More unexpected encounters with wild neighbors

Groundhog. Photo by ©Maria de Bruyn.


By Maria de Bruyn

My unexpected encounters with wildlife continued this past month while I had the pleasure of watching Carolina chickadees, brown-headed nuthatches and Eastern bluebirds all raise broods in nest boxes around my yard.

Last month, I’d seen a groundhog climbing a tree in a nature reserve, and I knew there was one in my yard when I noticed soft ground humped in meandering lines around and under bird feeders. Finally, one day my cats were out on the screened porch, alerted me to its presence as it trundled around the backyard.

Top left and right: groundhog. Bottom left and right: mole. All photos by ©Maria de Bruyn.

The mammal was especially foraging near a back flower garden but wasn’t digging up plants. It turned out that s/he was eating unripe mulberries that had fallen off a tree with the continued rains and winds.

When I visited a pond well-known to birders in Orange County, I was surprised to see a black shape lying in the grass near a tree. It was a mole—the first one I had encountered in person other than at a zoo. I couldn’t see its eyes or ears, but the powerful front claws (each with two thumbs) and nose were very obvious.

I was surprised by how small the creature was. I had imagined that moles were about groundhog size but learned that they only grow to about 2 to 9 inches, depending on the species. This mole was not moving; I didn’t know if it was injured or just playing dead.

Another photographer came over to look at it and I decided to move it underneath some bushes so no one would step on it, unaware of its presence. When I returned a few hours later, it was gone.

Top left: Pair of beavers swimming beside their lodge. Other photos: curious beaver that checked out the author. All photos by ©Maria de Bruyn.

It was a quiet day on an outing to another local pond, with few walkers around. The lack of human presence may have induced two local beavers to emerge from their lodge near a walking path. They seemed unaware of my presence and appeared to be playing. Then they noticed me and came together nose-to-nose in what looked like a conversation!

Both beavers turned to look at me, and one swam away. The other showed its tail prominently as it dove underwater to swim under a log to come over to where I was standing. I stayed quite still, and the beaver swam closer and closer until s/he was only about 10 feet away.

The inquisitive mammal showed no fear or distress but examined me from different angles. I finally verbally greeted it and it seemed to listen! We silently communed for a time until s/he seemed satisfied that I was no threat. Finally, the inquisitive beaver swam back to resume paddling around next to the lodge for a while. I had not had this kind of close encounter with a beaver before — we were both “wildlife watching!”

Left: Eastern chipmunk in serviceberry tree. Right: Lady beetles mating. Both photos by ©Maria de Bruyn.

Back at home, I was entertained by various birds and squirrels enjoying serviceberries. Unfortunately, because of our especially wet spring, the tree developed cedar serviceberry rust, which makes the fruit inedible. Nevertheless, some berries have not been covered with the fungus and they still attract birds. To my surprise, I also saw an Eastern chipmunk traveling around the tree looking for clean berries.

The lady beetles have finally arrived and appear to be interested in producing progeny. They were doing a little shaking as they hooked up.

Top left: Periodical cicada nymphs. Top right: adult periodical cicada. Bottom left and right: juvenile Eastern bluebird eating a cicada. All photos by ©Maria de Bruyn.

Finally, I, too, wish to acknowledge the presence of our Great Southern Brood of periodical cicadas. They have been in the print and broadcast news a lot, and anyone who has been able to get out has likely seen and/or heard them. Some people have been annoyed, but observing these wonders of nature has been a joy for me. Just trying to imagine how their unusual life cycle evolved, with 13 years of it underground and then only a few weeks above ground, has strengthened my appreciation for the wonders of nature.

These insects have no chemical or physical defenses, so they need a huge population to survive as a species. Disease vectors and predators go after them, and I’ve watched birds of many species eat them.

In my yard, I witnessed papa Eastern bluebird teaching his three fledglings how to catch them. Now, one youngster is putting the lessons into practice, finding and eating expiring bugs as they fall to the ground.

My hope in the coming month for you readers is that you also will have some interesting encounters with residents of our natural world.

Maria de Bruyn participates in nature-oriented citizen science projects and volunteers for the Orange County Senior Center and non-profit groups removing invasive vegetation and planting native plants. See more of her photos on Instagram ( and in blogs at

This reporter can be reached at

Share This Article

Scroll down to make a comment.

Be the first to comment on "More unexpected encounters with wild neighbors"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.