City life is for the birds ... and the foxes, deer and rats

Living in the city does not mean living without wildlife. We have plenty of it in Roland Park. The hills and green space, as well as the water at Stony Run and the Jones Falls, provide suitable habitat for many critters.

On a recent cool evening, my husband and I sat outside eating dinner. Our table is less than 15 feet from the roaring interstate that is Cold Spring Lane. We noticed fireflies for the first time this season, blinking low over the grass. Nothing unusual about that, although they were a welcome sign of summer's arrival.

Catbirds darted from one side of our garden to our neighbor's evergreens. Nothing unusual about that either. We've had catbirds here as long as I can remember. My mother used to put a raisin on the newel post of the kitchen door, call out, "Here, CB! Here, CB! Here, CB!," and one would come fetch the raisin.

As dusk came after dinner, bats flew high overhead. We were glad to see them, although the mosquitos had not yet been a problem.

We had just finished eating when something jumped through the slender white pickets of our fence. At first I thought it was a dog, but it was a fat, red fox. It froze in its tracks, turned its head, looked straight at us, then galloped up the driveway.

We have seen one dashing across Roland Avenue when coming home late at night. We have seen another cross Ridgewood Road, running towards the hillside down to Falls Road, where we suspect they live. We also have seen a thin, grey fox walk up the front to our neighbor's front porch. It only seems to use the sidewalk.

But we had never seen a fox in our backyard before.

Once, a few years ago, a deer walked down our driveway from Ridgewood towards Cold Spring Lane, but no foxes were sighted in the yard until this June. We thought the deer was a one-time appearance.

Wrong. A few months later, we saw deer hoofs imprinted in the garden and all of the hostas eaten to the ground. We immediately installed deer netting across the driveway.

For more than a year, it worked. Then, last week, the unmistakable hoof print of a deer was embedded in the peony bed. Nothing, however, had been chewed.

The next day my husband went to that side of the garden with two wooden stakes to pound them in the ground and put up deer netting.  A catbird dive-bombed him every time he tried to put the stake into the ground. She'd fly at his baseball cap or hop onto a lilac branch inches by his face and squawk. 

He had to move the stakes and the netting closer to the backyard. Now, from where we eat, we see what looks like garden sculpture — almost invisible black netting, adorned with three florescent pink ribbons to keep people from being entrapped. 

My husband also cut off about a foot at the bottom of the net. We did not to do that when we installed the piece on the driveway. A chipmunk soon was entangled, and we had to cut it loose without being bitten. No small feat.

Such is the interface of man and nature. Most days, it is the squirrels, the chipmunks, an assortment of goldfinches, robins, sparrows, Carolina wrens, cardinals and mourning doves and us, plus an occasional brown rabbit. 

This summer, the wrens have not made a nest in the wren house on the cherry tree. I wonder if they are waiting to use it for their final nest. I doubt the deer would deter them, but a red fox might. The chicken coop up the street that had contained a few hens is now empty. Was the fox the culprit?

Occasionally, pesky crows besiege us and perch on the chimney and gutters. Since I moved the birdbath to a spot under a tree, they no longer bring their carrion to our garden. That was more nature than we needed to see.

We had to have an exterminator when we saw rats in the driveway after the demolition of the Marianist House on Roland Avenue. The exterminator told us to eliminate the water for the birds, as it drew other animals. We did that for a while, but now we have birdbaths and water dishes for the birds, chipmunks and sometimes a fox.


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