One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

This plant has a symmetry thing going on. (The closer one, not the one in the background–the mystery from a week ago!) Any idea what it is?

I’ll check back for your answers later.

~~~

This five-leaved plant is a new tree–a Willow Oak. This one has just sprouted after we squirrels planted one of a neighboring tree’s acorns. Later, the leaves won’t be radiation out from one point, but will look like this.

Here’s a new Willow oak…

and here’s a mature one in our neighborhood.

We’re happy to see you humans planting them.

S is for Squirrels!

Yes, folks, squirrels.

And everything we love–

Big oak trees,

Acorns,

Leaf nests,

Birdfeeders,

Sunning on your decks

Running on the golf course.

This is our squirrel world and we love it.

 You see, today is Earth Day.

We hope you love your world, too. Maybe you’ll take care of it for all of us?

Happy Earth Day!

 

D is for Deadwood

(Sorry to be late this morning! Can you tell we’re not back into the swing of blogging yet? 😉 )

Yes, Deadwood, and not the show or the town. To us squirrels, deadwood means, dead wood, what human arborists call a ‘snag.’

Snags are many things to wildlife. Maybe a place to live!

 

Or a place to find food, because as everyone knows, bugs love to burrow!

It’s also a place for new life to begin, because that decomposing wood is really rich minerals.

In other words, what might be trash to be taken out to some humans…

is really a valuable resource in our habitat.

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!

 

Bees like composite flowers!

What are we talking about, you may ask? This!

Yellow Bumble Bee on Mexican Sunflower

Composite flowers look like one flower, but are actually many small flowers grouped as one. See the teeny little petals sticking up in the middle? Each is a flower! And if you know sunflowers, each flower makes a seed. Composite flowers actually evolved to be like this as a strategy to attract bees.

“What?” Hickory popped his head up from digging a hole. “Flowers think?”

Not really, but Mix Flora says they tend to change according to what works. Like some flowers smell a particular way–sweet, or like rotten meat–to attract insects to pollinate them, others like Lady’s Slipper make a very small passage to push pollen on the bees.

But back to composites! A flower that is really many flowers is very efficient if you’re a bee. I’m sure all you humans have heard the phrase “busy as a bee”, and it’s true. They work hard, but they also like shortcuts.

You can give bees two shortcuts in your garden:

Plant composites, like zinnias, which are easy to grow.
bee-on-a-zinnia

Group your flowers in masses of color.

agapostemon-sp-sweat-bee

This sweat bee will go from this yellow flower to the next and the next and the next. It’s like going to the biggest oak to gather acorns, instead of running around to a bunch of small ones. They see that huge patch of color and know they can collect what they need in one visit. We think you humans do this, too, when you go to stores.

Planting flowers to bloom throughout the entire growing season will help bees find nectar and pollen for the longest possible times they are active.

One of the earliest composites to bloom in the spring is–wanna make a guess?

dandelion seedhead

Dandelions! Yes, each of those seeds was a flower on a dandelion, so don’t pull them if you want to help bees! The latest composites to bloom are likely asters or goldenrod.

Goldenrod

We could give you a flower list, but other blogs have done it for us: Please visit The Peace Bee Farmer’s post on The Composite Family.

The University of Sussex’s Goulson Lab has a picture directory of The best garden flowers for bees.

Or go back to @helpthebees to see this great list they have pinned on their twitter feed.

flower list from @helpthebees

Mexican Sunflower

Mexican Sunflower standIt’s the end of summer and the sunflowers are standing tall. One of the best we squirrels have seen you human’s plant is the Mexican Sunflower–about 7 feet tall!

 

Tiger Swallowtail on Mexican Sunflower

And the butterflies, like this Tiger Swallowtail, sure seem to love them.

Mexican Sunflower

Bluebird Nestbox Invaded

Well, this is a hard story to tell, folks. Our reader friend, Nancy, wrote that the Eastern Bluebirds in her yard had laid a second set of eggs.

Eastern Bluebird female

Eastern Bluebird hatchlings 1-2 days old

They hatched, but twelve days later the parent birds were forced to abandon the nestlings.

Note: Nancy began documenting this local bluebird nesting and shared it with The Squirrel Nutwork in April. Search ‘bluebird’ if you wish to see the older posts!

First, we are pleased to say the fledglings from the first nesting  had continued to stay with the parent bluebirds, and were helping to feed the second set of hatchlings.

Eastern Bluebird with juvenile

Eastern Bluebird juveniles

Nancy reported it was wonderful to see all three return.

Eastern Bluebirds juveniles

Then one evening a raccoon tried to get into the nest box…

Raccoon stalking bluebird nest box

…including climbing the nearby fence. Lucky for the bluebirds, he got stuck and gave up.

Raccoon on a fence

But the next day, a House Sparrow was spotted entering the nest box. You readers may remember that the House Sparrow entered the nest box after the first set of fledglings left.

House Sparrow invading bluebird nest

These aggressive–and non-native!–birds must have been harassing the bluebirds all along. Despite the help from another male bluebird and the three juveniles, the female was looking thin and worn out the day the raccoon appeared.

Eastern Bluebird female thin and worn

All of the bluebirds disappeared, leaving the 12 day old nestlings.

Eastern Bluebird hatchlings 12 days old_1

Nancy and her family tried to feed them.

Feeding bluebird hatchlings

Mealworms, egg whites and soaked dog food were recommended by the Wildlife Rescue League–but with work, these humans couldn’t feed the same amount of food that six birds could, and the nestlings didn’t make it. Nancy and her family were quite upset when they wrote us.

As soon as the nest box was empty, a House Wren tried to use it, and in fact, was rather insistent!

Carolina Wren trying to use bluebird nest box_1

The solution has been to leave it open to discourage the other birds.

Bluebird nest box open

Unfortunately, this nature story isn’t unusual. Even with this much help from humans, wildlife have a tough time of it. The competition for food and nesting sites is fierce. The more docile songbirds like the Eastern Bluebirds can’t compete with critters who are more aggressive.

Nancy wrote us that even with the loss of the second hatchlings, the positive part of having the nest box in their yard was the success of the parent birds raising the first three chicks through to being able to fend for themselves. They will go on to raise families of their own next year.

The birds aren’t the only ones hatching!

Baby Eastern Box Turtle

How about that! This baby turtle popped sideways out of the grass while a human was mowing the lawn–maybe it was his first exposure to those big machines!  Well, we squirrels jump, too, but this Eastern Box Turtle is less than two inches long. That’s small to be moving from a mower.

Many thanks to our friend, Irene, for sharing this photo and seeing the little turtle safely on his way!

Just in case you human readers find such a small turtle and think it’d be fun to keep it for a bit, keep this in mind: Hickory and I have noticed they snap at food continuously–food we squirrels can’t even see. You got it: little bitty bugs, teeny slugs and minuscule worms. Baby turtles eat so many critters–yes, when they are young Box Turtles are carnivores–that a squirrel couldn’t keep up with with feeding one from dawn to dusk, let alone a human.