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Critters starting to come out at night

A skunk wanders in a Jamestown yard Sept. 4 looking for food. John Zvirovski / The Sun

It won’t be long before the calendar is telling us that we need to change gears to autumn. The trees are already showing their first signs of color and the month seems to be flying by once again! This is another time for change both in the garden itself and the region.

Along with these changes, we usually see an increased activity in the critters that inhabit our area. Even though the bunnies have had their fun throughout the summer and have seemed to nearly disappeared, there are others that are making their presence more known.

At the end of August I always keep my eyes open for the destructive beavers in the area. Now, of course I live on the river, so it is only a problem a few people have to deal with, but they can still create issues. I remedy this problem by putting chicken wire around all trunks of the trees in the yard and that seems to do the trick. Their activity ceases by the end of November, unless we have a warm start to the winter season.

Another item you will see more of is the raccoons as they know that the corn is ready and they are more than happy to harvest it for you whether you like it or not. They are nocturnal, so you will not encounter them too often in the day, but they can sure cause some chaos at night when you are asleep. If you ever sleep with your windows open, you can often hear their screeches in the evening as they encounter other animals or friends of the same genre.

One thing I am always wary of is that of the skunk. It is not that they are ugly or anything, they are just another nocturnal animal looking for a place to roam while we are all indoors. Now that it is getting darker earlier, I am not always indoors as early as the season dictates. Many times I have to take the dog out before bed and have to keep a watchful eye out for that white striped critter roaming the garden.

The other night, I was out for a couple minutes, and before I knew it, here comes a skunk running along that backyard about 12 feet from me and the dog. We hightailed it back to the house with the quickest of movements. There is always that fear of getting sprayed, and Emma was not sure what was going on as I had her collar and was running the minute she caught eye of it! After that, we were both a little frazzled to say the least.

Over the last few weeks I have seen the skunks wandering around the area quite often, so am always looking intently in the dark if I have to be out after sunset.

Skunks are quiet during the winter months, although they do not technically hibernate, they remain inactive for the most part. In spring they come out and start digging for grubs, worms and small vertebrae. They also eat various plant materials and eggs for protein during the bird-laying season. I know when they are around the area, as there are small dig spots all over the back yard, especially if the grub count is high.

They mate early in spring and give birth in May to offspring that are blind for nearly three weeks. They remain with their parents until they are ready to mate themselves, however the males do not often have a role in child rearing.

Their defense mechanism is their ability to spray predators with an offensive odor that we are all way too familiar with. This is not their first line of defense though as they prefer their presence to deter predators, and often they hiss or tap the ground before they resort to ultimately spraying. Skunks usually only spray about six times and it takes nearly 10 days before they can emit the scent again after spraying once.

Skunks have a keen sense of smell, but do not have the best eyesight as they can only see up to 10 feet ahead of them. This is also a reason they are ultimately taken out by traffic in urban areas and attacked by predators in nature. Many of us do not like the idea of a skunk, but as with all critters, they have their purpose in the cycle of life and we just have to co-habitat.

In the event you or your pet gets sprayed in the evening, a mixture of diluted hydrogen peroxide, baking soda and dish soap usually does the trick!! And you don’t smell like a Bloody Mary afterward from the tomato juice that used to be touted as a remedy.  

Be aware of your surrounding as we move into autumn and continue to enjoy all the discoveries the garden still has yet to unfold for you.