We tend to think of wide open spaces and wildlife going hand in hand, but plenty of Mother Nature’s creatures share our space in the city as well.....more than we probably realize (or in some cases, care to know).

We have been reminded of that fact on numerous occasions while taking advantage of spring weather to get yard work done in recent weeks.

Our yard is ever-changing, and with our decision to remove most of the remaining fotinia which we planted eight or nine years ago there’s a little less critter cover....but when we look closely there are still plenty of animals to be found.

We’ve started spotting the occasional lizard, for example. They are welcome residents of the urban farm which Kat and I have endeavored to create. 

So, too, are the beneficial insects such as the praying mantis and the bees which flit from one blossoming plant to the next. We haven’t spotted any praying mantis of yet but had a number around the yard last year. The bees, meanwhile, have been buzzing away for quite some time now.

Birds, too, are very much a part of the landscape.

We enjoy watching the type of bird we simply refer to as the “reds” (no connection to Gustine High). The small birds have returned in number this spring, and are distinctive because the male partner has a stunning red head and chest.

They are fun to watch because they are so totally coupled up. We almost exclusively see them in pairs, and just like humans they can be quite animated at times. There are times when they seem to be chirping happily away with one another....but other times, one appears to be giving the other an earful in a series of insistent, sharp-toned chirps.

Kat and I sometimes come up with scenarios about what one of the birds may have done to land in the doghouse. Guess we’re easily entertained!

The hummingbirds are also returning for the summer. We had a couple over-winter, but the population typically swells through the summer months, and they are always entertaining to watch.

Not all birds are welcome, though.

One of the rituals of spring is our annual effort to keep the swallows from nesting in our eaves or under our patio. They are persistent little things, swooping in to try to establish a presence, but we are equally determined that they not be allowed to nest in our space.

So far, we’ve prevailed.

The swallows are not the only critters we try to dissuade.

We’ve been battling gophers for about the last three years, and so far with only minimal success.

They have taken a toll on our garden, and I’m pretty sure are responsible for a number of trees and shrubs suddenly dying for no apparent reason.

I pulled a dead apple tree out of the ground a couple of months ago only to find that it had no root system whatsoever, just a nub at the base of the tree.....marked up with gnaw marks from tiny gopher teeth.

We also believe that as they moved through their tunnels gophers were responsible for the spread of certain garden plants, sun chokes to be precise, between our two raised bed planters last year, causing both to develop into basically forests of the tall, dense plants which largely blocked out the rest of the vegetables.

Our cat helps us out with the gopher population from time to time. We need her to get busy again this spring.

Other critters make their presence known as well from time to time.

We have seen possum in the yard, though not for some time.

We know that raccoon hang out in the tall, dense evergreens at the edge of a neighbor’s yard....one actually came up to our patio door one night several weeks ago to take a peek inside at what we were doing. That was a little startling, to say the least.

And our dog Zoey last spring got tangled up with a skunk that was passing through our yard. Zoey did not come out on the right side of that encounter. Hopefully, with less brush cover this year, our back yard won’t be quite as attractive to skunks and raccoon. Having to give our dog a tomato juice bath in the middle of the night was no fun for anybody involved.

While there are exceptions, we for the most part appreciate and enjoy the wildlife we see around us.

Nature is a marvel.

It seems that our awareness of their presence is renewed with the rebirth that spring brings each year.

And we are reminded that, even though we may live in town, we still share our space and co-exist with more critters and wildlife that most of us even begin to realize.

Dean Harris the Managing Editor of the West Side Index and Gustine Press-Standard. He can be reached at dharris@mattosnews.com or by calling (209) 243-8104.