Shallow Thoughts : tags : squirrels

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing, Science, and Nature.

Sun, 19 Jan 2014

Our black squirrel: Little Blackie

[LB, our black squirrel] We've been having occasional visits from black squirrels for maybe five years now, but mostly they're shy and don't stay long.

Black squirrels are interesting. As far as I know, they're a color variation of the usual Eastern grey squirrel we get as our most common yard visitor here in San Jose. (For a while we got a lot of Eastern Fox squirrels, but I guess that population moved away since I haven't seen one in years.) Our native Western greys are larger and more wary, and keep to the hills and forests, never venturing down into the city.

Black squirrels have been common in Palo Alto for many decades, I'm told, but it's only in the last five or ten years that they've started expanding southward. First I would see a few in Sunnyvale and Mountain View, then a couple in Campbell, and then, finally, a few years after that, they made it here to West San Jose. (Campbell is farther south than our house, but the squirrels as they expanded their range probably moved toward the less urban hills and parks.)

This year we had our first friendly, regular black squirrel visitor. I called him Little Blackie after the pony in True Grit. He's by far the most beautiful squirrel we've ever had -- his fur glistens in the sun and looks amazingly soft. Unfortunately he's also difficult to photograph well -- the point-and-shoot tends not to focus on him very well, and he's always underexposed even when I use exposure compensation.

LB was very quick (as squirrels go) to figure out that our fencepost was a good source of walnuts, and even pretty quick to make the association that people near the office door means that another nut may appear soon. (Most squirrels take forever to figure that out, and when you come out to put up another nut, they run away and don't come back for hours.)

After a few months of regular feeding, he was tolerating us only a few feet away as we put nuts on the fencepost, and then it was a few more months before he worked up the courage to take nuts from our hands. He still doesn't linger -- he grabs the nut and runs.

[black squirrel LB hanging by his feet] This morning he was quite entertaining, when he decided I was coming out too slowly (I try not to make sudden movements when approaching wild animals) and jumped from the fencepost to run along the gate. I met him halfway, and offered the nut to him as he sat on the gate. He grabbed it, but his nervousness about being in a different place made him too hasty, and he missed his grab and the nut went bouncing down onto the driveway.

He looked at me with a bemused expression, jumped back to the fencepost and ran back along the fence -- but couldn't quite work up the nerve to run down and get the nut off the driveway. So I fetched it for him, and offered it to him up on the fence.

Nothing doing -- that was too weird. So he waited until I went back to the fencepost, whereupon he scampered right over, grabbed the nut and ran off to hang from the tree.

Wacky Blackie! Here are the best photos of him I've been able to get so far: Little Blackie, our black squirrel.

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[ 10:29 Jan 19, 2014    More nature/squirrels | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Thu, 24 Oct 2013

A present on the doorstep

When cat owners talk about their cats, they often tell stories about opening the door to find a "present" on the mat of a half-eaten dead bird or mouse, proudly displayed as evidence of the cat's successful night of hunting.

We don't have cats, but this morning I opened the back door to find a present on the doormat:

[Dead guava present on the doormat]

[guava eaten by a squirrel] We don't have cats, but we do have squirrels. Currently, our main visitor is a young all-black male I call Little Blackie, after the pony in True Grit. LB visits daily to take our walnut offerings, and is diligent about chasing away any interlopers who might come by. I watched a wonderful aerial chase yesterday morning, when LB leapt after a grey who fled through the trees and upside-down along a thin telephone line.

Anyway, it's guava season now, though the harvest is sparse and small, not the bounty we get most years. (Note to self: turns out guava trees actually need watering in drought years.)

Squirrels don't normally like any sort of fruit very much, or at least our spoiled eastern greys don't. But occasionally in October one will develop a taste for guava, and we'll find a few scraped-out guavas lying near the tree each day.

This is the first time we've found a dead guava left as a present on the mat, though.

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[ 10:09 Oct 24, 2013    More humor | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Sat, 22 Oct 2011

Finding buried treasure -- harder than it sounds

While we were having dinner, one of the local squirrels came by to look for her own dinner under the cedar in the front yard, just outside the window by our dining table.

I remember, when I was young, reading somewhere that squirrels remember where they bury each nut, so they can return and dig it up later. Whoever wrote that clearly never spent much time watching actual squirrels.

I've also read, more recently and in more reputable places, that squirrels find buried nuts by seeking out likely burial spots then using their sensitive noses to find the underground nuts.

If so, the sensitive nose thing is overrated. It's actually quite a bit more work than that description makes it sound.

If you're ever hungry and wanting to dig up a snack from underground, here's the tried and true, time tested squirrel technique:

Hop over to a place that looks likely. Bury your nose in the ground, and plow a furrow with said nose for a few inches.

No nut? Pull your nose out of the ground, hope over to another location that looks appealing (not one right next to where you just were -- do not by any means use any kind of exhaustive quartering technique), bury your nose in the ground and repeat.

Every fifth or sixth time, it's permissable to sit up and brush dirt off your nose before going back to the hunt.

After about twenty minutes of this, our visitor finally did find something. She triumphantly sat up, brushed herself off, turned the prize around in her mouth for a while, then ran over to the cedar to hang upside down for dinner.

Curiously, what she found looked like a live oak acorn -- not something that's very common here in the suburbs. (Our yard sports a red oak, but it has tiny acorns which don't interest the squirrels in the slightest.)

She took five minutes to eat her prize, then returned to the hunt for another forty minutes. If she found anything else during that time, I didn't see it, though she might have found something while she was on the other side of the tree.

Note that I didn't say this was an efficient technique ... only that it was time tested.

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[ 18:07 Oct 22, 2011    More nature/squirrels | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Wed, 27 Oct 2010

Termite Feast at RSA

[trail silvery with termites]

At Rancho San Antonio today (Los Altos Hills), high on the High Meadow and PG&E trails, there's an incredible abundance of termite colonies on the trail -- the trail is thick and silvery with them in places.

A few colonies are flying, and around the flying ones there's a great diversity of wildlife partaking in the feast -- in about five minutes I saw wrentits, juncos, chestnut-backed chickadees, Townsend's warblers, woodpeckers (several flew by too fast to identify), spotted towhees, a Bewick's wren that didn't cock its tail like a normal wren, northern flickers ... plus chipmunks.

And the species that normally hide out in thick brush and resist being photographed -- especially the wrentit and the chipmunk -- were so busy gobbling tidbits that they didn't pay much attention to a photographer snapping away.

Quite a show! The lower parts of RSA were fairly nice too -- I got a good look at a red-shouldered hawk that swooped low across the trail, plus lots of quail, rabbits and squirrels. There's a sign just past the farm warning to stay away from "sick bobcats" (the nature of the disease is unspecified) but we didn't see any cats.

Photos: Termite feast at RSA.

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[ 20:25 Oct 27, 2010    More nature | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Mon, 12 Nov 2007

Little Orphan Annie

Something rustled madly in the star jasmine when I walked past. Probably just a sparrow, I thought. Ever since the sparrows discovered the squirrel nuts, there's been a gang camped out in the guava tree just outside the office door at all times.

I put it out of my mind until an hour later, when Dave reported, "There's an orphan squirrel in the star jasmine. It looks too small to be out on its own. Where is its mother?"

We put a few pieces of walnut out by the bush and watched. After a little while the youngster came out to investigate, moving very slowly and awkwardly, and sat next to the walnut pieces. It didn't sit normally: its weight was back on its tail, with hind legs stuck out in front and crossed, like a tiny squirrel Buddha.

The tiny youngster took a piece of walnut in its front paws and stared at it blankly as if wondering what to do with it. But ten minutes later we saw that it was nibbling, slowly and tentatively. It took a long time, but the orphan eventually made it through three pieces of walnut.

We provided more walnut (the fearful youngster scurried back under the jasmine) and a little dish of water and waited, but the orphan didn't reappear. An hour later, we saw a small young squirrel climbing a tree in the front yard. Could it be the same one? The baby we'd seen didn't look capable of climbing anything. Could it have been merely weak from hunger and fear, and a few nuts revived it?

The next morning, a new squirrel appeared at our feeding area in the backyard. A young female, small but confident. She was able to move both up and down fenceposts and leap from the fence to the oak tree, usually difficult maneuvers for a squirrel trainee. Surely this couldn't be the same tiny, shivering orphan we'd seen the day before?

But after finding a nut I'd left on the fence, this youngster sat in the same odd Buddha fashion to eat it.

Little orphan Annie turned out to be smart as well as agile. She caught on to the nut shelf early -- she was hanging out in the guava (whose springy branches make a great playground for a light little squirreling) when a mouse made a rare appearance, darting out from under the deck to the nut shelf to grab a nut and run back to its hole. I could see Annie's head move as she watched the mouse; I could almost imagine her eyes widening. No need to tell her twice! She was down the guava and over to the nut shelf like a flash to pick up a piece for herself.

Annie hung around for about a week after that (getting chased by Ringtail a few times) but then she stopped visiting. Life is tough for young squirrels. I hope Annie's all right, and just moved on to find a nuttier place to live.

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[ 11:39 Nov 12, 2007    More nature/squirrels | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Thu, 21 Jun 2007

Notch has had her kids

Whew -- I think our resident squirrel Notch has finally had her long-overdue litter. It wasn't immediately obvious, but she's been deflating over a period of about a week. Since then she's gone off her mad burying frenzy and gone back to eating the nuts we give her.

Last week, while she was still pregnant, she was kind enough to give me a nice nut-burying exhibition right outside the office door, which I got on video. She digs a hole, places the nut in and tries to pack it down, decides it's not deep enough and pulls it out again, digs a little deeper, jackhammers the nut into place with her nose, fills in the hole then does her usual careful job of covering over the hole and arranging leaves on top of it to hide the evidence.

Then she turns and digs up a nut that was buried two inches away and eats it. Video on youtube.

In other squirrel news, on an afternoon hike at Rancho San Antonio yesterday I saw an Eastern Fox squirrel in the trees about halfway up the first leg of the PG&E trail. Foxes are an invasive species (just like Notch and her Eastern Grey friends who inhabit most of the suburbs around here), so that's not good news for the native Western Greys who have traditionally inhabited the park. I suppose it was just a matter of time, since RSA is so close to suburbia, before the non-native eastern squirrels invade and drive out the wimpy native squirrels. It'll be interesting to see whether the western greys can hold their own, or, if not, how long the invasion takes.

In non-squirrel news, we had a few very hot days last week (mid 90s) and fled to the redwood forests to escape the heat one day, and smelled that odd chlorine odor I've noticed before. The smell was fairly faint this time. I asked my Bio teacher about it in class last semester, but he didn't know what it might be, so it remains a mystery for now. I'll be tracking whether it's there on all hot days, or just some, this summer.

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[ 14:49 Jun 21, 2007    More nature/squirrels | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Sun, 10 Jun 2007

Young Squirrels are Nuts!

It's springtime in the backyard! I saw a couple of mockingbird fledglings cheeping to be fed in the pyrocantha while we were having dinner last night, though we never saw the mockingbird nest. And we have a couple of California towhee fledgelings who come by to eat sunflower seeds. Mama towhee first brought them by one by one, broke the seeds up (apparently a sunflower seed is a little too big for a towhee to swallow in one piece) and fed them to the cheeping youngsters. But now they're coming by on their own, and still having some trouble breaking up the seeds, but they're making progress. Unfortunately one of the chicks hops only on one foot, apparently having injured the other already.

It's springtime for our local squirrels, too. Ringtail, the fox squirrel, is still around, and we have an occasional visit from a male fox squirrel as well. Notch, our longtime resident grey squirrel diva, is heavily pregnant. She looks like a little furry bowling pin and we keep thinking she's going to have her litter at any moment, but days pass and she continues to grow. We noticed her pregnancy some time in mid-April (it was quite visible by then), and gestation is supposed to be around 44 days, so either she's way overdue, or the books are wrong about Eastern grey squirrel gestation. (Or she's just fat and not pregnant at all, but I don't think so since her nipples are very prominent too.)

She still moves remarkably gracefully and has no trouble with leaping and climbing, unlike Nonotchka, who lumbered and waddled when she got to this stage last summer.

But the real fun is a pair of baby squirrels who showed up a week ago. We're calling the female Nova and her brother Chico (he has slonchy ears that look like Chiquita's). We have no idea who their mother is -- obviously not Notch, and we haven't seen any other female greys in quite a while. The kids wear sleek summer coats, while Notch still hasn't shed her shaggy winter fur despite the warm weather.

This pair is much bolder and more athletic than Chiquita and Ringlet were last year. They leap, they run along the fence, and they scamper headfirst down tree trunks. They don't play together much at all, the way last year's twins did, but sometimes they play by themselves. This morning, we watched in amazement as Nova played by the guava tree just outside the office door, alternating between pretend-burying of walnut shells and wild gyrations, rolls and backflips.

Best of all, I got it on video! I've set up a youtube account and uploaded a long video of her doing backflips and spins, and a shorter video of her digging and rolling.

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[ 19:32 Jun 10, 2007    More nature/squirrels | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Sun, 01 Oct 2006

Frisky Fall Squirrelets

The cool, overcast fall weather is here (first rain of the season, too), and it's amazing how much difference it makes in the squirrels' behavior and appetites. They're hungry again! Just as Notch dropped from thirteen or fifteen nuts in a day last winter to one or two during summer (of course, she probably has plenty of other food sources aside from us), now that fall is here we had to make an emergency run to the nut store to satisfy the hordes.

The kids, Chiquita and Scrape (as Dave took to calling Ringlet after she got a scrape on her shoulder), are friskier in addition to being hungrier. Today Scrape spent most of the morning running up and down the guava tree, bounding in the air or doing front-flips for no reason, and starting tussles with Chiquita. When not tussling with her sibling, Chiquita spent most of the morning eating -- she's noticably bigger than Scrape and it's not hard to see why.

Ringtail drops by periodically to check on how the kids are doing in day care. Then she'll dig up a nut and move on. She never lingers. We try to feed her, but she has an amazing inability to see food even when she's standing right on top of it. She looks sleek and robust, so I guess she's getting plenty to eat somewhere else, but watching her nose around and still miss a nut right in front of her face, I sometimes wonder how she survives.

Notch usually doesn't drop by until afternoon, and seems to avoid the kids. Squirrels must have inhibitions about fighting youngsters (even those not their own), since she's never been hesitant to chase away any interloping adult squirrel. It'll be interesting to see how long the truce lasts between Notch and Ringtail's kids -- and how long the kids will stick together before going their separate ways.

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[ 15:20 Oct 01, 2006    More nature/squirrels | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Thu, 21 Sep 2006

Squirrel Babies: Chiquita and Ringlet

A few days ago, I saw our neighbor squirrel, "Ringtail", struggling along the fence with a baby in her mouth, and hoped that she was moving closer to us so we'd get to see the babies when they got older.

My wishes were answered: the very next morning a new young squirrel appeared to play on the fence. Dave called "her" (we're not sure about gender yet) Chiquita.

It's easy to tell squirrel youngsters: not only are they much smaller than adults, but they're quite klutzy and cautious about the aerial feats that the adults do without hesitation. Chiquita was fairly klutzy, once falling out of the red oak onto the motorcycle shed (a drop of maybe five feet, which didn't seem to hurt her).

Then the following day, both Ringtail and Chiquita showed up ... with another baby. This one has a ringed tail like "his" odd-looking mom, but otherwise looks like an ordinary young grey squirrel. Ringtail took a few nuts then disappeared, leaving the kids at nursery school (a role which we're only too happy to fill). We think they hang out in the atlas cedar in the front yard when they leave here.

We've been greatly entertained for the last few days, watching how fast the kids learn the business of being a squirrel. On the first day, they had a lot of trouble moving head-first downward on the fence: while Notch will scamper right down then leap to the deck, Chiquita stretches as far down as she can get with her rear claws hooked over the top of the fencepost, then stays there for many minutes, evidently trying to work up the nerve to move downward. When she does move, it's carefully, step by step, and making the leap over to the deck (only about six inches) also takes time and nerve. When squirrels are fearful of something, they lash their tails wildly, like an angry cat.

A red oak tree gives much better purchase for your claws. Neither squirrelet shows any hesitation about leaping the couple of feet from the fence to the tree trunk, though sometimes Chiquita misses and has to run around the tree trunk before she gets a secure hold. And when they're both in high spirits they'll chase each other at high speed through the tree's branches.

Their antics can be pretty funny -- like when Chiquita was nerving herself to drop from the deck to the ground, but her wildly-swinging tail dislogdged a rock on the deck, which fell next to her and sent her into a panic causing her to drop off the deck.

Both of them, but especially Ringlet, love the potted fuscia I have sitting on the kayak stand. They stand on their hind legs, reach down into the pot and dig: they'll bury a nut, then immediately dig it out again. Sometimes they eat the fuscia, too. The fuscia is not looking at all healthy now, and I've written it off as a squirrel toy.

Even from one day to the next, it's easy to see their skills improve. Yesterday afternoon Ringlet even made the jump from the roof to the fence -- only a few feet, but the landing is tricky since the top of the fence is less than an inch wide. They do still stumble and fall pretty often -- Ringlet fell from the tree to the ground yesterday, making an audible thump, then lay there for a few minutes before getting up. But they're looking more graceful every day. Ringtail still brings them by in the morning and drops them off, then heads off to work (or wherever it is she goes once the kids are safely in day care).

Notch hasn't been around much, though I can't imagine she's been scared off by Ringtail and the kids. I did catch sight of her yesterday. I was sitting in the yard watching Chiquita. (The kids are fairly tolerant of our presence as long as we move slowly, but we're still trying to get them accustomed to moving about the yard and finding nuts in the right places.) She'd finally moved from the tree across the fence to the post nearest the office, and I was hoping she'd come down and take a drink of water and notice the nut I'd put there for her. After about five minutes on the fencepost, looking longingly down at the water but evidently not feeling confident enough for a head-down descent, she finally started to make a move -- then froze. I caught movement out of the corner of my eye: Notch was ambling along the deck right past my chair. While Chiquita watched, rapt and motionless, Notch went decisively to the nut hole, pulled out the whole walnut (she dislikes all pre-shelled walnuts -- we've tried bulk ones from the local fruit stand and bagged ones from Trader Joe's, but Notch and I both agree that neither taste as good as the walnuts in the shell) and marched back the way she'd come.

That was enough for Chiquita: as soon as Notch was safely out of sight, Chiquita came straight down the fencepost and onto the deck, sniffed at the shelled nut (not hungry) and had a long drink of water. I still don't know if Notch knew Chiquita was there -- squirrels don't seem to have territorial battles with youngsters, so maybe Notch was just being nice to the kid. (And she obviously wasn't hungry anyway, or she would have eaten the walnut and asked for more.)

Pictures of Ringtail and Chiquita (no Ringlet yet) here.

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[ 18:00 Sep 21, 2006    More nature/squirrels | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Sat, 16 Sep 2006

Ringtail's baby

One of our occasional visitors is a very odd squirrel. She's very large, with powerful hindquarters (enough so that she walks differently from most squirrels, in a sort of waddle) and a long, long tail that's ringed like a raccoon. We call her "Ringtail".

She doesn't visit often: Notch usually chases her off. And she's not very good at finding the nuts we set out for the squirrels, let alone being bold enough to come to the door.

We hadn't seen her for several weeks when today I heard a nut-crack noise out in the yard, peered out and saw Ringtail on the fence -- with a baby squirrel in her mouth. Go Ringtail!

Carrying baby squirrels usually means it's time to change dens, I believe. Grey squirrels apparently keep several dens, and change from one to another when one den gets too dirty and full of parasites.

With any luck she and her babies are moving to a more nearby den, and we'll be seeing them more often now.

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[ 12:25 Sep 16, 2006    More nature/squirrels | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Thu, 06 Apr 2006

Squirrel Territory Skirmishes

We were travelling for a week, so we left the squirrels with plenty of nuts to bury. (I'm sure our backyard will be a maze of walnut and hazelnut sprouts once the spring weather arrives.)

On our return, we found Nonotchka nursing an injury, limping on her left rear leg and sporting two wounds on that haunch. We're guessing she had a close encounter with a cat or similar predator.

(Dave saw Notch face off with a cat just a few days ago. Notch was crossing the street back to the place where we think she has her nest, when a cat came out of someone's yard. Notch stopped and sat up in the middle of the street, facing the cat. The cat stopped, too, and they sized each other up. Finally Notch turned and casually sauntered off the way she'd been going, obviously having decided she had enough escape options and wouldn't have trouble outrunning the cat. The cat turned and stalked off the other way: "Oh, I wasn't hungry ayway.")

Since our return Nonotchka has gotten steadily gotten better. She seemed very hot for a few days, constantly running off to flop onto the cold concrete in the shade, and the soles of her paws were hot when she came over to take nuts. We suspect she was fighting an infection. But her temperature is better now, and the fur is growing back over the wounded area. She's walking better every day, and it's hard to see that anything is wrong, until she jumps. She can't jump as high as before, and climbing the fence is harder. With any luck it's just stiffness, and she'll get over that in a few days.

We've made a special effort to make sure she gets plenty of nuts, despite Notch's frequent presence. But today they had an encounter that makes me wonder if we need to worry about that any more. I was feeding Notch some breakfast nuts when Nonotchka appeared on the fence. Normally Nonotchka would stay there, or retreat across the street, when Notch is around; but today she causually walked down the fencepost and sniffed around under the deck where we often leave nuts.

Notch stopped eating and turned to look. They eyed each other for a bit. Eventually Notch rushed Nonotchka, who retreated back under the deck -- but not very far. Notch hopped a few feet over to the grass under the orange tree and began to roll, dig, and pull herself through the grass (to leave her smell there?) After about a minute, Nonotchka appeared from under the deck and began rolling/digging/pulling herself through a patch of grass under the guava tree, not more than four feet away from Notch. Notch tolerated it for maybe half a minute, then it got to be too much and she rushed Nonotchka again with a little bark. Nonotchka retreated again, but still not very far, and they spent the next few minutes eying each other, circling slowly around the yard, in a slow chase that ended with them exiting into the cedar in the front yard, where I lost sight of them.

Five minutes later Nonotchka showed up at the office door to take a nut I'd left there, but she took it up to the fence and wouldn't come back to eat anything more.

I guess squirrel territory isn't immutable. It's nice to see Nonotchka asserting herself a little.

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[ 11:36 Apr 06, 2006    More nature/squirrels | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Fri, 17 Mar 2006

The Notch Gang

Our little squirrel family has grown to four. Notch has returned, after being gone for over a month, and now displays nipples like Nonotchka's. Turns out they were both females!

Notch is still as graceful, strong, and dominant as ever, and hangs around keeping Nonotchka from feeding. But we've found a solution: give Notch a nut in the shell, and she will take it off to bury it, which gives us a little time to sneak some nuts to Nonotchka before Notch flies back like a furry bolt of lightning.

Sometimes the ruse doesn't work. Once Dave went outside and chased Notch across the yard, over the fence and into the cedar while I communed with Nonotchka. Dave though he had her; but Notch vanished into the cedar branches, ran down the trunk and snuck under the gate while Dave was still watching the upper branches. Nonotchka only got a few nuts that time.

But that's not all. We have two other squirrels now, both apparently youngsters (they're scruffy, skinny, slightly smaller than our established squirrels, and markedly less graceful). One has white tufts between his ears, so I'm calling him Tuft; the other doesn't have a name yet and doesn't come by very often. They're both males, and yes, it is possible to tell when they're sitting up, contrary to some web pages I've seen.

Both of the kids are very nervous about us, and won't feed when we're anywhere in sight. But they're not nervous about Notch; the three of them sometimes eat at the same time, sitting on different parts of the fence, something Notch would never allow Nonotchka to do. Dave is convinced that they're Notch's kids from last year, and that he sees a family resemblance. The two kids sometimes quarrel mildly between themselves, and chatter at each other, but only when Notch isn't around; when she is, they're respectful and submissive.

Since the Notch Gang of three all tolerate each other, this makes it difficult to get any food to Nonotchka. She's taken to coming by later in the afternoons; the kids get up early in the morning, and Notch likes coming by around lunchtime.

Dave taped a little wooden shelf at the bottom of the office door where we can put nuts. Notch and Nonotchka learned it pretty quickly: not because they're any good at finding new nut sources (it takes them forever to notice a nut that's in a place where they don't normally find any; sometimes I wonder how the species survives) but because they're both bold enough to come to the door and look in when they're hungry, and eventually they bump their noses into the nuts on the shelf. Tuft is starting to notice the door-nuts, too, and will take one, then run off when he notices he's being watched.

I was able to get some photos of Nonotchka at the door (plus a few new shots of her outside in interesting poses). I tried to photograph Tuft today but he's too nervous.

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[ 18:27 Mar 17, 2006    More nature/squirrels | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Tue, 07 Mar 2006

Nonotchka has had her litter

Nonotchka has had her litter. Or at least she lost the tummy and regained her old svelte and graceful form as of yesterday afternoon. Of course, we haven't seen any squirrelets; she'll have them stashed away in a nest somewhere safe.

We're slightly worried about her. She came to eat today as usual (ravenously: she ate ten hazelnuts all at once then took several more away to bury), and although she seemed friendly and energetic, she left blood spots on Dave's jeans. I hope this is just some sort of normal postpartum condition and not an injury. She didn't seem to be in pain. (I get this from Dave; I was away when she made her visit. She's definitely spending less time here now that she has a family to take care of.)

So we'll keep an eye on her, make sure she's well fed and hope that she's okay and that in a few months she might start bringing the kids by. Apparently grey squirrels nurse for an amazing three months before they're ready to go out on their own. There are usually four to a litter.

(Update the following day: She seems fine. She's still energetic and hungry, and there's been no more blood.)

Meanwhile, Notch is gone. We haven't seen him at all since getting back from our trip. We're getting occasional visits from a new squirrel: scruffy, young-looking and not terribly well coordinated. Dave thinks the newcomer is a male. He's confused about nuts, or well fed from someone else's yard: he'll sniff at a hazelnut in the shell then leave it where it lies. Perhaps he just doesn't like hazelnuts and is holding out for a walnut.

It seems odd that this scrawny newcomer could have chased the burly, graceful and confident Notch away from his territory. My guess is that Notch decided there was some other yard he liked better, since even before the trip we'd been seeing him only infrequently.

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[ 22:30 Mar 07, 2006    More nature/squirrels | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Thu, 02 Mar 2006

Nonotchka is going to be a mom!

We went away for a week, to visit family for my grandmother's 100th birthday (yay, Grandma!) Of course, before we left we made sure our squirrels had lots of nuts buried, so they weren't dependent on the shelled nuts we've been feeding them.

When we got back, Nonotchka wasted little time in visiting us, and she's just as friendly as ever (to someone with a walnut in hand). But there are some other changes. At first, we weren't sure if she seemed fatter; but eventually we saw her from angles that left no doubt. And her belly fur has changed; instead of the brownish grey, now it's white like Notch's, except for six dark spots arranged in pairs down her abdomen.

Looks like we guessed right about Nonotchka's gender (well, we had a 50% chance) and she's going to be a mom!

I hope we get to see the baby squirrels when they're old enough to leave the nest. Maybe she'll even bring them by when they're old enough to be weaned.

We haven't seen Notch at all since we got back. I hope he's all right. He'd been spending a lot of time across the street anyway, so perhaps he's found a territory he likes better than our yard.

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[ 11:29 Mar 02, 2006    More nature/squirrels | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Thu, 02 Feb 2006

Suburban Squirrels

In early December, a squirrel staked out our yard as part of his territory. We encouraged him with nuts. He has a notch in one ear, so I called him "Notch".

Later that month, another squirrel showed up. Sometimes Notch chased the new squirrel (especially when food was involved), but at other times they seemed to be playing in a friendly way. Apparently December is breeding time for squirrels.

There's no easy way to identify the gender of grey squirrels (at least from a distance), so we arbitrarily decided that the larger, tougher and more territorial Notch was a male, and the newcomer must be female. Dave dubbed her "Nonotchka".

(Of course we're hoping that in a few months it will become obvious which one is actually the female, and soon afterward we will have little squirrels to watch.)

Both Notch and Nonotchka have become rather tame (though not quite to the point of taking food from our hands), and we've been able to get some decent (though not spectacular) photos while feeding them. Unfortunately, the final review process for the GIMP book got in the way of organizing the photos or writing squirrel essays, and I'm only now starting to catch up.

So here they are: our Suburban Squirrels.

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[ 14:57 Feb 02, 2006    More nature/squirrels | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Fri, 03 Dec 2004

Told Off by a Squirrel

It was cold on the trails at RSA this afternoon!

After flying for a little while at the electric plane flying area, we took an afternoon hike. We should have reversed the order. Nearly all of the trails were in shadow by the time we got there, and parts were covered with ice! (Non-Californians are laughing; but it's awfully rare in coastal California to slip on ice covering the trail, and we weren't dressed for that sort of weather.)

The squirrels were active, calling to each other and dropping buckeye and acorn bits from the treetops. One squirrel decided we didn't belong on his trail. We watched him make flying leaps from one bay tree trunk to another, until finally he rested on the trunk at the edge of the trail, just above our eye level and perhaps three feet away. He peeked around the tree and glared at us, grunting at our effrontery.

I grunted back, and the obstreperous squirrel leapt into action, racing up the treetrunk to where it bowed over the trail, barking down at us (I barked back), racing to another vantage point, barking again.

Belligerence was rewarded. The simian trespassers quailed under such a display of squirrel valor, and retreated down the trail, leaving the precious buckeye stash unmolested.

(The invaders may also have been giggling a bit as they continued their hike. But let that be. The important thing is, they are gone and were not able to steal any nuts.)

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[ 22:40 Dec 03, 2004    More nature/squirrels | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Wed, 01 Sep 2004

Squirrel Baby

As I walked out to the backyard gate, a furry grey missile flew off the garage roof, over my head and into the slot along the top of the backyard fence. I just barely got a look as the squirrel flew by -- but it was carrying something big (baseball sized, at least) and brownish in its mouth, and landed with a thump because of the weight of its load.

My curiosity was piqued. What object that large -- it looked like a coconut with the husk on, but the size of a baseball -- could a squirrel be interested in carrying around?

The squirrel climbed down off the fence, still carrying its load, and landed (with another thump) on the driveway and went scurrying off across the street (dodging two cars in the crossing). Dave and I followed it, intrigued.

Half a block away, it stopped under a tree, and we were finally able to get a slightly better look at what it was carrying. Definitely big, definitely spherical, definitely fuzzy -- and it had two tiny paws clutching around the squirrel's neck. It was a baby squirrel, rolled up into a ball, holding on to mom's neck while being held in her mouth.

Where she was going with her squirrelet will remain one of the mysteries of suburban wildlife viewing.

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[ 17:36 Sep 01, 2004    More nature/squirrels | permalink to this entry | comments ]

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