Monday, June 26, 2017

An Overabundance of Gophers

Botta's Pocket Gopher - courtesy of Wikipedia

Frogpond (and every hill for miles around) is infested by gophers.  This spring they are everywhere:  in the gardens near the house and down in the lower garden; in the compost pile and underneath the chicken coop; all through the orchard and in the raised beds (even the ones lined all around with fine-mesh wire).  They have tunnels in my outdoor potted plants and have also managed to dig under the gravel of our driveway.

We've always had varying degrees of problems with gophers, but nothing like the magnitude of this destruction that is decimating just about everything I've got growing.



When we went shopping yesterday, our chrysanthemums had flowers.  When we came home, not so much.

I also noticed that our driveway sunflower was leaning forwards at an odd angle.  I brought the hose over to give it a drink and then noticed the gnaw-marks all the way around the stem.

A young oak I grew from an acorn - completely girdled

Apple tree in the orchard

Lady Banks Rose -- it's planted within a wire cage,
but gophers went over it

I work hard at not being too emotionally invested in my Frogpond garden(s).  Over the years I've learned that most plants here don't make it to maturity.  Between drought, heat, cold, wind, deer, and gophers, I have many more failures than successes.  It pays not to become too attached -- I'm happy when a plant or crop does well (apparently gophers don't like garlic) and remember to breathe and let go when, as is more often the case, they don't.  This spring I'm doing a lot of breathing and letting go.

That said, we're also out to do in as many of them as possible (but no poison, fumes or anything like that).  I don't possess much of a killer instinct, but if I'm holding a shovel and a gopher shows up, my Neanderthal instincts kick in and I know what to do.  That surprises and pleases me in equal measure.

Both dogs have learned how to hunt gophers, but Chance has developed quite the skill in pouncing on them in the tall grass.  Bruce got these pictures of him after weeks of trying to capture the entire sequence.

A gopher rustles in the grass

The leap

Mid-air adjustments

The pounce

Of the resident cats, Max is by far the most skilled and averages two to three gophers a day.  He eats most of each one he catches, but generally leaves some parts behind as evidence of his good work.  I go out with a shovel every morning to clean up what he's left for me.

Even ancient Arby (missing half of his teeth), is catching gophers.  He likes to do his hunting down by the pond.  Unfortunately, he'll catch one, very gently bring it up to the house to meet me, and then drop it.  As far as he's concerned, mission accomplished.  Only a bit drooled on, the fortunate gopher  beats a fast retreat to the nearest hiding place while Arby sits cleaning a paw.  All the gophers hope that should they get caught by a cat, that the cat doing the catching is Arby.

Other years, Bruce has set gopher traps with moderate success, but this year he's hunting them with his 22.   While watching him creep with his rifle through the orchard yesterday, I was reminded of Elmer Fudd.  They have similar techniques.  I wrestled with myself on whether I should share my observation or if that might not be the kind of joke to make to someone who is actively battling for the lives of my plants.  Before I could say anything, Bruce turned, put his fingers to his lips, and whispered, "Shhh!  Be vewy, vewy, quiet!".

I'll add that the Elmer Fudd technique is working -- Bruce added ten to the tally yesterday.

In some respects, getting rid of all these gophers seems hopeless.  There are so many of them.  I'm curious why we're having a rodent explosion this particular year.  Does this have something to do with the above-average rains this year?  I also notice that we have no rattlesnakes showing up here yet.  We don't exactly lay out the red carpet for them, but I have to say that the snakes do a fine job of thinning out the rodents.  Could the rains have washed them away?  We also have several pairs of barn owls nesting in two of the three owl boxes we put up.  At dusk we watch them crisscross overhead like small, luminous ghosts as they hunt.  They obviously are very busy -- so why so many gophers?

In the end, we'll just have to carry on with dispatching as many gophers as we can while waiting for nature to bring things into balance again.  Things have a way of working out.  I'll plant fewer roses and more garlic.  Breathe and let go.



  1. Over run with gophers - oh my! Nice that you have so many hunters in your household. We had one gopher that we never saw - he took about 80 daffodil bulbs my husband had planted. We tried to trap him to no avail. Maybe one of the cats that visit us got him because he is gone.

    Please think about posting more about your barn owls. We love them - such interesting birds with such ugly little owlets. How long did it take them to find your nesting boxes?

  2. At one time I would have thought that no way could a single gopher take out that many bulbs. I now know differently -- voracious beasties.

    I've been meaning to post about our owls for some time now (years). A while back, Bruce got some pictures of one leaving a nest box. We had a pair move in to one the first year we had it up and it's been occupied ever since. The second box took longer to get tenants and doesn't seem as popular. The third is right next to the orchard but is a dud despite all the gophers running around right below. We're planning on moving that one...