Sunday, July 8, 2012

Country mouse, city mouse

I lived for about 20 years in Boston, specifically in Jamaica Plain. JP is on the edge of Boston, kind of half way between suburb and inner city. It's predominantly two family houses of the style called double-deckers because of the porches. They typically have postage stamp front lawns and slightly large back lawns, maybe 400 square feet. Some neighborhoods are grander, with single family homes on slightly bigger plots. Centre St., the main drag, has some apartment buildings and churches and what not, and is otherwise lined with store fronts, mostly one story and some with office space on a second floor. There is a bit of additional open space in churchyards, schoolyards, pocket parks and the odd bit of land that just never got developed. All along one side is a stretch of Frederick Law Olmstead's famous Emerald Necklace, the parkland that surrounds Boston.

The fauna out here in the woods is obviously more diverse than what I came to know in JP, but it's interesting to think about the overlap and the differences. In both places, of course, you'll see some common birds -- robins, crows, starlings, a no doubt some others but I'm not a birder so I can't name them. Here, there are many more kinds of birds, making a continuous chorus in the trees. Among the species I often see, that I never saw in JP, are cardinals, hummingbirds, barred owls, and of course turkeys. Not to say there couldn't have been any, but I never saw them.

The most common bird in the city is of course what people commonly call pigeons, which are actually imported African rock doves. You can't take four steps on the Centre St. sidewalk without tripping over one, but they don't live out here. I'm going to guess there are at least two reasons. One is lack of roosting places. Their wild ancestors lived in cliff faces, and the urban version roosts on building ledges and cornices, bridgework -- cliff-like structures built by humans. Trees are not their thing. Also, we have lots of raptors out here and pigeons would seem to be easy prey. They feed on the ground and they are slow flyers. Their niche out here is already taken by turkeys, which are too big and mean for the owls to bother. But a pigeon would be lunch in a hurry, I expect.

Turning to the mammals, the one critter that thrives in both places is the gray squirrel. We also have some red squirrels here but I never saw one in JP. The red squirrels favor pine trees, which we have here in plenty but were lacking in the city, so that one is easy. You would think chipmunks would be happy living under JP porches, but I never saw one. Out here they are very numerous. One lives in my woodshed, another under my porch, and they run across the road wherever you drive.

Also unseen in JP were possums. They're reclusive so they might have been around, who knows? Skunks were known to appear in JP, and raccoons are often found in cities though I never saw or heard of any in JP. A rabbit did take up residence on my block in the last year I lived there, but that was the only one I ever saw. I have read that the house mice found in the city are a different species than the white-footed mice out here.

Other than that, there doesn't seem to be any overlap. Rats seem to depend on human-made spaces. The common burrowing rodent out here that is most rat-like is the vole. There aren't any rats. In JP there are no deer, obviously, no foxes, no coyotes, no fishers, no river otters, no ground hogs, no beavers, no bobcats. We also have toads, various kinds of snakes, tree frogs (heard not seen), and as a matter of intense dispute, possibly mountain lions.

I quite enjoy them all.

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