Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Rainy Day Squirrels

I cut through the park on my way home and was surprised to see so many squirrels out in the rain. I guess that was because it wasn't that cold even though it was wet. Each carries a nut (acorn) around in it's mouth (it's the fall fashion) but isn't eating it and usually drops it in favor of a fresh walnut from Chinatown. They look both odd and pretty in their rain coats... dare I say like plump drowned rats? Recently their coats have gotten so thick that they look fat and funny when they run. And they jump way high up in the air to avoid the puddles! I look down at them all and see that they are the most beautiful squirrels in the world.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Tubby's fur

Some of the squirrels are starting to look very fat as they add fur for the coming season. I was admiring Tubby and Mr. Operator as they were eating today and thinking how beautiful they both looked. Tubby's coat is now a rich sable, with burnished gleams throughout. A couple weeks ago I'm sure I detected a bald spot running down her back, which I think may happen whenever she's pregnant. But today I saw no missing piece, just glorious wall-to-wall fur. And Mr. Operator's tail was black and glistening like a dark crystal (and he ain't no spring chicken). But those two manage to eat very well. Mr. Operator was very hungry today, and was extremely aggressive, running in circles to clear the area and make sure other squirrels kept their distance while he consumed his first nuts.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Squirrel dinner: a sorry tale

Yes folks, I'm sorry to report something that appears to contradict what I've been saying about squirrels. These pictures are hard to believe, but another friend in New Jersey took them so I know they're for real. As I've said in the past, squirrels are vegans, and it's rare to see one eating animal flesh. ( Though you never know about squirrels living on the wild side over there in New Jersey. They are, after all, not city squirrels.)

This is the friend who has the nest of 4 baby squirrels just outside her second floor window. She discovered a squirrel that's most likely their mother, eating a goldfinch that had been dragged to the deck and left for dead by her cat. As you can see, she stripped it pretty clean before running off with it. At least the squirrel didn't murder the bird! It would surely go against a squirrel's delicate sensibilities to kill another animal (how many other members of the animal kingdom can we say that about?)

So in all likelihood the mother must have been feeling quite famished after the long job of nurturing 4 babies, and without getting proper nutrition for herself. That's a lot of mouths to feed!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Tree House

Warm Housing has arrived! Here are some great shots of the new squirrel house a friend in New Jersey just installed in her backyard. Not sure if any of the lucky little critters have discovered it yet. And still trying to figure out the mechanics of entry and egress - don't want any of them falling on their tushies :O

Monday, October 19, 2009

No Room in the Inn

Monday morning dawned bright and beautiful. The sturm and drang is finally over. Over the weekend I went out during respites from the rain to feed squirrels. I think it's important to show them that they have support during these first days of winter as they get used to the cold.

I saw a couple bites on backs. I think they get into fights for nest space when they get cold and sometimes end up biting each other. On Saturday evening at dusk I heard a squirrel crying -- that terrible winter crying. I looked up and saw it trying to climb into a hole in the tree. It was getting pushed out by another squirrel. There was quite a tussel! I guess it was a tight fit in there. I calmed the rejected squirrel down with some walnuts, for a little while at least. The next day I saw a squirrel that looked quite bedraggled, with a tail that looked like it had been steam rollered in a loony tune. Or maybe a tail that had been out all night in the rain? It was not a happy camper. I wondered if it was the same squirrel.

Tubby and the rest were fine though, and glad to see me. I ran into Kamikazi again - the little one that propelled itself at me a few weeks ago. Well it did it again, just to show it's consistent. I was getting ready to drop a nut (and apparently taking my time), when it hurled itself right into my hand!

I have now expanded my operations because I have friends in both sides of the park! Ran into my cousin walking her dog. She and her husband just moved to PCV recently. I plan to go over to see their place on Halloween morning... trick or treat!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Tree Huts

Last winter I went over to Madison Square Park for a ShackBurger at the Shake Shack (best in the city -- one of the few temptations that cause me to fall off the vegetarian bandwagon), and saw squirrels scampering in and out of these great wooden houses up in the trees.

I was told they were some kind of project having nothing to do with squirrels, but the squirrels had soon appropriated them.

I thought to myself, what a fantastic idea it would be to build squirrel houses in all the parks! They would not be as flimsy as nests, and thus would provide greater protection against wind, rain and snow. They'd also be a step up from tree holes. Many squirrels pack together into the holes in trees for heat. These holes are where many winter babies start out their lives, and they often develop fleas or mange from those dark, dank holes. Nature provides, but here's a case where Man can do Nature one better.

Then I found this article. I guess the squirrels were dismayed when their tree homes were taken down:
Artist Installs Tree Houses in Madison Square Park
By Associated Press September 24, 2008

A Manhattan park is getting a dozen tree houses perched high in its trees, courtesy of a Japanese artist known for his site-specific sculptural installations.

Tadashi Kawamata arrived at Madison Square Park yesterday to begin constructing the tree huts. Forklifts, boom lifts, table saws, power drills, and wood were spread around the 6.2-acre park just north of East 23rd Street between Fifth and Madison avenues.

Each of the huts, resembling a child's tree house, will be unique — and installed out of the public's reach.

The tree huts represent the artist's interest in how private objects in public spaces change the meaning of both.

Tree Huts is an artist-in-residency program of the Madison Square Park Conservancy. The exhibition opens October 2 and runs through December 31.

Mr. Kawamata's last New York City public installation, "Project on Roosevelt Island," was in 1992. For that artwork, the artist surrounded a derelict smallpox hospital on the island in the East River with a complex web of wood scaffolding.

Friday, October 16, 2009


Rain, rain, rain, rain. Rain yesterday and today, rain tonight and tomorrow. We're smack in the middle of a Nor'easter! It poured and galed yesterday and continues today and is forecast to last through the weekend. This is the squirrels' first real taste of winter, and it looks like it's going to be a harsh one. I read in yesterday's paper that a winter of heavy snowfall is being forecast.

And just 2 days ago we were all out there having fun. I was distributing some raw peanuts I picked up in Chinatown, and these were raw, man -- I mean REALLY raw, unlike the ones we get at the Korean deli across the street, which I now think must be somewhat cooked, though they differ from the heavily roasted ones in the "roasted" bin. Most of the squirrels liked them immediately, but a few ignored them and held out for a walnut (I also got some wonderfully fresh walnuts in Chinatown as well as rich, dark chestnuts that are not to be believed).

Tag! You're it!

I had fun with Tubby today.
After all squirrels were fed, I was on my way home and was halfway across the park, when I turned around to find that Tubby had been following me! So I sat down on a bench and fed some more squirrels that suddenly materialized "out of thin air". Then I played a game with Tubby, where I would chase her from one end of the bench to the other. She seemed genuinely frightened, and yet if she had been, we know she would have hauled ass out of there. But she stayed -- and she kept running back and forth from one side of the bench to the other! Sort of like being scared by a John Carpenter movie -- scared but you keep on watching :)

Hide and Seek!

Another time I was holding a nut out by the side of a tree for Tubby to grab, but no sign of Tubby. I finally got tired and dropped the nut, and a gray squirrel on the ground ran over to get it, upon which Tubby shot out from behind the tree and pounced! She had been there all along, playing with me :)

It pains me to think that dear Ms. Tubby's out there now shivering in the rainy cold. Bernard Goetz, a squirrel rescuer in the area, did a recent interview in Town and Village, the local paper for Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, in which he explained how squirrels can get so cold that they actually freeze to death in the winter. I wish the good people of Stuytown and PCV would take action and do something to help their squirrels get through the winter. Like what? Well... maybe build some squirrel shelters?

Monday, October 12, 2009

My Nature Walk

Columbus Day! The end of a gorgeous weekend, gorgeous week. Today there was a chill in the air that smelled like "snow chill", but all week we've had the type of weather I love best -- sunny and cool, with temps in the 60's and 70's. My favorite time of year-- last of summer-- samhain. Maybe it's my Celtic roots that cause me to like it better than summer or spring. There is still the luxuriance of summer all around in the trees and foliage. Most of our leaves have not really started to turn yet. The Feast of St. Francis was an especially lovely day. All the squirrels were out enjoying the weather and the trees were full of chirping birds-- I've never seen so many! It was a blissful day in the park for all.

One sad note: they have cut down one of the big old trees. Somebody's home.


I saw both Spunky and Blindie today. Spunky has the best personality of any squirrel I've known (except Dolly of course).

Ms. Tubby for example, is very conservative and dignified (as she should be, as matron and mother of countless generations of red-tails) although she adores taking nuts out of my hand, and loves to play hide and seek games. But Spunky's personality outshines all others in terms of pure vitality and joy. Can a squirrel really be joyful? If you met Spunky you'd believe it. Spunky loves everything and is so lively and happy all the time that I named him Spunky. I almost named him Alban, after a nun I once knew and loved who was also like that, but the name Spunky won out. He's the opposite of Teddy Bear, who is a bit neurotic and usually prefers to be off by himself (though he plays beautifully solo, doing all sorts of calisthenics in the trees).

When Spunky was small he had a bad leg that sort of shot out from under him at a funny angle, making him look so funny when he ran, but he was still the fastest squirrel around. His leg seems fine now and he's also grown into his eyes, which used to be way too big for his face! Still cute as can be, and knows it too. Spunky spoiled? You bet. Spunky selfish? Well I admit I was disappointed today when I threw Blindie a giant-sized peanut, and Spunky stole it right from under his nose! Blindie finds nuts with his nose-- his glassy eyes don't see much. Unfortunately, the other squirrels tend to take advantage of Blindie's disadvantage.

Decapitated Pileated Woodpecker

Unfortunately I saw this today, by one of the squirrel trees...

On closer look it may not have been either decapitated or pileated, as I think I can see the beak. Also the abundance of striped feathers indicate that it could be a red-bellied woodpecker. It's hard to tell what happened, although I suspect a hawk. I'm only sorry that this is the way I got to see a woodpecker on my lovely nature walk. This of course was not done by a squirrel, and they were studiously avoiding it. One of the more endearing traits of squirrels is that they are vegetarians. A squirrel will not attempt to catch and torment a tiny field mouse that might scurry acrosss its path. It's live and let live.

But squirrels can be bitten and killed by rats. And there are rats at PCV. As one elderly gentleman told me the other day: "We've had squirrels and rats co-existing here for SIXTY YEARS! I know because I've been here TOO!" This is one of the reasons feeding squirrels has always been controversial here. The thinking goes: feed a squirrel, feed a rat. People sometimes come right up and start lecturing me that it's not right to feed wild animals. I reply that if these squirrels were living in a forest, they wouldn't need to be fed, but living here in this park is like living in a zoo. They feed wild animals in zoos! Our squirrels are for the most part healthy and beautiful, but I have seen squirrels who do not get fed and look malnourished.

Of course I'm no rat fan, but last summer there was this baby rat who thought he was a squirrel, and I have to admit was kinda cute as he followed the silverstreak twins all over the place. The other squirrels paid him no mind, apparently not considering him a threat of any kind.

Abundant Harvest

Mother Nature has been especially bountiful this year (perhaps due to all the earlier rainfall), and there are nuts galore everywhere you step-- you can't help but hear and feel the crunch. And it has become very much the fashion for a squirrel to sport a nut in its mouth. Almost every squirrel you encounter nowadays looks something like this:
Acorns, for the most part. They seem to like walking around with one in their mouth at all times! I don't see them eating too many of them, but I guess eventually some do get eaten, and others get buried. They're quick to drop it for a peanut. I did see one squirrel chomping on a big prickly horse chestnut. I watched as it ate the whole darn thing:
I tried passing out some black nuts that I found in Chinatown that look like wings. Wing nuts? Who knew? Actually they kinda look like halloween bats:
The shells were so hard that I partially cracked them using a nutcracker. But the squirrels weren't having any. They sniffed and disdained -- even Tubby, who usually eats EVERYTHING I hand her. But then one creative type decided that he liked them, and he picked one up and ran with it--- always a sign that they think they've found a Treasure.

Mushrooms are also growing in abundance around PCV. I found a little fellow chowing down on these, but before I could get the camera out, a dog came running over barking loudly, and off went the squirrel!

Doggone it, it's a Dog!

This is the problem since PCV started allowing dogs. The squirrels must stay ever on the alert, and no matter what they are doing, be ready to shoot out some adrenalin to run up a tree. I have no idea what this does to their nervous systems. In a way it's worse than the hawks, because while hawks are occasional, dogs are a chronic disturbance. At least a dog is on a leash... most of the time.

Take yesterday for example. I saw Tubby and Mr. Operator and the silverstreak twins (the one with the limp paw is better now, I'm happy to report). The squirrels and I were having a peaceful time playing and feeding when all of a sudden there was a big WHOOSHing sound and three rather large dogs descended on us! The squirrels were more aware than I was (thank the good lord) and were already up the tree before I noticed the three, who were circling the tree unleashed. I chided their master, who was behind them with leashes in hand, telling him that it's against the rules to unleash your dogs at PCV. He said blithely, "Oh that's okay, these dogs are trained. They're working dogs." Then he proceeded to demonstrate how well trained they were to obey his every command. He did get them to move away and got two of them to Sit!

However, the effect had already been felt on the squirrels. I was thinking Tubby must have had a heart attack in her delicate condition. Did I mention that Tubs was preggers again? More little red babies on the way! After the dogs left I called for her but she would not come down.

Another problem is that dogs prevent owners from paying enough attention to squirrels. Many people are so caught up in their pets that they barely notice the little creatures, which is a shame, because they can be such a delight. People who have pets are animal lovers and potential friends and supporters, but ironically, their dogs prevent them from getting up close and personal with squirrels.

My other gripe about dogs (as long as I'm on this soapbox), is that in wintertime, I watch people taking their dogs for brisk walks, then bringing them inside to their cozy, comfy homes, whereas the poor squirrels get to stay out all the time in the freezing cold, rain and snow. It doesn't seem fair, but then ask any squirrel if life is fair. And mommies even give birth in the cold weather! Did I mention there are lots of mommies-to-be around these days?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Feast of Saint Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is discord, harmony;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

"Blessed are you, Lord God, maker of all living creatures. You called forth fish in the sea, birds in the air and animals on the land. You inspired St. Francis to call all of them his brothers and sisters. We ask you to bless the squirrels. By the power of your love, enable them to live according to your plan. May we always praise you for all your beauty in creation. Blessed are you, Lord our God, in all your creatures! Amen."

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Out on a Limb

As the cold weather approaches, I'm noticing some impressive nest-building in the park. Here's an exceptionally fine speciman--luxurious and comfy-looking, and becoming more spacious every day:

The nest below deserves honorable mention for having survived the winds of winter (and the winds of summer I might add, as we've been having very strong winds over the summer, likely due to El NiƱo, that have actually destroyed my living room blinds.)
When I first saw this nest last fall I thought it was laughable if it wasn't so dangerous, being so far out on that limb! I imagined the weight of all those little squirrel bodies huddled in it, and thought all it needed was one strong blinding snowstorm...
Luckily, I turned out to be wrong. It survived very nicely! If you look toward the end of the long limb you can see the nest with the red circle around it -- a marvel of squirrel engineering! Who knew?

Friday, October 2, 2009

Silver Streak

There are two of them -- they're small, very fast and they look like streaks of silver when they zoom by. One of them has hurt his right front paw. I noticed that it was limp yesterday, and it seemed worse today. He can still climb trees and runs very fast, but I'm wondering if he broke it, maybe from a fall out of a tree. He didn't have an appetite today, only ate one peanut then climbed high up into the tree and disappeared.


Do squirrels have courage? Yes they do. I have seen squirrels go up against red-tailed hawks three times their size.

I remember one time when a hawk had planted himself in the little tree I called the monkey bars, an old fruit tree with gnarled branches that the squirrels used to love to hang out in (sadly it has since been cut down).

This big bird had deposited himself in this tree, looking for his next meal. The squirrels all scattered, with the exception of two that stayed to defend the tree. And it was quite a show! While the other squirrel backed him up, one squirrel played a game of chicken with the hawk. The squirrel would advance a step, the hawk would step back. Then the hawk stepped forward and the squirrel backed down the tree. I was mesmerized. They went back and forth like this for a long time, with me coaching on the sidelines, exhorting the squirrel to stop being dumb and hightail it out of there! But it would not give up the fight!

Finally the hawk lunged at the squirrel. And missed!(thank goodness). Then it nosedived onto the other squirrel and chased it across the lawn. Again it missed, probably because the persistance of the brave little squirrel had quite unnerved the hawk.

Amazing Rescue

Here's another example of courage: a mother squirrel risking her life to save her baby. Great photos.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

One of the little silver twins has a bad arm (forepaw?) now. It was hanging limply. Poor little fellow, I wonder what happened. But he has no trouble climbing trees and my friend Bernie the squirrel rescuer says that as long as they can climb a tree they're ok. I hope it's just a sprain and will get better. He didn't seem to be in any pain.

Tubby, Teddy, Mr. Operator-- all good. Golden Squirrel-- gone.