House Sitting

There are few things cuter than a tree full of raccoons

Because Pam’s sister and brother-in-law are on a trip to Europe, we have spent the last week house sitting their place in the West Hills of Portland, Oregon. And while security considerations certainly played a part in them requesting that we do so, my sister-in-law N.’s primary concern was that someone be here to feed and water the menagerie of wild birds and mammals she supports at her home, including, in fact especially, a troupe of young, orphaned raccoons. Because N. has been feeding in-shell peanuts for years, she has gotten to know the local raccoon population quite well, and it was obvious to her when this little family lost its mother. So she has taken to watching for them specifically, and supplementing their diet with kibble, and she wasn’t comfortable with heading off for two weeks unless there was someone to continue that policy. Which is where we came in. 

House Finch and Red-breasted Nuthatch

Regardless of what one thinks about the ethics of feeding wildlife (personally I’m in favor of bird feeders but would have drawn the line somewhere short of having a couple dozen crows, almost a dozen raccoons, and a half dozen eastern grey squirrels [what I call EGS when I don’t call them RWFT- rats with furry tails] surrounding my yard like shoppers in front of Walmart on Black Friday), it definitely offers some interesting wildlife watching and photography opportunities. But, at least on this scale, it is a fair amount of work. You fill each of the 5 feeding stations in the morning, and then clean and refill the 8 water pans. Then, when they’ve finished that food, you sweep up all of the peanut shells, and hose all of the bird and mammal crap off the deck and railings, as well as cleaning the platforms. Then you repeat the process in the afternoon, as well as watching for the orphans to give them their preferential kibble. It is nearly a full time job. 


But, as I said, the wildlife watching is a ton’o’fun. In the week we’ve been here we’ve seen Douglas squirrels, juncos, song sparrows, spotted towhees, house finches, black-capped and chestnut-backed chickadees, red-breasted nuthatches, mourning doves, Anna’s hummingbird, bushtits, and Stellar’s jays, as well as the aforementioned crows, EGS, and raccoons. And then there was a Cooper’s hawk who was looking to dine on the diners, but who left as soon as I moved inside the house to get my camera. All typical urban wildlife, but more species than we see in a year at our apartment complex, although we do have our share of ‘coons and RWFTs. 

Douglas Squirrel

I was excited going into this to be able to set up some Temples of Ultraviolet Light, and to just be able to leave them set up, but I hadn’t counted on the sprinklers going off every morning just before sunrise, nor on the fact that 100 years ago, when this house was built, they didn’t routinely place electric receptacles on the outside of houses. But I have managed to find some very cool stuff, like the Hemyda aurata I profiled recently, and the Cosmia calami (American Dun-bar Moth) that comes out in the morning, as well as hitherto unprofiled moths, longhorn beetles, and stink bugs.

Stellar’s Jay expressing its displeasure at something

 And it’s just fun to grab my camera during a commercial and go see what has shown up recently. It is interesting to note that, during the 4 straight days of 100⁰+ temperatures we had last week, there were moths and other flying invertebrates coming in all night long, but our vertebrate visitors were confined mostly to early morning and in the evening. Now, with daytime high temps in the mid 80s we get birds and mammals all day long, but the arthropods are in much lower numbers and quit showing up well before midnight. 

Mourning Dove getting all puffed up over the trespass of a Stellar’s Jay

I’m not a fitness fanatic, but I did realize a while ago that if I want to continue to recoup the money I put into Social Security, and be healthy enough to continue exploring and writing profiles for the next decade or two, I need to work out a little harder than the casual, naturalist’s stroll I tend to employ. So, as I mentioned in ‘Equinoctial evaluations‘, last spring I joined a gym. I futz about with the weights a bit, mostly to make the indoor rock climbing I do more enjoyable, but from a fitness perspective the most important piece of equipment in there is the Stairmaster, because I can get a very controlled (it has heart rate monitors built into the hand grips), low impact, and high intensity cardio workout on it, despite the fact that using it seems rather Sisyphean, and more like something one would be sentenced to, rather than something a sane person would choose. 

Mt. Hood from Council Crest on a smoky morning

I mention this because I was wondering what I’d be able to do to maintain the relative cardiovascular health I’ve managed to achieve, whilst house sitting 45 minutes from my gym. But it turns out that this house is located near a maintained trail that leads through a forested area and up to the top of Council Crest. And if I’m willing to come down off the Crest by an alternate route, and then head back up again (and again, and sometimes again) I can get a heckuva workout  in an hour. The downside to this, of course, is that when I’m breathing that hard and staring at my feet so as not to trip over rocks and tree roots, I completely miss out on whatever wildlife may be around me, although I am able to occasionally notice some of the botanical organisms, since they tend to remain still (I say tend because I assume it’s my vision that is swimming, and not for example the yew tree, but I cannot say that for certain). 

Spotted Towhee

We will be here for another week, by which time I will probably finally be able to remember where they keep the bowls and the soy sauce, and maybe even figure out how to use the TV remotes. This is truly a lovely house, and an interesting experience with the wildlife, but frankly it will be a relief to once again sleep in my own bed, and be in a place where I can immediately lay to hand any book or cooking utensil I own, as well as knowing how to get the stereo to play music from my phone. But I do hope that the Cooper’s hawk makes another appearance before we leave, and that this time I can get to my camera, which is now stashed in a much more accessible location, before it flies away. 

Launch of a Red-breasted Nuthatch

9 thoughts on “House Sitting”

  1. Hey bro, great reading as usual and I’m also glad you drew the line short about Crows. I have a relationship with them and would hate to make a decision about alliances.🤣

  2. Stellers Jays are such bossy, noisy birds. I enjoy watching them immensely. We don’t get many species of birds at our feeders, mainly jays, juncos, spotted towhees, and an occasional sparrow. Unfortunately, the chestnut-backed chickadees and nuthatches don’t drop down out of the trees much, so I rarely get to see them.

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