A Toast to the Animals of the Bay

When my parents retired from recreational boating almost 25 years ago, they bought a seasonal cottage on a Georgian Bay island where they could live from May until October, have their kids and grandkids visit to explore, enjoy, and hopefully learn a little along the way about what makes Georgian Bay beautiful.

And in the time I have spent visiting and vacationing there over the years, I have found one of the most amazing things that never fails to disappoint are the resident animals – our “animals of the hood” as I like to call them.

Georgian Bay is a diverse biological habitat for many different species of wildlife and although they were here first, the animals have for the most part become accustomed to the occasional cottage or cabin and human that shares their landscape. And generally both the animals and humans can happily co-exist in harmony, learning, and one hopes, understanding one another’s habits.

At the start of every year, we are never quite sure what animals we will have on the island. The surrounding waters are frozen in the winter so the local bear, deer, fox and other animals can walk across the ice between islands, ending up on whatever one they were at when the ice started to melt. Over the years we have seen many come and go but some remain, disappearing only to hibernate, and then emerge to greet us in the spring. These I call my “animals of the hood” and I know their patterns and they are my story

Every spring upon our first arrival at the island, we are greeted at the dock by a large family of bass. They have used our dock as a spawning ground for over 20 years and their population has grown from single digits to over 30 this year. They have their babies in June and in years past would depart shortly after that however this year they remained until fall, making the back bay behind our cottage their permanent summer home. I actually once witnessed a spawning while sitting on the dock…the male and female had the waters churning like mad, and then “poof”, all over in seconds but don’t feel bad for the female – once she has laid the eggs, she is free to move on and find another mate and the male remains with the eggs.

The bass share the bay with Snappy, our majestic snapping turtle who loves to flash us his shell! These prehistoric looking omnivores are the largest freshwater turtle in Canada and their shell can grow to a size of 47 cm, or 18”. I have no idea how old Snappy is but he’s been this size since we first arrived here 25 years ago and they can reach upwards of 70 years in age. Snappy loves seeing the Georgian Pearl come in to the dock as the small crumbs and tidbits that get washed down our sink and into the water become his evening appetizer! He is a gentle giant and I have no worries swimming when he’s floating about, but they can be dangerous when encountered on land.

And snakes, yes there are lots of snakes on Georgian Bay. We have Massassauga Rattlesnakes that keep their distance, a few Eastern Fox snakes, one that suns himself on our dock when we are around. He has grown significantly over the years and enjoys the abundance of chipmunks on the island. But this one caught me by surprise, sitting in the bush just off the main path from dock to cottage – a rare species of non venomous snake, the Eastern Hog Nose snake is on the threatened species list and looks a whole lot scarier than he is.

The whole cobra-like hood and massive jaw with those big fangs are apparently all theatrics – when he feels threatened that’s his reaction, it’s all just a show. But I did not get close enough to test that theory!

On the much gentler side, our resident deer is very quiet and respectful, she grazes the grass we don’t want growing and leaves our beautiful wild flowers alone.

And our chipmunks, so many chipmunks! We just call them all Theodore….it’s easier that way as they all look alike! And they scurry around like crazy, occasionally leaping out at our feet as we walk the path between dock and cottage. They truly think they are mightier than us but as I like to ask them “Hey! Isn’t that the fox snake behind you?” LOL….if only they could respond!

But the fact is that eventually curiosity gets the best of us all, regardless of species, and that is when the lines start to blur between human and animal. But then I think, I’d be curious as to what happens in the big house too if I were them! And on occasions like that, we humans have to intervene and explain there is just not another seat at the table for dinner! This poor snake got into our dining room and caught in a mouse trap.

We were able to carry and release him outdoors and he survived, albeit with a bit of a squished tail….yep, he is now named “Squishy”.

And this little brown bat tried his hardest to breach the exterior so he could come for cocktails…but we were eventually able to talk him out of it and he returned to the bat cave until nightfall!

We do come to depend on one another and over the years a certain trust and respect can be built. But be warned, much like humans, not all the wildlife can be reasonable! Every once in a while our harmonious cohabitation gets upended by an intruder and although it doesn’t happen often, it can be quite upsetting to our group when it does.

This summer we became targets of nuisance beavers who chewed through the cribbing under our dock to create their ideal home. Every so often, when walking down the dock, we would be startled by the great slap of the beaver tail in the water. They annoyed the bass and then I caught them terrifying our local Merganser chapter as they tried to pass through. I felt so bad for those poor ducks…but I must say, they sure got some good rhythm!

And so enough with the bullying, we humans retaliated by building our own version of a dam which we nailed to the beaver chewed holes in the side of our dock this fall, not sure if they were inside or not but they have disappeared…for now anyways!

And as I always like to have a back up plan, if that doesn’t work, I have an authentic Georgian Bay Trapper on speed dial now, thanks to a friend of mine.

So yes, today I toast the animals of the Bay and especially those in my “hood”. As Dr Dolittle once said, “if only I could talk to the animals”, and that is exactly how I feel – I would love to hear their stories but for now I will have to settle with my own version.

It has been another wonderful 5 months observing their patterns and rituals and nuttiness! I will miss them all, my “hood” pals, and wish them a short and easy winter. Come next May I hope we are all back together once again in good health and harmony!

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