Guest Post

I’ve been encouraging a friend to start a blog. He refuses. But sometimes he sends me little stories. I asked if I could post this one on my blog as a guest post. He said yes, but picked a pen name… You’ll have to guess who it is. (But I won’t confirm your answers.)

Squirrel Wars

by “Woodpecker”

I love squirrels, their playful attitude and the way they scurry from tree limb to tree limb, but the past few days I’ve felt like Bill Murray in”Caddyshack”.

Red Squirrel - by Jeremy Martin

Red Squirrel - by Jeremy Martin

I caught one of the little red ground squirrels coming out of my bird box (where the wrens lived) with feathers in his mouth. Now, it’s bad enough that I can’t keep them from leaping from the fences onto any birdfeeder they want, but this was too much. I resolved to initiate eminent domain and execute a forced relocation.

Off to the hardware store I went, and came home very satisfied with a small animal live trap, which would let me drive the scoundrel to a park about a mile away.

Then I tried to set it up. Needing the skilled hands of a surgeon to get the tension properly adjusted, and lacking this skill, I fought with the aluminum contraption for at least half an hour before I finally decided I had it.

Round One:  I positioned the trap under a tree they favor and waited for their chirping voices. It didn’t take long, and the guilty squirrel began a whole series of excited rushes and false charges, always stopping and running back up the tree. Finally he approached it slowly and my excitement mounted. But rather than enter one of the two doors, he kept up a sideways attack. Finally, he jiggled it enough to set off the trap, which sent him off up the tree for a long, long time. Good, I thought, maybe I’ve scared him away for good. Just in case, I moved the trap across the walkway and into one corner of my garden.

Round Two:  about 5 or 10 minutes later I heard the chittering of my nemisis. This time he had brought a fiend, a smaller lighter version of himself, which I assume was his mate.

Can you imagine the conversation back at the nest?

“Really honey, there was a huge pile of that peanut butter-like stuff we love back there, but it’s inside some stange metal thing with doors and rods that scare me. I don’t wanna go in; come see.”

“Really Sam you are such a baby. But I’ll go look.”

The two of them came down the tree trunk, the male in the lead as if to say “uh oh, it’s moved, stand back.”

The female hesitated for about one second and then marched right in the trap door, took a good-sized hunk of the bait and then camly backed out before going back up the tree, pausing just long enough to look at hubby like he was a total wuss.

Hubby waited a few nervous minutes before repeating her moves.

Obviously, something was wrong with the trap, so I went out and checked everything twice, touching the bait tray with a stick and “boom!”, the trap doors slammed shut each time. My doubts about the tension of the rods and ability to read instructions let up just a little.

I told myself it was just a matter of time and waited…

Round Three:  With the trap now in the garden I could watch even more closely what might be going wrong. But just watching and waiting soon grew boring so I went back to a good book I’ve been reading. I don’t know how much time passed, but suddenly out of the corner of my eye I spotted one of the dastardly duo doing what they seem to do best: hanging upside down on one of my suet woodpecker feeders gorging itself on some costly stuff I buy to keep my favorite species of birds frequent visitors. I was incensed! I jumped up from my chair and slammed open the screen door and yelled “Get out of here! Find some nuts! That’s bird food you rodent!

You’ll never guess what happened next. The squirrel, as it usually does, scurried down the pole, but did he/she make a bee-line for the tree, which they also usually do?

No. The impudent creature ran straight to the trap AND TOOK REFUGE THERE, running back and forth as if it was a fortress of protection!

That was it for me. Three rounds and out. I had only one ace up my sleeve. After shamefully hauling the trap back inside to ponder poor craftsmanship vs poor comprehension I did the only thing left: I strapped Pha into her harness and leash, wrapped the leash around a fence post and left her a little food and water.

I didn’t hear another squirrel “chirp” the rest of the day.

Today they won the battle, but the war us far from over.

Part II

Sam: Can you believe that guy? What an idiot!

Sally: Yeah, well, don’t act like the brave hero, Mr. “There’s a strange metal box, come save us”.

Sam: Yeah, but that guy can’t even SPELL!!! Have you ever seen anything so bad, you “fiend”? I mean, it’s like he never even HEARD of Spellcheck!

Sally: The funniest thing is he believes that silly cat on a string frightened us away all afternoon. We were just STUFFED!


I’m told there will be more installments to this saga! Can’t wait…

What a Find!

It’s not that I’ve never seen one before. I’ve seen hundreds. Maybe thousands. We have dozens of them at the Nature Center – sitting out for visitors to touch…

It’s just that I had never found one myself in the woods…

Friday was my day: tromping around Spatterdock Pond, looking to see if there were still any signs of the River Otter. (The kids saw slides and rolls there Monday.) I found mink tracks… but no otter signs.

But what’s this? under a tree, tracks leading up to it, the snow all melted down where the animal had slept… and there, poking out of the snow… my very first… (can you guess?)
Continue reading

Happy Midwinter!

(I hope you’ll click on all my links below to see some other interesting sites, pictures, information…)

February 2nd falls midway between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox. While pop culture celebrates the day as Groundhog Day, for centuries it was celebrated by the Celts as Imbolc.

Celtic DesignThe name of the midwinter festival, Imbolc, comes from a Gaelic word for ewe’s milk, for at this time of year the ewes may be lactating in certain parts of the Northern Hemisphere. The festival celebrates this and other hints that Spring is starting to overtake Winter.

I plan to celebrate at work with more Snowflake Festival preparations. (Are you going to be there on Saturday?)

Here’s hoping “Phil” sees his shadow. I haven’t seen nearly enough snow yet!

Learn about groundhogs by clicking –> here.

Bird (?) Boxes

One box on my route has consistently had hair in it.  Once when I checked it, there was also a big old bumblebee on the top of the hair.

Bumblebee Nest?   Bumblebee Nest?

I asked a fellow nest box monitor about it and she said that it is not uncommon for bumblebees to do something like that in a box.  I decided to leave the hair and see what happened.  If it was a bumblebee nest, I thought it would be interesting to observe.  Earlier this month, though, there was still lots of hair, but no evidence of bees, so I removed the hair.

Yesterday, when I returned to that box, there was more hair…  And this time, I met the culprit:  not a bumblebee at all.

Who is that in my box?
01-Who is in my Bird Box

Come on out… Show your face…
02-Come on - Show your face

Hello!
03-Hello Little Mousie

You look sleepy… Did I wake you?
04-You look sleepy-did I wake you

I think I’ll name her BumbleMouse.

Day 3 – Group Size Reduction

Six of us had to go home after two nights…  Look how triumphant they look!

 Six are Done

By the way, I misjudged my fellow hikers by describing Mode 1 yesterday as “Let’s just get there.”  Here’s what my friend Susan had to say about that:

Actually, the goal of us Mode 1 Hikers was not “let’s just get there”, but rather to experience ourselves traveling through and within the nature on a macro level. We didn’t look at the pieces so much as we looked at the whole. We each commented on feeling in “the zone” as we strode along. And, hey, it was probably nice to stroll into camp with the fire already lit!

Yes, ladies, it was very nice to stroll into camp with the fire blazing.  Thank you for that!  Perhaps if I were in better aerobic health, I could have kept up with you and experienced the zone!  At any rate, I was sad to say goodbye to the Six.  Many thanks to you all for being a part of my trek!

Deb and I carried on at our slow, measured pace…  There is a spot in this section between ASP 1 and Bay State Road that passes an old growth forest.  The biggest trees are at the bottom of a rather steep hill.  We opted not to go explore them today, but vowed to come back another time.  Still, even at the top there were some enormous trees… some standing, others blown down:

 Enormous Cherry (and Deb) Enormous Blowdown (and me)

Can you even see me next to that root mass?  I always wonder what it would be like to be in the woods when the wind is strong enough to take down a tree like that!

The last leanto turned out to be our favorite, tucked in a little hemlock grove on level ground.  Bob walked Emily in from the other end of the trail so she could sing camp songs around the fire and spend the night with us.  An entry in the trail registry warned that the porcupine would likely pay us a visit at around midnight.  I don’t know what time it was, but I had my flashlight and camera ready.  The shots didn’t come out all that well, but you can sort of see him back there between two trees, messing up our neat and tidy wood pile:

Porcupine

He put on quite a display for us, puffing out those quills and trying to look all scary.  It was hysterical to watch him climb down the tree in a sort of ratcheting fashion, and to climb up with no effort at all like a gekko – as though the tree were horizontal.  (none of those pictures turned out at all!)

We drift off thinking of tomorrow and hot bubble baths…

Day 2 <– Click –> Day 4

Signs of Spring

I worked Saturday at Audubon.  Sure sign of Spring #1:  Cabin Fever!  Little Explorers had 70+ people and the parking lot was full!

I helped Sarah with the Little Explorer program, taking half the group to search for signs of wildlife… tracks, scat, chews, nests, holes, feathers, fur… that sort of thing.  As we headed out the Universal trail I spotted something fairly large, furry and black bounding on the ice…  Black.  Bounding… Had to be a mink.  As we rounded the pond, many of the folks in my group saw it again – this time with a mouse in its mouth!  I don’t usually carry a camera when I lead walks, because it can distract me from teaching, so, no pictures…  sadly…

Later, I decided to take my own private walk with my camera.  I went back to the pond where we had seen the mink.  By now, the ice that he had bounded over was melted… but I could still hear some commotion under the brush on the island where Mink had found his Mouse.  From under the branches came Muskrat.

Muskrat

 There were two in the pond.  This one came swimming right toward me, then disappeared into a pipe that connects the ponds.  I never did see that one come up again…

Around the bend, though, I had another encounter:

Muskrat

I watched for quite a while as this little critter came up on the bank to trim muddy mustard greens which he then took down to the water to dunk a few times before chowing them down.  Back and forth he went until he had eaten most of the greens in that grouping.

Then into the water…
Muskrat

I followed the path; he followed the edge of the pond beneath shrubs that stood in water because of recent flooding.  Then he spotted more greens.

Muskrat

These greens appeared clean and he didn’t seem to feel a need for taking them back for a dunking…

I could have stayed out all day… but duties called…  Spring is on the way!

Flying Squirrels

Here’s an unusual photo by Dave Bonta:
Flying Squirrel by Dave Bonta
It’s unusual because Flying Squirrels are generally nocturnal… in fact they are the only nocturnal squirrel here in Western New York.

The ranges of two species of Flying Squirrel overlap  in the northeast USA.  The Northern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomus sabrinus) is slightly larger than the Southern Flying Squirrel (G. volans).  If you sandwich the Eastern Chipmunk between them, you have our 3 smallest squirrels in order of size with the Southern Flying Squirrel being the smallest.

Both species are omnivorous.  Both will build twig-leaf nests, though they prefer tree cavities.  Neither hibernates, and neither truly flies.  Glides are achieved through the aid of the patagium, a fold of skin that stretches from wrist to ankle and is supported by a bit of cartiledge that extends the skin slightly beyond the foot.  This skin essentially turns the squirrel into a kite that can glide great distances compared to its body size.  The average glide of a Northern Squirrel is 66 feet, and that of the Southern 20-30 feet.

Based on where Dave lives and the apparent size of the squirrel in his picture above, I would guess it is the southern species, though I can’t be sure.  Here’s one from Sue in northern Ontario that I would guess is the northern species:
Flying Squirrel by Sue Nature Photonutt

If we could tickle their bellies, we would find the hairs on the Southern to be all white, while those on the northern are darker at the base and light at the tips.

Flying Squirrel Range MapNorthern
Total Length
:  10-12  inches
Tail Length:  4-6 inches
Weight: 2.5-4.5 ounces
Average Lifespan:  3-4 years

Southern
Total Length
: 9-10 inches
Tail Length:  3-4.5 inches
Weight:  2-3 ounces
Average Lifespan:  5 years

That’s the end of my squirrel series… Hope you enjoyed it!  Should I give you a quiz now?

Eastern Fox Squirrel

Fox Squirrels are really pretty and a little bigger than Gray Squirrels.  They also like deciduous trees, but prefer areas where there is more open space beneath them.

 Curiously, the Eastern Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger) does not range much into Canada.  Kurta says that there is a small, introduced populuation on Pelee Island in Lake Erie, and another small population in southern Manitoba.

Eastern Fox Squirrel by LucyCat
Total Length
: 20-23  inches
Tail Length: 9-10 inches
Weight: 25-39 ounces
Average Lifespan:  1-2 years

Fox squirrels eat  the buds, flowers and fruits of maple, elm, willow and other trees, berries, grapes and cherries, and the occasional grub, caterpillar, egg, or young bird.

Like the Gray Squirrel, Fox Squirrels scatter hoard nuts in preparation for winter.  Whereas the Grays retrieve up to 85% of the stored nuts, Fox Squirrels are reported to retrieve 99% of their winter cache.

Eastern Gray Squirrel

While Red Squirrels prefer conifers, the Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) prefers mature deciduous trees that produce a good food crop…  Hickory, walnut, maple or beech.  Being rather adaptable, Eastern Grays can be happy out in the woods, or in your backyard, provided these trees are abundant enough.

Eastern Gray Squirrel by Marg MakeUpAnID
Total Length
: 17-20  inches
Tail Length: 7-10 inches
Weight: 12-25 ounces
Average Lifespan:  2 years or less

Like chipmunks and red squirrels, Gray Squirrels cache food for winter.  Unlike the smaller squirrels, however, Grays bury nuts singly, scattered.  In addition to nuts, they will eat mushrooms, insects, seeds, buds, flowers, and fruits.

They rarely travel more than 300 yards from their nest tree which is preferably a 12-inch deep cavity in the trunk, especially for winter shelter and for raising babies.  If no cavities are available, a loose nest may be built on a sturdy branch from twigs still bearing leaves.

Black Squirrel by Tom LeBlanc

A totally black melanistic phase of the Eastern Gray Squirrel is not uncommon.  Though it is the same species, many folks refer to it as Black Squirrel.

Red Squirrels

While Red Squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) can be found in purely deciduous woods, they prefer coniferous forests – or at least a hardwood forest with some conifers because their favorite food is seeds extracted from pine cones.  In fact, they have a curious habit of going to the same eating perch repeatedly to rip scale after scale from cones to get at the seeds.  If you ever see a pile of pinecone scales in the woods, you can bet Red Squirrels have been eating there.  Poke around in the pile and you will also find the “cores” of pinecones – stripped bare of all scales.  It reminds me of corn cobs after a summer picnic!

Red Squirrel by Tom LeBlanc
Total Length: 11-14  inches
Tail Length: 4-6 inches
Weight: 5-9 ounces
Average Lifespan:  2-3 years

Red Squirrel by ERuthK at bodysoulspirit on FlickrRed Squirrels also eats buds, seeds, fruits, and mushrooms.  They seem to have a sweet tooth, as they will bite through the bark of a maple tree in spring allowing the sap to run.  As it trickles down the tree, water evaporates from the sap leaving a sticky, sweet treat, which Red comes back for in a few days.  In addition to these plant sources, Red Squirrels also eat insects, birds, mice, voles, and young rabbits.

If you enter Red Squirrel territory, you are apt to be scolded with a loud continuous chick-chick-chick.  (I remember getting a serious scolding once while setting up my tent near an Eastern Hemlock tree…  Eventually he decided to allow my presence, but it was clear he didn’t like it!)

Red Squirrels prefer to nest in a tree cavity, but if none can be found, they will weave a basketball-sized nest in the branches of trees from leaves and twigs.  Occasionally, they will nest on or underground, especially in winter.

Two cool vocabulary words related to Red Squirrels:

  • Midden – the pile of “trash” (pinecone scales and cores) left behind from eating pinecone seeds.
  • Cache – the pile of stored food Red Squirrels stash just before winter – sometimes at the base of a tree, sometimes underground.