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?

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