Look who’s hiding!

As Hickory and I ran across a bridge, something darted before us. I’m not sure who was more scared… we stopped and crept up to the spot where it disappeared.

Down between the boards sat a five-lined skink, his tail curled tight! We watched him for a few moments, but the little native reptile wasn’t the least worried we could reach him and pretended we weren’t there. So we went on.

“Why do you suppose we don’t see many of those?” Hickory asked.

“Maybe because they hide out beneath logs and under bark — and we stay on the top of things.”

“Right, searching for insects. I’m glad we have a more interesting diet, like those sunflower seeds humans put on their decks. Are you ready for an afternoon snack?” Hickory swished his tail.

Did I even need to answer his question?

Hello this late Spring

Hi to all our followers and a sincere apology we haven’t been posting. We squirrels are all well. No illness or injury or anything like that to stop our blogging activities. We just find there is so much to do in your human world that we needed to take a step back. We likely will post more intermittently than we have in the past, but hope our readers will continue to join us and enjoy reading about our beautiful natural world.

That said, one of our favorite native trees has bloomed and we had to share it with you.

The White Fringetree, Chionanthus virginicus, puts on an impressive show! It’s the later show that we squirrels will enjoy more. If the fringy flowers have been pollinated –and yes, we’ve been celebrating the bees in our neighborhood!–then a drupe fruit will form.

Of course then we will have to hustle over there before the birds devour them all! At only 15 to 30 feet tall, this small tree fits many yards in the southeastern United States and helps wildlife.

Closing Down for the Winter

These days are cold and cloudy, and we squirrels haven’t had a lot of energy for activities beyond eating to stay warm, building up our dreys, eating, chasing the birds off our prime deck feeders, eating… well, you get the picture.

It’s long past time that we close down the blog for our winter hiatus, but honestly, we just haven’t made the effort. Yes, we–and our human helpers–are well and safe. Thank you to those who have asked. We just seem to have our paws in more activities this year.

A favorite has been burying more acorns in those pollinator gardens on the local golf course. We dig errant grass sprouts and may even knock around the plants a bit so they drop their seeds so more grow.

We also keep a paw in with the neighborhood yards of those who are planting native food shrubs for us and keeping their leaves around so we have more insects to dig up come spring.

These important tasks require our squirrel supervision.

If you are new to the blog, we have been closing down for a squirrely break for a number of years. (Since 2013! Search our archives with ‘closing down’ if you’d like to read these posts.) It gives us a chance to rest during the harsher weather. Sometimes we pop in for a quick post if something extraordinary happens in our neighborhood. So far, we have not resisted the urge to return and blog during the ‘Blogging From A to Z April Challenge’.

So our friends, stay warm, safe and well, and we’ll see you in April!

Your friends at The Squirrel Nutwork,

Nutmeg, Hickory, Ol’ Wally and Miz Flora

Winterberry Holly

We squirrels leaped across a real treat during a romp in the local woods – a stand of native shrubs bursting with berries!

We suspect this big stand was planted by you humans, but who cares! These Winterberry Hollies, Ilex verticillata, are native from southeastern Canada down into Alabama, and we wildlife need all the food sources we can find now that the cold has descended on us.

Hickory flicked his tail to balance and reach for another berry. “These are tastier than the berries we get in some backyards.”

“Most native berries are,” Miz Flora said. “They have more fat in them than the designer berries that humans find so pretty. Those might have 1% fat, but our native berries contain 6 to 50% fat. That makes them tastier for us, and healthier for migrating birds.”

“I want to get to them before the birds!” Hickory got that determined look in his eye.

“Ah, ah,” I told him. “We have to share. Birds flying across the ocean need that fat more than a suburban squirrel. If we fill up on junk food, we can sleep it off in our dreys–maybe a little colder. But a migrating bird has nowhere to land if his energy gives out over the ocean.”

Hickory dipped his head.

Ol’ Wally took pity on him. “Give an old squirrel a break, young’un, and drop me a few to try.”

Hickory scurried about to pop off a pawful of berries over Ol’ Wally’s head. “Did you also notice these berries are easy to get to?”

Yep, unlike most hollies, the Winterberry has a deciduous leaf that is not prickly.

But like most hollies, these shrubs have both male and female plants, and they must grow close to each other to cross-pollinate to develop the berries on the female plant. That’s probably why the humans who planted these put them together in such a large stand. Winterberries shrubs will get 6 to 10 feet high, and they tolerate both wet and dry soil. That makes them perfect for those areas where you humans have runoff problems. A nice winterberry stand in a drainage swale will also soak up that extra water, plus they grow in all light situations, from sun to shade.

We enjoyed our treat and went on our way. As we left, I looked back at the pretty berries that stood our so nicely in the gray woods. Beside me, Hickory asked, “Will the humans also be gathering these to eat?”

“No!” Miz Flora said. “All Ilex, or holly, species are toxic to them. Many of the foods we squirrels eat.”

But I had another thought: I hope the humans don’t gather these for their holiday decorations!