Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Wild Nightlife in Huttonville

As we passed the tiny United Church on Friday night, we could here them yipping and howling in the near distance. I turned worriedly to my husband beside me and said, "I've never heard them that close." 

Every evening we take the dogs for a walk just before bedtime. Usually, we take the same route up the hill through the village. Despite increased levels of commuter traffic and farm fields that are slowly giving way to house-lined streets, Huttonville in these quite hours of the late evening retains the atmosphere of a small rural community in the middle of the countryside.

Often on these late night walks, we have encountered small nocturnal creatures; most often rabbits and the occasional skunk, possum or fox. One evening, a raccoon hissed at us from his perch in a tree top. Another time, my son and I came across a beaver- at least we think it was a beaver for he slapped his wide tail on the ground to warn off the dogs. 

Most of these small animals are harmless. It the coyotes who frighten me. Coyotes have been known to attack domestic animals, particularly dogs. Our neighbors can also tell you sad tales of cats lost to these nocturnal scavengers. Recently, in Nova Scotia there have even been several attacks on humans, resulting in at least one death.

Usually, we hear the coyotes calling from the surrounding hills or down by the Credit River, but on last Friday night, they were very close by. The coyotes had in fact worked themselves into frenzy of excitement, singing out to one another. Were they celebrating a prize already brought down or were they on the hunt?

"You head back with the dogs and I'll stand here for a minute to watch and make sure they don't come up from behind us.", Harold replied in urgent hushed tones. 

I didn't like his plan of remaining behind. I opened my mouth to protest, when a dark shadow darted out of the brush just ahead of us. 

I held my breath and watched the shadow cross to our side of the road. Was it a coyote? I squinted harder. No, it was too small and had a long bushy tail. It only a fox running to escape the coyotes, thank goodness! 

Relieved, we turned quickly in the direction of home. As we walked back through the village, we passed the quaint United Church. Built in 1886 and is one of the community's oldest surviving structures. 

Do you see the small belfry in this photograph? It is home to many small sized bats, the other nighttime creature that I want to tell you about in this Halloween post.

If you pass the church at dusk, you can hear the bird-like chirps of the bats in the church belfry as they wake and stretch their wings. And if you are brave enough to stand and watch, you can see them emerge one by one from the darkness of the belfry and take flight. 

These dark little phantoms swoop low and then flutter their wings wildly to rise back up into the day's fading light. They fly so quickly that, as they whoosh past, they seem to be no more than a light breeze on a hot summer night.

Now, in the cold of late fall and later in freezing temperatures of winter they sleep quietly in the comfort of the belfry. Come summer however, the mosquitoes and bugs a plenty in our small riverside village bring them awake to feed each evening.

One night, a couple of summers ago, we headed up to the third floor attic, as we do every evening, to watch some television. It had been a blistering, hot afternoon and we had opened all the windows to cool the house.

When we switched on the light at the top of the attic staircase, much to our surprise, a frightened bat flew from its perch on the attic's barn-like beams and swooped low just over our heads. Startled, we both just barely ducked out of the way, as the terrified bat flew from one end of the room to the other.

"How the heck did a bat get in? " I asked turning my husband. Before he could answer, we again had to dive for cover as the frightened bat took flight again.

"Maybe there is a hole in one of the window screens.", Harold offered.

"Great", I replied "Now what do we do?"

Together, we hatched a plan to remove the screens and open the windows as wide as possible- that way the bat could hopefully find his own way out. 

Bad plan! An hour or so later, the bat was still diving at us from his roost on the beams. 

We had nor idea what to do next, so we knocked on a few of our a neighbors doors desperately looking for fresh ideas. "If you knock it to the ground, they can't take flight again", one neighbor suggested. 

We headed back to the house and Harold mounted the attic stairs, corn broom in hand.

Even more frightened by the appearance of this unknown assailant, the bat took frantic runs back and forth across the length of the room. Fortunately for us, the broom caught one of his wings in mid-flight and he fell to the floor. The neighbor was right- the bat lay stunned on the ground unable to fly! Harold placed a wire wastebasket over him and then scooped him inside. 

A few minutes later, we released the bat unharmed into the summer night. The following morning we checked all the window screens. No holes! How did the bat get in the house then? This is a mystery we have yet to solve and is not the only bat story I have to tell....

Have a spook-tacular Halloween evening everyone!


  1. Fabulous post! Coyotes are attacking people?? That's so odd since they're really shy creatures. As for bats, we used to get them in our attic in our old (1895) house in NY. They were coming in under the roof flashing and slipping into the finished attic. Twice, we had bats go flying through the house. I thought it was pretty cool!

  2. Yes, you are right that coyotes are generally afraid of people. Recently, however there have been a number of reports of unusually aggressive coyotes. The first incident was an attack on a girl camping in a National Park. She suffered several bites to the head. Read more:
    The second attack was on a young folk singer from Toronto. Sadly, the young woman died. Almost as sad, 4000 coyotes were culled by Parks Canada as a result of this aggressive behavior.

  3. Loved this post great photos and rather spooky.

  4. What a great story/post! and perfect for Halloween. I loved your photos too - especially the ones with the moon and the trees. Hope you had a wonderful Halloween!

  5. I LOVE your photos ~ really cool! My friend lives on a farm in Sunderland, Ontario and has lost several of her livestock (sheep, chickens and even a newborn foal). She called the Ministry who came out to investigate the killings. She's been told there's a new culprit on the loose ~ a coyote/wolf cross. A hybrid that is proving to be quite dangerous. I always feel for the 'wild' animal that must compete with us but would never want to see either a human or domestic pet harmed.

  6. Wonderful photos! We too have bats in the attic but frankly I find them fascinating. It is unfortunate about coyotes (we've lost a cat ourselves) but we always have to remember that it is us taking away their homes from them. Somehow a way to share the space needs to happen. I was shocked at the attacks though as this is unusual behaviour. Hopefully not an increasing trend.

  7. Wow, that sure was a good scary story.
    Back at my grandfather little town, coyotes usually hunt for chickens or small animals, but they are usually afraid of people. You can usually hear them at night howling from the hills.

    Loved the photos!

  8. Thanks for your great comments everyone. I agree wholeheartedly with the comment reminding us all that we need to consider the pressure that encroaching housing developments have been putting coyotes under. We need to have a better plan to share land with them.


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