Raccoons also are excellent for recycling leftovers brought home from restaurants; we usually put those out on a useful stump in our side yard.

Photo: raccoon eating at stump Photo: Raccoon rump on bar

Photo: Raccoon kits climb tree Photo: Raccoon mother & 4 kits Photo: Raccoon mother and kits

Scattered over the years, a number of less frequent visitors slowed down just long enough to have their pictures taken. Two photos, of a couple of skunks and of one fox, were taken a number of years ago. Both show the brief visitors feeding at our original hanging feeder setup. That was a long chain slung between two posts, which drooped more and more as the years went by and raccoons bent the posts. This feeder setup later was upgraded to a nicer and sturdier post and rod arrangement.

We've also spotted a bobcat a few times. After missing out on photos several times, I finally got an OK shot just before the beast darted off. (Ron once watched when a bobcat stalked and took a squirrel. I'm actually rather glad to have missed that photo opportunity!) Squirrels aren't at all uncommon, but I always enjoy their antics and open enjoyment of food. Finally in the row of below photos, there's an almost miniature photo of an opossum baby, sitting in the grass in our side yard, looking - to my eye - quite adorable. Most people tell me that 'possums are really very ugly, but I've always had a soft spot for them and am glad when they get to our evening left-overs before some other pushier animal gets there to eat them all up.

2 skunks under hanging feeders

Photo: 'possem baby

Fox under hanging feeders Photo: bobcat Squirrel in tree, eating apple core

Finally, there are my snake photos. Since Ron tells me that many people most decidedly don't enjoy unexpectedly coming upon snake photos, I've put four of them into a separate small "Sara's Snake Photos" subpage.


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