The sad spring saga of Sassy squirrel

cape-may-warbler-i77a5989-maria-de-bruyn-2resSpring has come early to North Carolina, leading to some early bird migration (like this Cape May warbler, Setophaga tigrina, on its way North), avian courtship and nest building, as well as spring blossoms already emerging in profusion. My garden has seen some lovely flowers, both cultivated and wild: daffodils (Narcissus), crocuses (Crocus), winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum), henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) and lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis).

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My camellias ( Camellia) bloomed in much greater profusion than ever before.

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The shrubs and trees also sent out their buds weeks “ahead of schedule” – since the past month was the warmest recorded February in this area, my plants advanced their springtime blossoming, including the serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea), viburnums, dogwoods (Cornus kousa and Cornus florida) and common elderberry (Sambucus nigra).

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My new blueberry bushes burgeoned with delicate little flowers, but the past two nights I had to cover them up so that they wouldn’t shrivel up as the temperatures dropped below freezing.

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It wasn’t only the plant and bird life responding to the unusually changing season, though, as I discovered when I finally noticed the altered pillow on my front porch rocking chair. I first saw that the cloth covering the pillow had been torn; upon closer examination, I saw that the pillow had been opened up with its filling tufting up in places.

 

 

eastern-gray-squirrel-i77a0093-maria-de-bruyn-resWhen I began watching the rocker in addition to the bird feeders, I discovered the culprit – an industrious Eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), whom I named Sassy as she shows no fear, just a little caution.

Sassy is quite bold, coming up onto the porch even when I’m seated there. She keeps an eye on me but goes about her business in a calm and confident mood. This was also the case for her nest building activities. She perched on the pillow and used her teeth to tear out the insides.

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She then manipulated the tufts with her paws and teeth to form them into neat little oblong packages that she could easily transport in her mouth.

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Sometimes, she added some dried leaves to the mixture.

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When her mouth was filled with enough material, she left to transport it to the nest that she was constructing – as it turned out, high in a loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) in a neighbor’s front yard. As I followed behind her, she stayed aware of my movements.

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Then she crossed the street and scurried up the tree, where she deposited her “mattress stuffing” among the leaves and other materials lining the nest.

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Since Sassy was so very industrious and the pillow was no longer salvageable, I left it out for her. She returned for several days, systematically dismantling her found source of nest material and carrying off her little woolly trophies.

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When the stuffing began to disperse with the wind, I finally gathered it up and threw out what was left, figuring she had had plenty of manmade contributions to her home.

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Then a couple days later, I was dismayed on her behalf to see that the new neighbors had decided to remove the tree where her nest was located. The landscapers said Sassy’s nest was not a factor in their decision; they just thought the tree was in the way. I watched with sadness as Sassy’s tree was dismantled and her nest plunged to the ground.

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I didn’t see where Sassy was during this event but am sure she was watching from some other vantage point. I felt badly for her – all her innovative and dedicated work was destroyed. Of course, people lose their homes, too, to flooding, fires, tornadoes, etc.  and that is horrible. But I still regretted that this hard-working mammal had lost her home as well.

I presume Sassy has been building a new nest elsewhere. And given her boldness, I’m fairly certain that she was the squirrel I saw yesterday afternoon who had decided that she likes dried mealworms.

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As my feline companion Moasi watched from her cat tree perch in the living room, Sassy was busy on the other side of the window chowing down on the worms in a new window feeder that I had actually bought for the Carolina wrens and chickadees, who often perch on the chair in front of the window.

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Sassy didn’t seem to mind Moasi watching her and she wasn’t fazed when I approached either. It was only when I knocked on the window that she finally descended to the porch and then left for the yard. I like to think that Sassy has made a new home and is now busy getting extra nutrition for the babies to come. And spring continues to unfold with temperatures varying from 24 to 70 degrees and above!

Shades of brown at the end of winter

As this crocus (Crocuscrocus IMG_2199© Maria de Bruyn) shows, spring is coming to our part of North Carolina and the last days of winter have not infrequently been warm and sunny. This led me to take a break a couple weeks ago for a walk in our neighborhood woods.

The sunlight filtered through the trees, creating lots of shadows and sunlit patches on the forest floor. I was looking to see if the natural shelters constructed by homeless people still were up and found three. None appeared to have been made or used recently.

homeless shelter IMG_2360© Maria de Bruyn res     homeless shelter IMG_2351© Maria de Bruyn res

white-tailed deer IMG_2374© Maria de BruynAs I was walking around one to photograph it, my footsteps and movement rustled up some other neighborhood residents, who had been taking a rest at the edge of the woods. Four white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) got to their feet and gave me some looks of irritation at having disturbed their R&R.

As I walked another way, they began keeping pace with me at a distance. I thought they would just choose another patch to lie in but, for some reason, they decided to see where I was going. At first, I thought it was a buck and some does.

white-tailed deer IMG_2440© Maria de Bruynwhite-tailed deer IMG_2413© Maria de Bruyn

 

deer antler IMG_1211© Maria de Bruyn resLater, I realized it was a group of bucks, some of whom had already shed their antlers. I kept a lookout for antlers but didn’t see any. However, one local buck had gifted me with one in my front yard recently.

For some odd reason, I rarely see or hear birds in this particular woodsy area, but that day I encountered a Carolina chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) singing away.

Carolina chickadee IMG_2469© Maria de Bruyn

 

My next stop was to see how the two abandoned cars in these woods were faring. They must have been left here decades ago and have been like evolving metal sculptures as the scouring winds, sun, rain and ice change their appearance.

 

car IMG_2525 © Maria de Bruyn

car IMG_2558© Maria de Bruyn RES  car IMG_2582© Maria de Bruyn

white-tailed deer IMG_2496 © Maria de BruynAs I was taking photos of the cars, I heard movement behind me and there was the group of deer, still keeping tabs on me. The big male who still had antlers stamped his foot to warn me off, even though I hadn’t turned in their direction. Given his wariness, I certainly wasn’t going to go charging up to them for close-ups!white-tailed deer IMG_2489© Maria de Bruyn

hermit thrush IMG_2614© Maria de Bruyn

 

My walk ended with some surprising good views of a hermit thrush (Catharus guttatus). They rarely come to my yard so it was lovely to see one in the woods that day. They will likely be migrating soon and we will have new birds to welcome as spring arrives in her full glory. It was a very pleasant winter walk!

More spring flowers – at home and in the wild

Up until 2 a.m. crocus IMG_3724©Maria de Bruyn resworking on an advocacy paper and then awakened by a tornado alert on my cell phone at 5 a.m. a few days ago, seeing bright flashes of lightening through the blinds and hearing rumbling thunder as the rain poured down. After what seemed like a somewhat lengthy and lingering winter, we’ve had a rather wet spring with temperatures yo-yo-ing. The flowers seemed a bit confused, too, but they have been blooming albeit not always when expected!Pear blossom IMG_3985©Maria de Bruyn res

 

My yard is quite enjoyable in the spring, with a variety of cultivated and wild-growing flowers. The cheerful violet crocuses (Crocus) were the first to greet me in delightful profusion, while the early blooming pear tree (Pyrus) only had a few blossoms this year, apparently confused by warm spring days alternating with freezing mornings.

A rapidly spreading invader, the purple deadnettle (Lamium purpureum) has moved into my flowerbeds, obviously feeling that it should be nestled in among the African daisies and tulips. It’s fine with me; I leave them be with their lovely little blossoms. The cute little Persian speedwell (Veronica persica) is sticking to the “lawn” – I wouldn’t mind if the grass were gradually all replaced with this wildflower, clover and moss.

Purple deadnettle IMG_4522©Maria de Bruyn res Persian speedwell IMG_6519©Maria de Bruynres

Painted buckeye IMG_3887©Maria de Bruyn resThe painted buckeyes (Aesculus sylvatica) have now bloomed but were also very pretty when they first began growing, like this specimen near Bolin Creek. Sweet Betsy (Calycanthus floridus) had reached a good size at the Botanical Garden, where the mountain witch alder (Fothergilla major) was also showing off its flowers. The foamflower (Tiarelia cordifolia var. collina) was half-way through its cycle and being visited by lots of bees.

sweet betsy IMG_4263©Maria de BruynresMountain witch alder IMG_4552©Maria de Bruyn

Foamflower IMG_4532©Maria de Bruynres

At Mason Farm Biological Reserve, the dogwood (Cornus) was lovely; the tree in my yard didn’t flower this year but the leaves still look healthy. On the ground, the Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) was really abundant in places, some plants with green “tubes” and others with purple-striped ones.

dogwood IMG_9380©Maria de BruynresJack in the pulpit IMG_0833©Maria de Bruyn res

Two plants were a bit mysterious. When I first saw the violet word sorrel (Oxalis violacea), I stared at it for a time as it seemed to be growing out of a clump of clover leaves. However, the flower didn’t look like clover; I finally decided it must be an unusual kind. The man in charge of Mason Farm, a botanist, set me straight fortunately. The other mystery concerned some clumps of red globules. An entomologist who was present told me they were insect eggs; bug experts on BugGuide, however, concurred that this had to be a slime mold. Interesting that insect eggs and slime mold can look so similar!

Violet wood-sorrel IMG_0827©Maria de BruynresSlime mold IMG_4092©Maria de Bruyn

Next blog – some spring wildlife and then back to birds!