It’s Berry Season!

Have we squirrels mentioned it’s berry season?

 

It seems like we must have because we have been waiting sooooo long for those blackberries to ripen.

And finally they have!

While they have been coming in slowly, another local berry has snuck on us–wineberries.

Mmmm!

Q is for Quercus

Yes, Q is often for Quercus on The Squirrel Nutwork for Blogging From A to Z April Challenge.

We are Squirrels. Quercus is important to us.

And…there aren’t that many things in nature that start with Q. We are entering the part of the alphabet that is difficult for squirrels and nature.

So Quercus. Here’s a pretty one we spotted today.

Likely one we planted and forgot. This acorn is growing a White Oak, Quercus alba. After a few years…after we squirrel are gone… it will look like this…

flowering as Quercus do, with catkins to produce its own acorns.

Quiet times ahead…

After yesterday’s hawk sighting, it seems time to suspend the blog for the winter. We squirrels still need to go out to eat, but cold, coupled with the bare branches exposing us, means we want to spend more time curled up!

It’s been six years now that Hickory and I started this practice. A winter gives us the break we need to want to resume blogging again. We hope that will be for the Blogging A to Z Challenge in April. (What’s that? They have a website, too: a-to-zchallenge.com)

However, as we said last year, a squirrel never knows what winter may bring.

Our archives are open. Using our sidebar menus, you can look up past posts in categories. For example, if you like to test your nature skills in our Sunday mysteries, search the title “What is it?”. Or use the search bar–labeled ‘Trying to find those nuts we’ve buried?–to hunt for your favorite plants, wildlife or other nature topics. We’re actually pretty good at labelling stuff for you to dig around.

Until spring, have a safe, warm and productive winter!

Your friends at The Squirrel Nutwork.

Nutmeg, Hickory, Ol’ Wally and Miz Flora

Bluebirds Return

We squirrels may forget where we buried our acorns, but it seems like our local bluebirds haven’t forgotten where the good eats are!

The Eastern Bluebirds were chased out of nesting in the backyard nest box they used last year by a pesky House Sparrow–here’s the guilty party.

The humans decided not to let the sparrows–or the catbird!–get a foot in the door and blocked the box.

Wherever the bluebirds reared their young must be close by. The parents have brought the young by to find food!

Maybe a pair will get a chance next year!

May is for Mayapples

It’s nearly the end of May and we haven’t posted a single Mayapple, Podophyllum peltatum.

Ms. Flora isn’t pleased, but the rains have gotten us off schedule. So here you go!

For those not familiar, this very different, umbrella-like leaf is the Mayapple plant.

Those broad leaves hide a flower that blooms only if the Mayapple is old enough to have two leaves. Look very carefully here and you’ll see the flower growing from the axil of the leaves.

A single and sometimes double flower–if pollinated–then produces the ‘Mayapple’ – a little fruit that is poisonous, except when it is ripe.

How can you tell it’s ripe? By smell, of course. Humans aren’t good at this, so don’t try. Just put this on your poisonous list.

But if you see box turtles or other critters taking a bite, don’t be alarmed. It’s a spring treat!

Are you still feeding the birds?

Many humans feed birds throughout the year. Some only feed in the winter, when food is scarcer for the birds–and us squirrels, mind you! We have seen some humans stop feeding when grackle or starling flocks invade their feeding stations. Believe us, we don’t like the noise and the mess of those big, pushy flocks either.

One of our human neighbors is feeding the birds and has quite a variety of birds coming to visit.

Ms. Flora commented on the pleasant coo of the Mourning Dove, which I’ve noticed, but it’s so common it’s like a background music when we leap around the neighborhood. Mourning Doves are practically everywhere except deep woods, and we don’t have too much of that in suburbia.  Hickory and I thought we would look up a little bit about it. We didn’t realize that these birds are hunted! They are no bigger than a robin, so why would people want to eat them?

But they do, and apparently that led to uninteresting discovery: A dove shot in 1998 in Florida had been banded–in 1968 in Georgia. That made the bird at least 30 years and 4 months old! We had no idea these small birds lived that long–to us squirrels, that’s like forever, and something we would only have thought would be the lifespan of something as large as a hawk.

Mourning doves are kind of like chickens, in that they prefer to scratch and pick their food off the ground. We have sort of battle going with them under the feeders. They are round enough that they don’t seem to like perching feeders, but will eat off those tray feeders.

They’re mighty quick to land and take offer and do startle easily. If you haven’t heard their coo, here’s a link to a nice recording of it on All About Birds.

Z is for witch haZel

Again! (We used witch hazel in our 2018 Blogging From A to Z Challenge, too!) There just aren’t enough ‘Z’ names in nature. But we’re lucky witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, has a Z in there for our Trees for Bees posts.

The native witch hazel becomes a small tree–to 25 feet–in the shady understory of the forest, but there are also many shrub forms of this species available. They may bloom at different times, like very early spring.

The native tree’s flower blooms in the fall, right around Halloween, and the long, stringy, yellow petals look like spiders–making us squirrels think you humans named it because you thought the tree was ‘bewitched.’ Not so! The name comes from wiche, which means pliant– as in bendable branches.

That makes no difference to bees or other nectar-seekers! If it’s one of those warm fall days that we are prone to having, they want to eat! Witch hazel and the late fall asters are about the only things blooming in October-November, so planting this tree is a real benefit to insects.

And indirectly to us squirrels, I should fairly add. Once the bees pollinate those flowers, the nuts will form, a tasty treat for wildlife.

Of all the woody trees and shrubs we’ve presented for our April ‘Trees (and Shrubs) for Bees’ challenge, witch hazel is one of our favorites. Those crazy fall-blooming flowers are just a neat thing about about nature. We hope you put it on your planting list!

We will compile a complete list of Trees for Bees for you as a summary of this month…sometime this week!

And remember: Please don’t purchase plants that have been grown with pesticides, particularly neonicotinoids. You’re not doing anyone a favor with that these days. And if you haven’t yet, please watch Marla Spivak’s TED talk to learn more about bees, why they are dying and what  you can do to help.

Marla Spivak: Why Bees Are Disappearing

Oops! We got our alphabet days wrong!

‘Y’ day is today for the Blogging From A to Z Challenge. We accidentally posted it yesterday. So for today, um…

…remember that blackberrY and raspberrY flowers also are a favorite with pollinators! Just  because these trees and shrubs help the bees doesn’t mean they can’t help us squirrels, too!