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Thread: Critters bedded down under my mulch for winter

  1. #1

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    I was deliberating over whether to remove my layers of pine needle mulch or not being that I'm in the Chicago land area and there is a definite threat of frost for at least another 6 weeks. I finally decided to leave it but curiosity did get the best of me after last fall with the all out assault from the squirrels so I wanted to take a little peek to see if anything unexpected might have survived. Much to my horror, I found a veritable labyrinth of tunnels under the mulch as well as actual holes similar to those I find in my composter. The tunnels were tiny and not inconsistent with that which I believe would be created by mice. The larger holes were a dead match for what I have seen the chipmunks create. It appears the chicken wire was able to finally deter the squirrels however it didn't deter mice and chipmunks. The holes didn't seem to do that much damage but the tunnels were woven here there and everywhere and were circling clumps of Sarracenia and would then dip down below the surface of the sphagnum peat and sand mix in and around the roots of the CPs.

    This is about the straw that breaks the camel's back as I think they have killed off one of the 3 or 4 CPs that were left standing after the squirrels did their thing before we put up the chicken wire last fall. I completely removed the layers of mulch and then spent a few hours out there and have everything righted and the roots are back in the ground and I've added more sphagnum peat/sand mix but it was incredibly disappointing to find there had been so much activity under the mulch and snow this past winter. Quite frankly, I'm shocked. So many places on this property to have a field day and they pick that bog?

    I will humanely destroy a feral cat in a heart beat by trapping it and calling animal control to come and pick it up- there aren't enough homes for socialized cats as it is and cats do pose substantial risks to human health so this is how I choose to handle their growing numbers and destructive behaviors on my property and I realize it may not be for everyone. Don’t freak out fellow fluffy lovers as I do pay to take stray cats to an animal shelter, I can differentiate between the two. I will also humanely destroy European House Sparrows without batting an eyelash as well as Rusty Crayfish. We also use a commercial rat zapper to humanely destroy rats that get into the animal feed. All 4 of those species are introduced (exotic invasive species) and wreak havoc in our environment. I will not kill any North American species of wildlife such as raccoons, skunks, squirrels, chipmunks, muskrats, or mice. Personal choice. One exception, mice in the house get zapped with an electronic mouse zapper.

    The chicken wire appears to be doing a fine job of keeping larger undesirables out- thank heavens. The fruit tree netting is keeping the English House Sparrows out- thank heavens again. The chicken wire is NOT keeping out the chipmunks and mice that evidently sought the insulating benefits of the mulch after it was laid down last fall. I use electric zap fencing around several ponds I have to keep out raccoons but I am relatively sure I could not install that close enough to the ground to stop chippies and mice. I have an entire inventory here of very expensive products and concoctions that don't work to deter critters. My last recourse is to see if anyone out there has had any success with ultrasonic machines or any type of an electromagnetic device otherwise I will have to live with this mess and plant loss every spring. I’d really like to know if anyone else out there has found a way to encourage mice and chipmunks to bed down somewhere else for the winter.

    Here’s one such product-
    http://www.uptimebot.com/Store....er.html

    On an upbeat positive note to this whole unveiling of my little bog, I found two S. purpurea as well as one S. psittacina and one S. ‘Tarnok’ that I think might actually be alive out there. That is an incredibly good find given those plants were uprooted so many times by the squirrels and left to dry out that I had thought for sure they were toast. It would be really nice if those started putting out new growth in the next two months. Think I will add them to my grow list and think happy thoughts and maybe they will come back for me.

  2. #2
    cool85k5's Avatar
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    That just sucks Laura.Might have to get a greenhouse.LOL.I know the critters can get bad,I have only had a few plants get messed up by them.Mostly our dogs take care of things like that,the do a good job running off squirrels,possums and such.I hope the plants will grow back for you!


    Jerry

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    Laura,

    Just a few questions concerning your "find". Have you actually seen the critters burrowing in the compost? Do you live near a creek, lake, watershed, field or forest area?

    Those "holes" may not be "chipmunks". Being from the "South", big joke here in Oklahoma, those critters that did around in our compost are a bit larger than mice and chipmunks. Since the city has stop their rodent eradication process because of the animal rights activists/evironmentalists and funding. Course they did this without informing the us residents who live close to the water shed area.

    I loose a couple of transplanted pepper plants every year to "rats". I was amazed at the size of these things, but found they are serious threat to plants, and especially to freshly turned dirt or garden.

    For the last 10 years, these critters have haunted my property to the point, I can just feel when their population has risen to the point of having to super poison the property, which happens about every 5 years or so. Last year was one of those years and we are still finding the carcasses here and there. Mostly just skeletons now, but I have to get them up and in the trash before the dogs find them.

    My dogs do a pretty good job of keeping the population down, in between times and I poison every fall before it starts getting real cold and the varmits start looking for that cozy winter retreat.

    Just a thought.

    Rick, in Oklahoma
    Rick Myers

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    Hi Rick, Yup, it sure does suck. Never expected in a million years to see that mess under the mulch.

    Oh yes I have seen the chipmunks in the composter. Sometimes when I go to toss vegetable cuttings in there one of them gets mad and chatters at me while his tail swishes back and forth angrily. I can sit on my patio and set out sunflower seeds to the left of me and if I sit very still, they run right over the top of my legs to get the goods. The chipmunks are bold critters and they aren't frightened by much. They often come right up to our atrium doors and stare in at our dogs and cats. Our cats all but plaster themselves flat up against the windows. It's actually entertaining.

    The mice are all over the place. Last year when it flooded around here I found two that didn't even have their eyes open and actually tried to nurse them with an insulin syringe and KMR. I do not want them in my house though because they carry fleas and that gives me a big headache with all the indoor pets I have because everybody has to get treated and then we have to test everyone for tape worms and its a big expensive hassle. I used to use a tiny HavAHart trap and release them outside until my husband seemed to feel that the same ones were reappearing in our home. We did a test and used spray paint left over from pine wood derby cars and spritzed the tails of the mice we trapped and then put them back outside. Well, sure enough. Mice with flourescent green, lemon yellow, fire engine red, and neon blue tails started appering in the HavAHart traps. That was the end of that. We bought mouse zappers for the house.
    http://www.silvo.com/shop....tegory#

    Now about rats... yes they're around. Many horse people around here and the barns all have hay as well as other animal feeds and that is just asking for rats. Pretty much everyone I know is using RatZapper2000s. They set them up in and around all the animal feed. They really work and quite well I might add.
    http://www.ratzapper.com/

    The reason why many have started using RatZappers is because of this-
    "Every year thousands of hawks and owls are killed by eating poisoned rats. We volunteer for the Wildlife Rehab Center of the North Coast and it is heartrending to see one of these beautiful birds wither and die from rat poisons. Most popular rat and mouse poisons are actually designed to make their victims go outdoors in search of water so they don't die indoors and stink the place up. These sluggish, sick rodents are easy prey for hawks and owls who ingest the poisons along with the meal and then die themselves. It makes no sense to kill these birds who live by killing the very pests that are targeted by poisons."

    excerpted from here- http://www.wildbirdshop.com/Refuge/Bird/RatZapper.html

    and because of this-
    "On The Good Side
    There are no nice poison sweeties lying around for small children to find.
    There are no half dead mutilated animals dragging themselves around for them to see.
    Your pet dog or cat is not tempted to take a snack on a half dead rodent which is in a poison induced stupor."

    excerpted from here- http://www.ratzappers.com/children_&_pets.htm

    The other thing that is nice about the RatZappers is that dogs can't get into them. They will kill everything that enters though however I have never lost a chipmunk or a squirrel because I am careful with the bait I select. I use little bottle tops filled with milk as well as chicken. Works everytime. You may notice that the bait is gone yet there is a dead rat in your zapper. This is because it is virtually an instantaneous and clean kill. That rat never made it to the bait but others will crawl right over the dead one (I am told they think it is sleeping) to get to the bait. This is a good thing because they will remember the free hand out and come back.

    I feel bad about them but rats don't belong. We zap em. D batteries will kill about 7 or 8 not the 10 they advertise.

    I had a friend over here to look at the bog and we pretty much determined that I got hammered with both mice and chipmunks. Could be worse... could have been rats that would have left much larger tunnels and holes. I'm afraid my bog really did get nailed by mice and chipmunks. What a bummer.

  5. #5
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    Hi Laura,
    I had the same problems with overwintering my bog. One thing that would cause the situation to be worse would be to make a wooden frame over the bog and insulate with foam-board insulation - makes a wonderful overwintering home for every small creature in the area - lost many plants that winter.

    My thoughts for the next bog design: after digging the hole - line the perimeter w/ hardware cloth (roughly 1/4" squares) down 12-24 inches (whatever depth you feel is low enough that the little critters won't dig under it). Next a layer of newspapers / old rugs / etc followed by EPDM from local roofers. In the winter, lay hardware cloth over the top of everything. It should create a fairly 'safe area' for the plants through the winter.

    This a pretty big pain but I haven't seen solutions that work that don't include poisons and I'm also unwilling to use them for the reasons you listed.

    Side note - work to make your area more inviting to predators (kestrel / screech owl / and barn owl nest boxes - denning areas for milk snakes, etc).

    Good luck - let us know what works

    Ron
    All the best,
    Ron
    You must do the thing you think you cannot do. --- Eleanor Roosevelt

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    The bog they did it to is up close to the house and had a rigid liner that was set in sand to... avoid problems such as this. I had used a kiddie pool from K-Mart that was doubled. So much for that experiment. The new bog is going to be .060 epdm with felt underlayment over sand. I'll have to see how much epdm will cost to cover and maybe even to go under that area now. Good news is that the new bog is in an area that has two dead elm scags and not even the rabbits go over there because I have a Red Shouldered Hawk that really likes this one particular dead elm tree that I left in place. I am thinking (might be wrong) that area may be relatively safe. Old Hawk Boy generally kills birds mid air but he has definitely been seen plucking off squirrels on his day shift. Better news is that I had a fox family relocated here last year and the adult pair is still local. They can get prey under the snow which is really awesome to watch. They happen to like that particular area too. The more the merrier.

    As far as what else I have here, Barred Owl (night shift for that dead elm tree) and another much larger owl that we see crows chasing all the time. It might be a Great Horned Owl according to my birder friend who identified it from its silhouette. She did better than me as I was doing great to be able to identify it as a large owl. Poor thing for being harassed all the time by the crows though. I don't know if you have kids but I pick up owl pellets from time to time and I could send a few your way for your kids to dissect. They look sort of like large cat hair balls. If kids are careful, they can get an entire skeleton of a mole or who knows what. We normally seem to get a lot of small rodents as well as frogs out of the pellets but did get a small rabbit skeleton once. No chipmunk skeletons yet but they stay in tight by the back patio and composter. We see a few Red Tailed Hawks every once in a while and ever so often a Cooper's Hawk but we think he hangs by our neighbor's house and only flies in looking for easy pickins. The Screech Owls were obliterated by English House Sparrows too many years in a row and haven't come back to nest. Other than that, we have been visited for two years now by Turkey Vultures. We saw a Black Vulture last year and he was way out of his range. Haven't seen him back yet but maybe. They don't like anything live anyway but they do like dispatched English House Sparrows. No shortage of those around here these days and hang onto your shorts for this one but... I keep a shovel and a tall kitchen garbage bag in my trunk to scrape up road kill to bring home to keep my TVs happy and coming back for more. Yup, high heels and hose on the way to or from work and I'm always on the look out. If it is too big to scrape off the road, I drag it over to the side so the Vultures don't get hit by motorists taking the speed limit and adding 20. Bet all you men are glad I'm not your wife! Anyway, they are very timid creatures and if you disturb them in the least, they leave their meal. I'll try to get a photo of one this season. I do have photos of a nestling taken by a friend. She found the nest in an out building on her property. The baby was beautiful. Made me want to put up out buildings just to get my own photos of a baby vulture.

    In the snake department I have the common ones. I've seen only a few milk snakes (very pretty) and the ribbon snakes as well as a lot of garter snakes but I have a friend who has seen a water snake around here. I don't recall what type it was but maybe a Northern or a Diamondback Water Snake. He said it was big and I'm just irked that I live here and have never seen one yet he hangs out for one day looking for salamanders and gets a photo. Figures. There are people around here who say they have seen rat snakes. I haven't seen so much as one of those. I like snakes. Nothing poisonous in this area so they don't concern me but the little garter snakes will bite you if you don't fling them quick when you flick them out of the way of the lawn mower- ingrates. They all come out to sun themselves around the edge of the lawn by the wetland and woodland areas. Try as I might, I have never seen one catch anything let alone be sunning itself with a bulge. I keep hoping.

    From what I can tell, the mice and chipmunks came right in through the chicken wire and sneaked in under the mulch so I'm thiking I'll go for the hardware cloth. I should be able to tack that down around the edges. You know, I bought some of that pink foam board insulation and almost cut it to size to go over the little bog. I ended up using that around the area where I have been germinating seed so all was not lost. The other thought I have is to hold off putting the mulch down until a little later. Perhaps that may force them to seek cover else where.

    I keep thinking about those ultrasound devices. The critters would probably become desensitized to them but if I used one a few days after I put mulch down, maybe it would help? Pipe dream, huh?

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