A thrilling saga of man versus chipmunk

The culprit

Oh boy, people, have I got a yarn for you tonight! Thrills and spills, cloak and dagger, cat and mouse – oh, wait, no, make that last one “man and chipmunk.”

It all starts (as every good story should) with a mystery. It is, in fact, a mystery that I’ve written about before, back a few weeks ago when the mystery first appeared in our lives. The post is here, and the mystery was this:

The new hole in the lawn

By “this” I mean (as you will know if you read that post) a small pile of dirt and a hole in the ground that appeared out of nowhere on the Manse’s front lawn in mid-July. When I asked you good readers (and also some of my Queensborough neighbours) for ideas on what might have caused it, I got two totally sensible suggestions: red squirrels, and moles.

Much as Raymond and I didn’t particularly relish endangering a small creature, we also didn’t really much want animal tunnels and piles of dirt on the lawn. So we filled in the hole, and shortly thereafter proceeded to drive down to Maine for a seaside vacation.

Well! When we returned, the first thing we noticed as we pulled into the Manse’s driveway was that the pile of dirt had grown much, much bigger. What the dickens was going on?

Here is what it looked like:

Big pile of dirt

Raymond filled it in again. Next day, the hole was back. Raymond repeated the exercise. Same outcome. This animal, whatever it was, was evidently very determined to make its home beside our front walkway, and mess up our lawn in the process.

Now, I should add at this juncture that all the while we’d been watching the work of this persistent but invisible small creature, we – or at least I – had also been cooing at the cuteness of a chipmunk that kept dashing up onto the front porch to say hello when I sat out there on nice afternoons, reading a book or writing on my laptop. Such a sweet and friendly little visitor.

Well, you can probably see where this is going. A few mornings after our return from vacation, Raymond was watching the mouth of the tunnel, and for the first time he saw its industrious inhabitant emerge. It was, of course, Mr. Chipmunk.

I was quite astonished, not having had the slightest idea that chipmunks dig tunnels in the ground. I had laboured under the delusion – apparently quite common – that they live in trees, like squirrels. But according to no less an authority than National Geographic: “Some dig burrows to live in, complete with tunnels and chambers, while others make their homes in nests, bushes, or logs.” And here is Wikipedia’s listing on the Eastern Chipmunk, its habitat, and so on. But that all said, I was still quite amazed that such a small creature could make such a great big pile of dirt (and such a mess) on our lawn.

At this juncture Raymond went to work in earnest, filling up the hole, moving the excess dirt, and tamping the whole thing down hard. Here he is, labouring away:

Raymond filling in the hole

And then, the pièce de résistance:

Kitty covering the hole

He installed Kitty, the Friendly Lion (whom I previously wrote about here), right on top of where the hole had been. SInce Kitty is pretty darn heavy, we figured she was bound to stop Mr. Chipmunk from emerging again. That is, if he was down in the hole at the time of her installation. As it turned out, he wasn’t – or, if he was, he had an escape route. Because just a few minutes after Raymond had put away his shovel and washed his hands, who showed up on the front porch where I was watching the world go by but – well, you’ve guessed it. And boy, did he look ticked! Just look at the evil eye he was giving me:

Chipmunk comes to complain

Clearly he had come to complain to the management. He might not have realized at first that “the management” at that point also included Sieste the cat, who made a brief show of going after the chipmunk when he jumped off the porch and into the perennial garden:

Sieste goes after the chipmunk

But Sieste being less than the ferocious hunter that she likes to pretend she is, she got nowhere near him. Much to Raymond’s disgust, because by this time he was really getting fed up with the chipmunk and its antics.

But look closely again at the photo of the chipmunk registering his complaint to me and perhaps you’ll notice something else about him. See how full his cheeks are? I didn’t really notice it at the time, but a day or so later we discovered what the little varmint was really up to at the Manse – and then everything became clear.

We were in the future conservatory – my fancy name for the back porch, or summer kitchen (as it would have been called at the time the Manse was built in the late 19th century) – clearing some stuff out, when Raymond suddenly noticed that there was a huge mess in the vicinity of an unopened giant bag of birdseed that he’d bought in preparation for next winter:

Birdseed mess

After moving a few things out of the way, we realized that something had made a great big hole in that brand-new bag, and the birdseed had spilled out all over the place. And I mean all over the place:

The hole in the birdseed bag

As I undertook to clean it up with a broom and dustpan, I spotted the culprit. Standing there at the back of the back porch, as brazen as you please, watching me do my cleanup and looking none too happy about it.

You guessed it. Mr. Chipmunk.

All at once we had the complete picture. The chipmunk – one of a plethora of them that seem to be around this year, as I’ve noted before – had found his way into the back porch, struck gold when his eye caught the birdseed bag, proceeded to gnaw his way through the thick plastic, and was busily spending his days (and nights too, for all I know; are chipmunks nocturnal?) transporting huge mouthfuls of it, stored in his cheeks, down into his tunnel and perhaps to other places for winter storage.

Man, that chipmunk must have thought he’d got it made! For this coming winter and perhaps for many winters to come. It was a big bag of birdseed.

Why he chose to dig his burrow right smack in the middle of the front lawn, rather than somewhere much closer to the back of the house where the birdseed was, is a puzzle to me. Perhaps he was hoping to deke us out. Which he pretty much did – until we finally caught on to him.

“So,” I’m sure you’re asking yourself, “what’s the current status of the Raymond-vs.-the-chipmunk battle?”

Well, I’ll tell you. The birdseed in the back porch is all cleaned up and long gone, so that once-hugely-promising food supply has disappeared from Mr. Chipmunk’s life. But Mr. Chipmunk hung around.

For one thing, he kept making new holes in the patch of earth on the front lawn. Raymond would just nicely fill up one (and move Kitty to cover it) when, the next day, a new one would appear. Here is Raymond going at it yet again:

The chipmunk battle continues

And for another thing, the peanut-butter-baited mousetraps in our basement, which had seen essentially no action at all since we caught a mouse or two not long after we first bought the house 2½ years ago, are suddenly snapping quite regularly. Without catching anything! But the peanut butter is gone. Same thing with a trap that Raymond set in the back porch after we learned of Chipmunk’s presence. Apparently, deprived of the promise of maybe a lifetime’s worth of birdseed, the chipmunk is going for whatever he can find on the property. And for the moment, a teaspoon of peanut butter in every mousetrap will have to do.

However: it is within the realm of possibility that I put an end to the chipmunk saga yesterday. Remember how I wrote about scrubbing down the parts of a musty chest of drawers with very hot water and Murphy’s Oil Soap? I used several buckets’ worth, and – upon consultation with Raymond, who readily approved the plan – poured the contents when I was finished with each one straight down the latest chipmunk hole, which was right beside where I was working. I felt rather badly about it, but you know, somebody has to win this battle. And I would rather it be us.

But given how wily Mr. Chipmunk has proven himself to be so far, I have every expectation that he will have survived this latest attempt on his life, or at least his quality of life. He may pop up on the front porch at any minute, to scold me yet again.

Stay tuned.

14 thoughts on “A thrilling saga of man versus chipmunk

  1. You have discovered that Queensborough area rodents are very fast learners. Teach your cat to hunt.

    Ours does a great job as they have all moved out. I saw them heading down the road with their little suitcases and I think I heard them say they were going to town. Something about a Manse!

    • Dave, I laughed out loud! Thanks for a comment that made my day – and thus made me feel a little better about our chipmunk situation. Unfortunately I think Sieste the cat is a little too elderly to become the ferocious hunter she thinks she is. You know what they say about teaching an old cat new tricks. Oh, wait a minute…

  2. “…are chipmunks nocturnal?…”

    Nope. They’re diurnal creatures, like our local Black & Red Squirrels. One is very unlikely to observe our local nocturnal Northern Flying Squirrels [they have perhaps the most beautiful faces in animaldom] as they are quite secretive

    Personally, I like Chipmunks, going so far as to pry them out of the mouths of my cats.

  3. For 3 years I fed a tiny chipmunk, whom I called Tomtom because he only had one ear and had lost most of his tail. I’d sit on the veranda to read and have my tea and would leave a tiny bowl with a few walnut halves in it on the small table at my side – he’d jump up on the table and looked just so happy to be fed without having the trouble of finding the food. Don’t know exactly where he lived but I saw a few holes near the house. Easy as pie… dropped a few mothballs down the hole and low and behold they never came back. As for the bags of seed, for me it was field mice in the fall who came in the basement and ate through the bags. I bought a large metal canister with a lid and now always put the seeds in there. Good luck with the ongoing battle… do keep us posted!

    • Thanks so much, Johanne! We will most definitely take your advice on storing birdseed and the like in a metal container (with a tightly shutting lid). And I’ve bought some mothballs to try your recommendation for getting the chipmunk to decamp, though haven’t dropped them down the hole yet. Partly because I keep discovering more holes! That chipmunk is a very industrious little critter. Very cute though.

  4. Well, chipmunks must eat, too (like the birds) and I hope he wasn’t feeding baby chippies in his little home. Love, your sister aka “Chipmunk” a nickname Daddy gave me when I was a toddler.

    • We totally do, Hayley, though we could never convince Sieste of that. She is very determined to be the only cat of the household. And since she’s pretty elderly and getting rather frail, we figured it would be best not to try her patience with a new arrival. But someday! Meanwhile, the chipmunk scurries merrily along…

  5. At around 7 pm today [Aug 23], I met Mr Chipmunk [his name is “Jasper Chipmunk” of the Squirrel clan]. He is very friendly, scampering up to touch my shoe. He told me that he was very distressed to find his hole in the ground to be plugged on numerous occasions. He thinks the two human residents of the Manse are very nice and trusts that they will take care of the culprit that is disturbing his innocuous activities

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