Midnight Chicken House Stake Out

My duck had been killed and eaten the day before.  This tends to happen in the fall, when the wild critters are trying to fatten up to get ready to hibernate.  It’s always a shock when it happens, and I never know exactly when.  All summer long, the chickens and ducks are free to roam around the property and they do, and for the most part, with no predators showing up till close to the fall.  So I tend to forget because all is going so well with them, until one or more show up dead and then I am reminded that it is time to start closing them all tightly in at night and to be vigilant from now on.  Such was the case when I found the duck.

And there were 4 locations where I found white feathers.  One where he was killed.  Then another to the south about 50 ft, followed by two more to the southwest about another 50 ft.  But the duck ended up in the old 1940’s style chicken house.  Which meant whatever killed it had to do a lot of dragging, cuz the chicken house was back to the north about 100 ft.  The duck was about half eaten and left there.  My theory was that something (possibly our dogs who were barking in the middle of the night and I let them out) scared it and so it had to drag it to the chicken house, which the dogs are not allowed to enter, and can’t get in anyway.  One neighbor reported seeing a skunk run across the road in front of our house that morning.  Another reported a coyote not too far from our place.  I had noticed a few days before that a sneaky duck had laid a bunch of eggs in our burn pile (unbeknownst to me), and something had discovered those and made holes in the majority of them and eaten the inside of the eggs out.  Looked like skunk behavior to me.

So I decided that I would have to do another night time stake out.  This time I decided to lay on top of the old chicken house roof, which is slightly slanted up at the south end.  This would allow me to lay up there and get a great view of the pen, the corrals, the traps that I would be setting and the area where the critter had been eating and dragging around the duck the night before.  I thought that he/they may be back for more.  And if there were any other predators that showed up, I’d at least know what they were.

The night was dark, with the moon at 1%, which was a disadvantage to me.  I had a spotlight with me so that if I needed to see something, it would be illuminated immediately.  I left the back porch light on, which afforded at least a little bit of light to the west.  If anything walked in that area, I could see it as well as hear it.  But the area to the east was where I was perched and it was almost pitch black.  The only way I saw the horse move in the corral is because the barn is painted white and the horse is dark.  But I could hear EVERYTHING!   It was a night that was calm, then very slight breeze, then calm again.  I could hear the traffic on the highway speeding along and that was 2-3 miles away.  I heard the cows moo and they were two miles away and down over a hill.  It was amazing how still and quiet it was and that was to my advantage.

I had my shot gun with me, a dark wool blanket and some chap stick (ha!), along with my spot light.  I dressed in black.  Black jeans, black long sleeve t-shirt, black coat, black ball cap and black scarf.  I even wore dark tennis shoes.  Underneath it all I had long johns on and multiple shirts, cuz I knew I’d be cold, although the weather report said the low was only going to be 56.  When I went out at 10:30 it was in the 70’s, but by 3:30 am I was freezing and could not get warm enough.

I crawled up the ladder onto the roof, which was corrugated metal.  I was glad it wasn’t too steep, because it was kind of slippery, but the screws helped with that.  Unfortunately, screws are not too comfortable to sleep on, which I found out later.  I wrapped myself up into the blanket and was comfortably warm.  It was beautiful out!  Not that I could see much, but all the stars were out, the slight breeze kept any bugs away and it was actually very enjoyable.  I listened.  There were so many sounds to hear.  Cars to the north traveling home on the dirt road.  Trucks down on the highway.  Dogs sporadically barking to the north and to the east, probably at all the coyotes that were howling and yipping to beat the band.  There must have been a pack to the north and they must have caught something, because the chorus started and it sounded like there were a lot of them.  Then later on, maybe an hour later, there was another chorus of howling, yipping, snapping to the north east.  Some of the neighbors dogs didn’t like that and started a chorus of their own. And now I knew why our dogs had been begging to run out in the middle of the night so that they could join in.

After all the coyote chorus died down, there were loud steps like something walking through the grass and weeds very close.  I could see nothing at all.  I had decided that I didn’t want to just turn my spotlight on every time I heard something, because it would scare off anything that was around close by.  So I needed to use it sparingly.  I listened to try and decipher what it could be.  It sounded like multiple critters.  I could not begin to figure out what it was, so I felt I had no choice, I had to shine the spotlight to see what it was. So I got my gun ready.  This was going to be tricky.  How was I going to shine the spotlight, but then grab the gun, aim and fire if I needed to?  The lag time probably would be too long, and they would have taken off by the time I had the gun up to my eye.  Plus, because the roof was slanted, I couldn’t just sit the spotlight on the roof, as it would point into space.  I’d have to figure out how to hold it in my lap, grab the shot gun and shoot, making sure the spotlight remained stationery.  This was going to be tough as I found out, and it didn’t work.  So, it was a good thing that when I shined my spotlight down on what I thought was making the sound, that there was nothing there.  But I could still hear it!  So I panned around the area and discovered the horses, WAY out in the field, walking through the dried out pea plants after they had been harvested.  Every single step was amazingly loud that all three three horses took.  I couldn’t believe it!  Now I understood that I would be able to hear pretty much anything that would appear.

As I was panning my spotlight around, I saw some of the barn cats down below laying on a straw bale.  A mom and three kittens.  The dad was down there too, along with one of last springs kittens.  So every time one of them walked around, or climbed the bale, I heard it.  The ducks were constant talkers, I found out.  The quietly quacked to each other, and I don’t think they slept the whole time I was out there.  If a barn cat moved, the quacking got louder, but they weren’t the “alarmed” type quacks.  I just knew something was moving around down there.  Could be the horse that was in the pasture just adjacent to the chicken run, or it could be a cat.  But I did have the thought that if something did show up, and they were so used to seeing it, that it would be no big deal and their quacking would not give it away.  I have seen this before, with the skunks that visit the chicken house.  It’s like the chickens and ducks are so used to seeing them, that they just welcome them in and show them where the cat food is. “Well, come on in! Help yourself!”  They’d say. So I listened and tried to determine if it was just one of our animals or if it was something strange and foreign.  I do admit I used the spotlight two more times.  One was when I heard something playing in the water.  But that ended up being a duck, so that was not a good use of my precious spotlight.  That was kind of a “duh” moment, but then it didn’t quite sound like a duck, so I just couldn’t resist checking!

I dozed under the blanket.  But it really wasn’t very comfortable and my arms kept going to sleep.  The screw heads were bumpy and I felt like I was sliding down the roof.  I woke up a lot, so I must not have really slept much at all.  Every loud quack, or a cat walking, or dogs far away barking, or coyotes, or even that dumb cow, they all woke me up with a start.  Because even though I was tired and wanted to cat nap, I was on alert.  I laid on my stomach with my hands under my chin at first, so that I only had to open my eyes when there was a noise and I could see the light from the back porch.  Didn’t see anything.  Then I rolled over on my back and stared at the stars before dozing off. But this made it impossible to see anything when there was a noise, and I didn’t want to move around and make noise in order to be able to see, so that didn’t last long.  Then on my side facing the dark side.  That’s where all the noise was happening.  But even though there was noises going on, there was no real foreign and unidentifiable noises.  So I slept/cat napped till 3:30 am.  It was really getting way too cold by then, and I was getting discouraged because nothing was happening.  So I decided to go inside begrudgingly.

Now, since I had my phone on silent, so as not to scare any likely critter, I then forgot that and so when 6 am came, I couldn’t hear the alarm going off.  My husband’s radio starts blaring, but I usually ignore that and depend on my phone alarm.  He also ignored it and so we both slept in till 7.  When I realized that, I flew out of bed and went to open  up the chickens.  And what do I see as I’m walking out there, but a huge raccoon smack dab in that cage that was located in that dark area to the east.  He was a really big one too, maybe big enough to drag the duck all over tarnation.  He had to have come after I left at 3:30 am, cuz that trap was empty when I left!  There was only one thing to do and that was shoot it in the trap, which I did.

So then the next night I set the traps again, thinking that if there was one, there were probably a whole passel.  I was, of course, exhausted and tired and so I did not stay outside.  I was looking forward to getting a good night’s sleep in a soft comfy bed.  But I was annoyingly awakened by the dogs parading around, jumping and barking and wanting out at 4 am.  So of course I had to let them out, and they tore off to the west like lightning.  I figured they had heard something and they were going to chase it off.  Maybe deer in the west yard because the apples were falling and all over the ground and they usually show up to eat them.  I left the porch light on and the main door open, leaving the screen door closed so that I could hear them when they showed back up and I crawled onto the couch and tried to sleep while I was waiting. I didn’t get to sleep long because the barking started and would not quit.  I thought for sure that they would chase it and then give up.  But it kept going and going.  Finally 15 minutes later, I decided I better go see what was going on.  I grabbed the spot light and the shot gun and trudged outside in my pj’s and clog shoes.  I got to the edge of the west lawn and shined the shot light out into the field.  I saw the dogs eyes reflecting back at me way out there at the top of a drain ditch.  I had to circle around and get on the road to get to the other side where they were.  The barking continued.  I ran down the road almost afraid to see what it might be.  There had been bears spotted this year, and that is always a major concern in the back of my mind.

But it wasn’t a bear, thank goodness.  They had ANOTHER raccoon in the ditch, and they were keeping it in the water.  So I had to shoot that one too.  Then my Plott Hound, who is bred to corner raccoons (and also bears) headed out more to the west along the ditch, which led me to believe that there were yet more.  I called him back, as it was plenty enough excitement,and I needed to get some sleep!  Meanwhile the neighbor showed up in his pickup with his own spot light and gun, wondering what all the commotion was!  He thought the same thing as I did, that it sounded like they had cornered a bear or something big.  It was a real ruckus!  So after all the festivities were over, I headed back to bed with the dogs in tow, but when I got into the house and looked at the clock, it was 5:15.   I had a mere 45 minutes till I had to get up for work.  There was no way that I was going to be able to sleep now, I had too much adrenaline running through my veins and I was just going to have to get up anyway shortly.  So I just stayed up and decided I’d have to catch up the next night.

And that catching up stuff still hasn’t happened and it’s now day 3 of the raccoon invasion.  I went to sleep late, but at least I didn’t get awakened by barking dogs.  And in the morning, there was ANOTHER huge raccoon in one of the traps I had moved into the west lawn by the dog water and all the apples. So they keep coming, and keep coming.  My best guess is that the whole pack probably attacked that duck and most likely another one too.  I’m not very good at keeping track of my ducks, because they wander freely, and they don’t necessarily come into the pen at night, they just gather wherever they want and hunker down on the ground. At one time I was up to over 20 of them, but that was including the 12 ducklings that appeared out of nowhere, and now it appears I’m down to 6.  So I believe the raccoons were having a hay day with them and I wasn’t aware of it because I didn’t find the feathers or the carcass.  Apparently they are able to drag a duck quite a ways!  I HAVE noticed though, that these 6 are smarter than the rest and they are coming into the pen to get locked in at night.  Talk about survival of the fittest…..  Now to go to bed and get caught up in sleep, then see if there are traps with critters in them in the morning.  Good night.

 

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