The bats of the farm

This summer, we participated in a bat study organized by the Toronto Zoo. Our contribution was installing an acoustic monitor for four nights to record the calls of bats here at the farm. (The two dark smudges in the sky in the photo above are some of the bats that were flying at the start of my bonfire on Friday night.)

We’ve now received a report from the the Native Bat Conservation Program with some of our results.

The monitor recorded a total of 104 “acoustic observations” from five different species.

Big Brown Bat73
Eastern Red Bat2
Hoary Bat8
Silver-haired Bat6
Little Brown Myotis15

Here’s a little bit more about our bats from the report:

The Big Brown bat is the most commonly observed bat in Southern Ontario. The Hoary bat is Ontario’s largest, weighing as much as three to five toonies (18-39 g).

The Little Brown Myotis was once Canada’s most common bat, but populations have been decimated by white-nose syndrome. This disease affects bat’s hibernation sleep and makes them wake up early. They then can’t find food and starve. The Zoo says, “The impact of the disease has decreased since its discovery, but since bats are slow to reproduce, population levels will not re-establish to pre white-nose syndrome levels in our lifetime.” Isn’t that terrible?

Little Brown Myotis can live up to 40 years and weigh about one to two toonies (4–11 g).

Our report showed that bat activity varied between nights. For example, the two Eastern Red bat calls were recorded on the same night. We don’t know whether the calls were from one bat or two. Each bat species has a unique echolocation call, so the scientists (and their software) can distinguish between species. However, the calls of individuals are difficult to distinguish between one another.

To identify the species, the scientists don’t listen to the recording. Instead they look at the spectogram–the graph produced by the sounds. Here’s what the calls look like for some of the different species.

Source: Toronto Zoo Native Bat Conservation Program

Bats change the shape of their call based on the type of environment they are in (for example when a bat is flying in an open space, compared to flying in a forest). Their calls also vary whether they’re navigating, feeding or socializing.

We see bats all the time at the farm, so it’s been really special to learn more about them. These results are a sample of the bats here. Some bats are more easily recorded than others. For example, loud, low-frequency bats are easier to detect than quiet, high-frequency bats. Also, the bats had to fly within range of the monitor.

However, the results give us a general idea about the bats here and can help to indicate where we have good habitats. Participating in this study has also helped me to learn more about bats and what I can do to help them.

Do you see bats where you live?

Six months with Cigo

This weekend marked six months since Cigo came home with us.

He has been a great fit for our family, and it’s hard to remember life without him. I feel like he’s always been here.

In honour of his six-months, here are six things about Cigo:

1. His head is heavy. One of the very first things we learned about Cigo is that his head weighs a lot and he frequently has to set it down. On the bed, on the couch, on the chair, on your lap. He does not have furniture privileges (though it appears he used to), and by resting his head on the couch and gazing up at us pathetically, he lets us know how terrible it is to have to stay on the floor.

This is his go-to sad puppy pose. He rested his head on the diving board at Matt’s parents’ house when he wasn’t allowed in the pool. Which brings us to number two…

2. He loves to swim. As soon as the ice thawed on the pond, Cigo was in the water. Now he runs there any time he wants to cool off. We went to a cottage last month, and he swam so much he had some withdrawal when we came home.

3. He’s a people person. Cigo is happiest when he’s with people, so the cottage week with my extended family was his definition of a good time. He even gave me a little space sometimes (he is very attached to me and doesn’t let me go far). I can’t complain too much. Having him beside me at night as I work is a good feeling. Plus it’s entertaining because…

4. He likes to sleep on his back. Seeing Cigo sprawled out all four feet in the air makes me laugh every time.

5. He’s great off leash. (Except for that one day that we won’t talk about.) Cigo has free run of the farm, which is exactly what I want for him. Baxter and I worked very hard at off leash, and he still wasn’t always reliable. But from the start Cigo has been great (we’re still working at making him great on leash). I’ve loved going hiking again, and it’s a great feeling to have confidence in my dog.

6. Kids are his superpower. Ellie was my biggest consideration when we adopted Cigo. The adoption coordinator at the SPCA picked him for us in part because of how good he was with her. Cigo is the most patient accommodating dog when it comes to children. He wears the necklaces she makes for him, admires the pictures she shows him, tolerates her sitting in his bed, and goes along with the games she plays.

Cigo goes pretty much everywhere with us, so that means lots of playgrounds. When kids come to see him, he continues laying where he was and lets them pet him. If kids are uncertain around dogs, he stays stoic and calm while they work themselves out. It’s magic to see.

I made the decision to adopt Cigo very quickly. But I was thoughtful about what was most important to us. I wanted a dog who could be part of our family–who would fit in with our life and what we like to do. Cigo has been that in more ways that I ever hoped.

I wrote some blog posts a long time ago for That Mutt that feel relevant to share:

How we’re helping to save endangered bats

On Friday night I had my first bonfire of the season. They’ve become a Friday night tradition since COVID. A way to visit with my friends safely and stay connected. They’re also a chance to watch the bats that fly around the farm.

This week, we have a new addition at the farm to help us keep an eye–or in this case an ear–on the bats. An Anabat Swift acoustic monitor.

What is that you ask?

It’s a recorder that monitors bats.

I signed up for a community science project with the Native Bat Conservation Program at the Toronto Zoo.

For the next few nights, the monitor will be recording the calls of the bats flying around the farm.

Bats are very important ecologically. They pollinate plants, disperse seeds and help control pests like mosquitoes. They are key to a healthy ecosystem. But bat populations have declined dramatically over the last several years. There are 8 species of bats in Ontario and 4 of them are endangered.

Bats are hard animals to study, so scientists are sometimes limited in how much information they have on bats in a particular area. Bats are nocturnal, their roosts can be hard to find, they can be challenging to handle, and their behaviour varies by species and season.

Acoustic monitoring is a way to track and analyse bats.

Throughout the summer, volunteers like us are installing the monitors all over Ontario. The monitor records the bats for 4-5 nights, and then we pass it on to the next volunteer.

The team at the Zoo will analyse the recordings and determine what bats are found in a particular area (each species has its own specific call). Over the fall and winter, they will manually identify all of the calls one by one–thousands and thousands of calls.

The recordings will help the Native Bat Conservation Program to assess what species are found where, what time bats are active, and identify any sites where there are species at risk. The information will be contributed to the North American bat database and help to inform conservation efforts.

We will also receive a personalized report of what species and how many calls were heard at the farm.

I love seeing bats flying around at dusk, and I’m excited to learn more about the bats in our area and how we can help them.

Do you see bats where you live? Have you every participated in a community science project? Are you keeping an eye on any endangered species? Have you had a summer bonfire yet?

Remembering Ralph

Ralph the barn cat

Ralph died last week.

The farm feels different.

I’ve never known the farm without Ralph. She was here before us. (Here’s her introduction on the blog.)

After she died, Ellie and I went for a walk. As we came up the trail toward the barn, I was hit by the thought that Ralph wasn’t here.

It doesn’t feel right. Another hole in our family.

Our barncat Ralph

I call Ralph the #worldsbestbarncat. Because she was. She was tough and savvy. Gentle and affectionate.

Our first spring was particularly memorable for the four kittens she gave us–and the realization she was female.

Everyday she would wait for Matt to come home from work, knowing that he’d head straight to the barn to dish out her kibble. Her habit of waiting on the driveway and demanding food and attention led to her broken leg–and her temporary stint as an indoor cat.

Child sitting on the floor reading a book to a cat sitting on a chair

She bonded with Ellie from the beginning and was an exceptional babysitter. If I sat Ellie on the ground, Ralph would wind around her. Ellie would laugh and try and try to reach and pet. Ellie’s gentleness and affection for animals is rooted in Ralph and Baxter.

Ellie, Bax and Ralph by the silo

We have no idea how old she was or what her life was like before we came here. She was blind in one eye, pretty much deaf, almost toothless and lame (mostly a joke, since her leg healed very well). She did not like dogs, though she did come to tolerate Baxter. Even in her last weeks as she was weak and ill, she had the energy to hiss and swipe at Cigo.

Maybe she waited until Cigo was here. We have another furry family member to watch over us now. Her time here was done. Now she is with Matt and Baxter.

Matt and Ralph walk to the barn

She gave us 10 special years, and she will always be part of this farm and our family.

Adding to our family

One of the functions the mudroom was designed for is being fulfilled. A row of hooks is now holding leashes, collars and old towels.

Last week, Ellie and I added Cigo to our family.

I was not looking for a dog. But something made me click onto the SPCA website. There I saw an easy-going 3 year old boxer lab. That all sounded very familiar, and we had an amazing experience last time.

Without giving myself time to think, I put in an application. A few days later we went to meet him. Ellie liked him and he was good with her–my most important criteria. The next day, we heard from the adoptions coordinator that we were approved and he could come home with us.

Cigo (See-Go) has been a nice addition to our family. We’re all still adjusting, and it’s definitely a juggle. But seeing Ellie with him is incredibly special and having him with me as I write at night is comforting.

His overall disposition is awesome. He’s good with people, children and dogs, and doesn’t bother with our food or Ellie’s toys. He doesn’t have a lot of training, so we’re working on basics like not pulling on the leash, stay and our house rules.

He loves the farm and likes rolling in the snow, checking out the smells when we go snowshoeing and running around the driveway with Ellie.

A week in, he’s starting relax and know what’s expected. And we’re getting to know him and what he needs. It feels good to share the love and joy of our family.

How to fight gypsy moths

Gypsy moths are an invasive species that is very destructive to trees. Caterpillars “feed gregariously.” If there are enough caterpillars, they may eat all of the leaves off a tree. “Severe defoliation can reduce tree growth and predispose trees to attack from other insects and diseases.” (Source)

We prize our trees here at the farm, and we’ve had some caterpillar damage the last few years. So last week, Ellie and I spent a morning scraping gypsy moth eggs off our trees.

Child standing on a ladder scraping gypsy moth eggs off a tree

I had noticed some pale patches on various trees and after a close look assumed they were egg deposits of some kind. Then, articles in a couple of magazines confirmed they were from gypsy moths. A very detailed article in our community newsletter advised scraping them into a bucket of hot water mixed with bleach. And to do it by May before the caterpillars hatched.

We were already into the first week of May, so Ellie and I got busy right away. We carefully examined our trees and scraped off any masses we found. A few had already hatched, though the caterpillars were still small and hadn’t crawled away yet. I was very glad to remove them before they moved onto the trees.

Gypsy moth egg mass with newly hatched caterpillars
Gypsy moth egg masses on a maple tree

We used a ladder to get as high as we could. We were careful to scrape as many of the eggs off as possible and catch them in the bucket, rather than letting them fall to the ground.

Gypsy moth egg masses and caterpillars in a bucket of water

We found the eggs on many of our maple trees. I’m sure there are a few we missed, and some that were out of reach. I’m hoping that we removed enough to prevent the trees from being severely damaged.

Our community newsletter also recommended wrapping sticky tape around the bottom of the trees to catch the caterpillars, so I’m planning on doing that as well.

The article concluded, “The more people that are aware and actively working to reduce gypsy moth populations, the better overall control we will have over this invasive pest.” I hope that this post encourages you to check your property for signs of gypsy moths.

Do you have any pests on your property? Are gypsy moths a problem in your area?

Ralph update

Three months after breaking her leg, Ralph is finally free from her cast.

Cat meowing

When we first went to the vet at the beginning of November and he said it would be 6-8 weeks, I gulped. Keeping a barn cat contained for two months? This wasn’t going to be fun.

Well, it ended up being just over 12 weeks, and our barn cat now lives in the house.

We started off with Ralph in the mudroom. We keep the door from the mudroom to the house closed, so she could be contained and safe, but not in the house. For the first few weeks of her confinement, she was mad. She hated being inside. Then she adjusted and we had a peaceful couple of weeks. But then she got mad again. This time she was mad that she wasn’t in the house.

She would yowl for more than an hour at a time. Finally I couldn’t handle the noise, and I moved her inside. She settled into a corner of the kitchen and has lived happily ever since.

Fortunately, the transition has not been difficult. She stays in the living room or kitchen. She uses her litterbox. She does not scratch or climb on the furniture (aside from a couple of attempts in the early days).

Child sitting on the floor reading a book to a cat sitting on a chair

She’s occasionally more nocturnal than I would like and yowls in the night. And I really don’t like having a litterbox in the house and having to clean it.

But I think this is what’s best for our girl right now.

Her leg is still healing. I can feel a bump where the break has mended. But her leg is skinny and weak after two months with a splint and another month wrapped in a bandage. She needs to walk on it to rebuild the strength in both her muscles and bone.

Cat with a cast on her back leg

The vet checked her over at her last appointment, and the verdict is she’s a lame, blind, deaf, toothless cat. She gets to have whatever comfort she wants right now.

She curls up on Ellie’s playmat if we have a morning sunbeam. And when Ellie and I have lunchtime picnics in the living room, she comes to join us.

Cat begging for food from a young girl

At night when I’ve finished work, I sit in the living room for a few minutes and read. Ralphie invariably gets up and hobbles over to my chair for pets.

While I may not be an indoor cat person, Ralph isn’t a bad cat to have indoors.

I am extremely grateful that she wasn’t hurt too badly and the leg seems to have healed.

Are you a cat person? Any tips for night time yowling? Have you gone through an injury with your pet?

Busy, busy beavers

A month into living at the farm I wrote a post that was basically, “I think I saw a beaver? It wasn’t really a beaver, was it?” It turned out that yes, it was a beaver.

And they’re still here and busier than ever.

Ellie and I visited them on the weekend. She likes to throw sticks into the water for the beavers and climb the “beaver tree.”

Child standing on a tree in the middle of a large beaver lodge

Since we cleared the pond shore last year, the beaver lodge became visible. It wraps around the big willow–the beaver tree–on the shore.

Partially frozen pond with a large tree and beaver lodge on the shore

Occasionally over the summer we caught a glimpse of the beavers swimming in the pond or heard splashing during one of our campfires.

In the lead up to winter, the beavers added sooooo many sticks and sooooo much mud to their lodge. It is very large.

Close up of a stick in a beaver lodge

If you take the trail from the pond around the meadow and behind the barn, you come to the beavers’ logging camp. They’ve taken down about a dozen trees here. In the fall, Matt’s Dad came and cut up three trees that had fallen over the fence and across the path. He dumped the wood at the firepit by the pond. The beavers dragged every single log into the water. And then they went back and knocked over a bunch more trees.

Trees stumps cut by beavers
Child ducking to walk under a tree cut down by beavers

Apparently, “beavers store food (fresh branches) in the water around their lodges” in the fall. Then “in the winter, a beaver will swim out… to get food under the ice.”

This gives me a bit of comfort as the build up of sticks in the pond this fall has me worried that the beavers are planning to build a dam across the middle.

The weather here has been much too mild for the pond to freeze yet. And I can see where the beavers have broken through the ice to keep the water open. They’ve also still been coming up on shore to eat the bark off a variety of trees, including a huge maple.

Beaver damage around the base of a large tree

I’m a little worried for the maple and still concerned that the beavers are going to take over the whole pond, but I’m hoping we can continue to share the farm. I still think it’s so neat that we have beavers.

Do you have any interesting wildlife at your house? Anyone have any experience with beavers to share?

Barn cat with a broken leg

Our girl, Ralph, has a broken leg.

Ralph is, like most cats I’ve met, assertive. She likes attention, likes to be involved, likes to know what’s going on. As a result, when anyone comes to visit us, Ralphie is right there. As in right there under the car before you park.

So yes, I ran over Ralph. We’ve done dance hundreds of times. I drive in very, very slowly. She gets too close. I go slower. She gets out of the way. I park and we discuss traffic safety and proper greeting procedures.

Two weeks ago, our usual routine went awry.

A trip to the vet revealed her leg was broken (though thankfully no other injuries). She was sent home with a splint, pain medications and instructions to take it easy and keep the bandage dry.

We turned the mudroom into Ralph’s room with food, water, an old dog bed of Baxter’s, a litter pan and lots of treats. While she hated being in the house at first, proximity to Ellie (aka Giver Of Treats) has changed her perspective.

Also, she’s realized that being out of the wind, rain and, yesterday, snow, is not a bad deal. In fact, every time I tried to put her outside yesterday, she scooted around me to get back in the house.

She’s figured out how to walk on three legs and has made it back to the barn several times. She’s also made a few escape attempts the other way–through the mudroom and into the rest of the house (not happening, girl). She yowls when she needs to go outside (the litter pan is also not happening–she’s always been part dog).

A check-up last week revealed that the bones are still aligned, though they’ve not started to mend yet. With our at least 8-years-old cat, it may take awhile. For now, we’re doing our best to take care of each other and be comfortable in our new routine.

Have any of your pets ever had a broken leg? Has anyone else ever accidentally injured a pet?

Our golden boy

Baxter at sunset

Last week, on a warm sunny day, under the shade of a big maple tree in front of the house, Baxter died. I held him and told him what a good boy he is and how special he is and how well he had done at everything.

And I told him Matt was waiting for him and would be so, so happy to see him. I can see Baxter wagging his helicopter tail and singing his woo-woo howl when he sees Matt.

Baxter hadn’t felt up to singing or wagging for awhile, so it will be nice for him to return to himself finally.

Baxter's last walk with Ralph and Ellie

As soon as we moved to the farm, Matt and I knew we would add a dog to our family. Baxter was with us through so much. He tolerated renovations, followed the tractor around and lay in the sun as we worked outside. He went along with whatever we were doing and we were a unit.

When Ellie was born, Baxter was uncertain. But he watched over her and made sure she was taken care of, even through his early uneasiness. She became part of our unit, and he became rock solid for her.

Ellie and Baxter sitting on the grass

Ellie reading to Baxter

I am so grateful that he was in her life. Ellie’s love for animals and her gentleness with them is rooted with Baxter. She will carry the lessons he taught her through her life.

Ellie laying on the floor beside Baxter

Feeding Baxter

Matt and Bax had a special relationship. Their little routines or sayings are unique to them. As Matt’s illness progressed, there were many nights Baxter stayed with him. He stayed close to Matt and watched him carefully.

Matt with Baxter

And after Matt died, Baxter was there for me, asking for very, very little as we went through each day and giving patience and comfort through tearful late night conversations and cuddles.

There is another hole in our lives.

But, our lives were fuller because of him, and we hold him with us.

Our family