Thirsty & Thankful Thursday

Links Pond on Reston National Golf Course

We squirrels are thankful for our little neighborhood family, our readers and of course this beautiful place we call home. And by that we mean both Reston and our Earth!

Happy Thanksgiving to all our human readers!

From Ol’ Wally, Nutmeg, Hickory and Miz Flora

Downy Woodpeckers

Do you humans have your bird feeders up and filled?

Birdfeeder with White-breasted Nuthatch

“Hey, that’s what we like to see!” Hickory flicks his tail.

Yes…let me move farther from my exuberant friend. As I was about to say, we’ve had our first freezes here in northern Virginia, which means fewer insects out…which in turn means some insect-eating birds will be swarming those feeders.

Hickory crowds over again. “Yeah, getting in our way.”

Enough–this is my column! Folks, sorry. I can tell I won’t be able to keep this one to myself.

So… Some birds switch over to eating winter berries–like bluebirds. Other birds will follow the insects and fly south. And a few will get their protein in different ways, like from your feeders. One of the backyards we, uh, frequent, has a lovely suet feeder that gets a lot of attention when those insects die off. This Downy Woodpecker pair turned up this week at the first suet of the season.

Male Downy Woodpecker

They are the smallest woodpecker, barely larger than other feeder birds–like the White-breasted Nuthatch above–and quite recognizable because of the white patch on their backs. The male has a red spot on the back of his head.

Female Downy Woodpecker

And the female is only black and white. These two are often mistaken for the larger Hairy Woodpecker. If you are lucky enough to see it, the tail feathers of the Downy have a faint barring or spotting, whereas on the Hairy the outer feathers are white.

“And their bills are bigger and sharper, too! Stand clear.”

Thanks for that advice, Hickory. I’m sure all the humans now realize how you’ve learned that.


One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Quite a few fruits and berries out there, even in the fall.

Mystery #141

Can you identify this one?

I’ll check back later!


Sorry to be so late–chillier day here and we wanted to get some more gathering done before a freeze… which Ms. Flora says will improve the flavor of these Hawthorn pomes. Yes, they look like berries to me, too.  To be honest, we’re not really sure about that freeze business.


See those thorns? And the branches are so tight together, it’s almost impossible to get through them. For good sized squirrel’s like us, anyway. We are just guessing the berries aren’t very good now because the birds have left them alone. They do love them on a winter’s day, especially the cardinals.


This is not a native tree, but planted in out neighborhood. Commonly they used to be planted as hedgerow trees–because of the close branching–and the ‘pomes’ were gathered by humans for jellies and such.

Please note, we have to say we are not recommending you humans go out and try them based on our say-so. Always check potential with reliable sources, not the word of a squirrel.

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Recognize these blue…things?

Mystery #140

Give us a guess. We’ll check back later!


As one of our readers guessed, this native tree is from the Juniper family–Juniperus virginiana, or Eastern Red Cedar. Many people call these little blue fruits the berries, but as Ms. Flora helped me to understand, they are actually seed cones for this evergreen.

Eastern Red Cedar with seed cones in fall

They get lumpier as they mature and contain 1-3 seeds, that are dispersed far and wide after being eaten over the winter by many species of birds, including Eastern Bluebirds, Cedar Waxwings and Wild Turkey.

You humans probably see the Eastern Red Cedar growing along your roads in the east. It likes sun, and readily grows in disturbed soil. If not mowed and no other trees grow in its space, the cedar grows quite tall and broad. It can be very long-lived–some of your human reports say 850 years!

Easter Red Cedar tree

Unfortunately that nice juniper smell one of our readers mentioned comes from the oils in the needles and wood…and makes them very flammable in a fire.

Gray Tree Frog

Hey there,

Hickory here taking over for Nutmeg. We’ve all fallen a bit behind here because of preparing for winter. I may as well announce to our newer followers that The Squirrel Nutwork goes into hibernation over the winter. We don’t have a set day yet, just whenever Nutmeg thinks we need to. Kind of weather dependent.

So on to today’s post:

Sometimes we squirrels are forgetful. Not one, but two readers sent us photos of gray tree frogs over the summer, and we just found them again. Oops. Time to share, even though these little frogs will soon be hibernating.

Gray Tree frog 2

Tree frogs are named because they live in trees, in damp areas but directly in water. These arboreal amphibians are small, about an inch long, so we pass along our congratulations to our readers, Nancy and Michael, for spotting them!

Gray Tree Frog 3

Like all other frogs, they do eat insects and if they are living near your human houses, they will come out at night to catch the insects that are drawn to lights.

Gray Tree Frog 1

Yes, even though it’s green, this is still a gray tree frog. They can change color to camouflage to what they are sitting on, ranging from nearly black to a very pale color. It’s a very slow change though.

Obviously, being so small, tree frogs are prey to many larger animals, including snakes and birds. That’s where the camouflage comes in handy, as well as this:

Gray Tree Frog 4

See that stripe that goes right through the eye? It hides the frog’s eye and along with the other mottling on the tree frog’s skin, it makes it hard to see their face and specific shape. Good trick, huh?

Thank you again to our readers who shared their photos!