4 March, 2018 Squirrel lovers, avert your gaze
This is a non-sequitur – but Evelyn, my faithful editor, is out of town this weekend. She normally reins in my blogging impulsivity, in addition to correcting my spelling and grammatical errors, so you may notice the absence of her influence on this blog post.
I didn’t ask her if I could use this image, so I hope she won’t mind. She sent it around 5:30 this evening – I’m guessing that’s when she took it. Evelyn grew up on Waackaack Creek in New Jersey; her mother still lives that house and her sister Jackie is not far away. Evelyn is visiting them both this weekend. I grew up in suburban Maryland inside the Beltway; it was probably about twenty feet from our house to our next-door-neighbor’s house on either side. This is the view where Evelyn grew up:
Anyway, back to the way this blog post started out. I saw precisely one raptor this week – two if you count when her mate flew over and they took off together. Normally I see ten or more during the course of a week. I’m not sure why this week (Week 9 of 2018) was so slow for raptors.
The Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) is the most visible wild mammal in central Virginia. If you live in this area and you didn’t see one today, you probably will tomorrow. They’re everywhere, all the time. Adult gray squirrels are too big and tough even for many hawks in this area, but they still make up a large part of a Red-tail’s diet. I was in my backyard Wednesday – filling my bird feeders, believe it or not – when a Red-tail flew very low over my head and landed in a sweet gum tree next to my house. The hawk was carrying a very dead gray squirrel. The picture is not shocking but neither is it pretty. Especially if you love squirrels. So I’ll put it several images down. And start with something more cheerful – a whitetail deer from this morning at Pony Pasture!
When you’re taking pictures in the woods – or anyway when I’m taking pictures in the woods – things happen that you are unaware of. Or I’m unaware of, anyway. When I first took this picture, I was sure I was only seeing one deer. They started to move later, but it wasn’t until I got home that I noticed the two deer on the right of the picture:
To give an idea of how close the deer let us get, have a look at this brief video. I point the camera at the dogs then move it around to the deer. They watch the dogs (and me) but they don’t waste valuable energy running away:
A couple of daffodils from today – I never tire of them:
Possibly they were out earlier and I missed them, but this morning was my first look at Redbud buds at Pony Pasture. They’re a beautiful, bright, brief-tenured harbinger of Spring – they’ve been a favorite for decades. I used to hike and camp on the Appalachian Trail every Spring with Nicky and Ivory (my first dogs) and Redbuds continue to remind me of the inevitability and incipience of the new season. Take a look – they’ll be developing in the coming weeks:
Another pleasant picture or two then the Red tail with the unfortunate squirrel. So if that’s not your thing, avert your gaze. Or skip the rest of this blog post and come back in seven days. Here’s a Carolina Wren at my house this morning when the dogs and I got back from the river:
Here’s a Downy Woodpecker from Pony Pasture yesterday:
OK – a Red-tail with a dead squirrel. This is a female Red-tail; her much smaller mate flew in just after I put my lens cap on. I don’t know if she killed the squirrel or not. If a squirrel gets hit by a car, a hungry Red-tail won’t pass it up. If you look closely at the end of the squirrel’s tail, you can see missing hair. It could have lost the hairs in a fight with that hawk, or when it got hit by a car, or it could be old age. However the hawk caught it, the squirrel’s flesh has now become hawk flesh:
The Spring free-for-all is building in earnest, and yesterday there were starlings on my feeder – no surprise. But a female Red-bellied Woodpecker showed up too, and she drove some starlings off – there is no doubt that is precisely what was happening. I wish the light was better, but she was making gestures like this (and gestures that appeared to be more aggressive) toward the starlings and they moved out of the way:
These guys (and girls) are favorites of hawks too, and they don’t put up as much of a fight. It’s an Eastern Chipmunk. Notice its puffed up cheeks? One of their survival strategies is to fill their cheeks with food then go underground to eat it. Spend less time attracting the attention of hungry predators. They love fallen bird seed:
I’m going to wrap it up for this week – next week my editor will be home and you can expect a better blog post. But it won’t begin with a beautiful picture of her backyard in New Jersey! Have a great week,
Oops – got a passable picture of a female Pileated woodpecker at the river this morning. Have a look:
Trust the process
Subtitle – everything is ephemeral
Please in advance pardon my stream of armchair philosophizing. I’m watching the boldest part of the new season begin, and the predictability of it balances my habitual uncertainty about the future.
“Let go, let God” is a bromide I do not subscribe too – I know I have to take action to affect certain outcomes. But at least for the half-century plus I’ve been on this planet, Spring has followed Winter. It hasn’t failed yet, and I suspect it won’t. The flowers open every Spring – it’s already begun. Soon there will be pollen – there will be lots of pollen. It makes my eyes red and my nose itch, but it’s not intolerable. I know some people react more than I do. Some people react less than I do. I don’t love flowers less because there’s pollen.
Trout lilies (Erythronium americanum) will appear at Pony Pasture before long. They’re referred to as an “ephemeral” which, at least in the case of plants, means “short-lived or lasting for a brief time.” Brevity is, of course, relative. Redwood trees would refer to humans as “ephemeral.” The Blue Ridge Mountains would refer Redwood trees as “ephemeral.” There are plenty of bacteria and tiny organisms that even Trout lilies would refer to as “ephemeral” – it’s all relative.
It won’t be long – a month or six weeks – before you’ll see baby mallards and baby Canada Geese. At Pony Pasture, a lucky few people will see young deer – they’ll be appearing soon. There will be baby owls, hawks, chipmunks, squirrels, frogs, fish, salamanders, bluebirds, rabbits, new life everywhere.
Buffleheads are here now, but not for long. They’ll head north soon. Never fear – they’ll be back in October. I’ve heard there are ospreys down the river, in downtown. Soon they’ll appear on this upper part of the river. They typically arrive for the summer at the same time the Buffleheads depart. They swap again in the Fall.
I saw Juncos on the ground below my feeders today. They’re often referred to as “snowbirds” and keep a similar schedule to the buffleheads.
Tuning into these rhythms provides me comfort and calm in every season, in every view of the river. The sun set awhile before I typed this, but it’s going to rise about 6:30 tomorrow morning – I trust the process.