Quieting down for the winter…

Eastern Gray Squirrel eating acorn

Hickory and I are closing the blog for the winter a bit earlier than last year–see our 2015 post here. We love our readers and sharing our suburban nature findings with you, but the cold weather makes us want to burrow into our leaf nests and take a break. So we do!

This is our fourth winter closing the blog. Using our sidebar menus, you can look up other posts and our thoughts about certain plants and wildlife. Or if you like our Sunday mysteries, search the title “What is it?” to test your nature skills. Our archives are still open.

Have a safe, warm and productive winter. We squirrel will see you in the spring!

Your friends at The Squirrel Nutwork.

Nutmeg, Hickory, Ol’ Wally and Miz Flora

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Ever seen one of these?

mystery #166

 

I’ll check back later for your guesses!

~~~

It is a Chestnut bur–the name for the seed covering–as one of our readers guessed, but not a Horse Chestnut. Those are only a little prickly, not covered with spines like these chestnut burs. The chestnuts themselves are protected inside the burs.

Chestnut burs with chestnuts inside

These nuts don’t look like they fully ripened, but they were all that were left when we ran across them. Probably the local squirrels found and ate the best ones, because we squirrels will eat tree nuts of any kind–that is, once they are free from spines!

Chestnut leaves and bur

The nuts had also fallen from the burs still on the tree. We admit we aren’t quite sure which kind of chestnut tree this is. Nutmeg and I looked it up on The American Chestnut Foundation website and believe the leaves are wide enough the tree was probably an American Chestnut. But we also realize that is unusual. This tree was a good 30 feet high, but it was in a human’s yard, not the forest, so it was planted. Let’s hope whatever clever mix the human scientists used to keep this Chestnut from getting the Chestnut blight keeps working!

You can read more about work to restore the American Chestnut on The American Chestnut Foundation website. It’s so nice you humans are working to bring them back!

 

Still bird feeding time

The flowers are blooming, but few have produced seed, and not really the seed many of us like.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak male

So keep those backyard feeders filled! Both the birds and we squirrels will keep visiting!

But, maybe not at the same time–did ya notice that seed-cracking bill on this male Rose-breasted Grosbeak?

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Back with your mystery this week. Here’s a thing Nutmeg and I saw a few weeks ago…had to wait to for it to finish up before I could post for you good folks.

Mystery #151

Know what it is? Give us a guess in the comments!

~~~

Sorry! I had an unexpected delay, and I see so many of you checked in that I am embarrassed. No guesses, but no surprise because we also didn’t know what it was and had to check back as the tree grew its leaves out… (that was a hint!)

Willow Oak leaf

This photo is from early spring, the emerging leaves of a Willow Oak tree! Willow Oak, Quercus phellos, is a large native tree growing to 120 feet in the eastern and central U.S. As the name suggests, the leaves are more like those on a willow tree–and certainly skinny as they unfurl.

 

Willow Oak acorns

They have no teeth or lobes and turn yellow to yellow-tan in the fall. We squirrels love the acorns, but when the trees are deep in the woods–usually along marshes–we have to share with Wild Turkey, Wood Ducks, Red-headed Woodpeckers, deer and tore mammals like raccoons, and opossums and a host of birds. The Fairfax County Park Authority has a long list on their Willow Oak page.

It was fun to see this newly planted tree in our suburban neighborhood.

WIllow Oak tree

How about considering this species for your yard? You’d make a lot of squirrels happy! And maybe some turkeys, woodpeckers, bobwhite…

Q is for Quercus

Q can be a difficult letter to find in nature. Unless you are a squirrel.

Q

Quercus is the genus name for the Oak tree family. We squirrels can’t imagine life without them. Every day of the year.

White Oak tree

White Oak

Black Oak

Black Oak

fallen Chestnut Oak leaves

Chestnut Oak leaves

Willow Oak acorns

Willow Oak acorns

Pin Oak Branches 2

Pin Oak

Eastern Gray Squirrel in Black Oak Tree

Eastern Gray Squirrel in Black Oak

White Oak

White Oak catkins

Oak trees

Oaks in spring.

Haven’t seen enough oaks? Here’s what we had to say about our favorite Quercus on Q day in 2014!

Enjoy!

E is for Eastern Red Cedar, an Evergreen

This native evergreen is often overlooked.

Eastern Red Cedar

The blue-green needles are pretty and prickly, and you wouldn’t think any animals would eat them, but White-tailed deer, rabbits and mice will. Eastern Red Cedars, Juniperus virginiana grow in open sunny places, usually disturbed soil, so you humans see them most often sprouting as little conical trees in the medians of your highways. In the olden days, they grew along fence rows. Those big trees with their red-brown shredy bark are a beautiful sight overhanging country roads. Unfortunately we suburban squirrels don’t have a photo of one–so you will have to make do with this one that had another tree combines with it.

Eastern Red Cedar tree

Eastern Red Cedar with seed cones in fall

The flowers aren’t much to look at, but in the fall the bluish berry-like cones ripen and are eaten by all kinds of animals: Woodpeckers, Cedar Waxwings, Bluebirds, Quail, turkey, doves, finches, crows, and also, red fox, raccoons, skunks, opossums, and of course, squirrels!

A is for Acorns on Another Awesome April with the Blogging From A to Z Challenge!

We squirrels at The Squirrel Nutwork love our A to Z Challenge. This year marks our 5th in the challenge and the start of our 5th year blogging. We have a small but faithful following of mostly–we think–human readers. Our 200th follower just joined us yesterday! Welcome BloominBootiful! She describes her blog as ‘A girl and her garden’ which is a great match for us, ‘connecting to nature in suburban D. C.’

Yes, we write about nature and science and people and how we all get along. Thus, our A to Z topics are all about nature, too. What we find interesting in our little corner of Northern Virginia.

A

Every year we start our April Blogging Challenge with the same letter, ‘A’ and the same item, Acorns.

Black Oak Acorns

Acorns, like these Black Oak acorns, are very important to squirrels around the world, because we eat them. A lot of them! People sometimes prepare acorns and eat them, too. We are not advising you humans try this unless you look up how to prepare the acorns just right for you, so just trust us, acorns are a healthy food for squirrels.gathering acorns

If you look back to our April 1, 2012 post on A is for Acorns we had a lot to say about acorns and oak trees. Just click on over so we don’t need to repeat it.

Welcome to another season with four squirrels, and thank you for joining us!

Hello ‘real’ winter!

We’re still on our winter break, especially with the dump of snow hitting our little corner of the world. But a reader sent a great photo to us and we had to share.

Squirrel feeding in snowstorm

Our normal ways of collecting food–sniffing out the acorns and hickory nuts we buried last fall–isn’t working too well with several feet of snow on the ground here in Northern Virginia. Our reader put seed in cleared area to help us out–and perhaps the birds, too. We thought we’d share her idea in case a few of you might also be able to help your neighborhood critters. Thanks, Mary Ellen!

If you aren’t a regular reader, please see our prior post explaining The Squirrel Nutwork‘s winter blogging break.