One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Nutmeg and I are signing off this coming week for our winter hiatus, so here is a last mystery for a bit.

Mystery #174

This plant has held its leaves late in the season.

If you know what it is, give us a guess in the comments.

I’ll check back later!


Arrowwood Viburnum

Spectacular leaves, aren’t they?

Arrowwood Viburnum native shrub

Arrowwood Viburnum, Viburnum dentatum, is a native shrub that produces food for wildlife, too. The drupes grow from clusters of white flowers that bloom in the spring and look like look like dark blue berries when they ripen. A variety of viburnums live from Maine down to Florida and east to Texas, and feed many types of birds, including thrushes, bluebirds, robins, catbirds, cardinals, finches and waxwings.

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

As you can tell by the few posts we squirrels are managing to get out in a week, we are starting our winder slowdown. Nutmeg and I are thinking we will go on hiatus this week. We’ve done this the last few winters, if you are new to The Squirrel Nutwork.

So here’s a mystery for today, a little something we ran across on the side of a wagon:

Mystery #173

And another view:

Mystery #173


Who do you gathered these materials? And why?

Leave me your guesses in the comments. I’ll check back later!


We had a guess that it might be a field mouse nest. In fact, that’s what we squirrels originally thought. But then Nutmeg and I reviewed the mouse nests we’ve seen compared to bird nests. Mouse nests are almost always grass, or grass and one other material, like moss or sometimes a bit of discarded human material.

Take a look at this nest again.

Wren nest

Grass, pine needles, moss, bits of leaf, the veins of leaves, plastic, the lacy roots on top. This is quite a collection! One bird who collects many materials and really builds more of a nest than it needs, is the wren.

Carolina Wren

We aren’t sure if this was built by a Carolina Wren or a House Wren, so if any of you human readers have a firmer idea than we do, please write to us!

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Our mystery today comes to us from regular reader, Connie. Thanks, Connie!

Mystery #179

Yes, it’s those little blobs, about the size of a small acorn.

I’ll check back later for your guesses, but if you’d like a hint, scroll down:


Hint: Connie found these on her pontoon boat.


One brave reader guessed that these particles were the stuffing from the boat. No, but that was our first guess, too! No mice or insects were burrowing inside. This was deposited on the boat and appears nearly every morning, Connie tells us.

And every morning someone visits the boat.

Great Blue Heron on Lake Audubon Paul Hartke 2016

If the light is a bit too dim for you, here’s another photo.

Great Blue Heron on Lake Audubon

That’s a Great Blue Heron. A very old one, we believe, because his beard–the feathers trailing from his neck–is full. Now we squirrels had heard of owls regurgitating pellets of fur and bones after they eat, but not herons, so we did a bit of research. Turns out herons do as well, and it’s called “casting.”

fish bones in a Great Blue Heron casting

fish bones in a Great Blue Heron casting

If you look closely, this deposit, or regurgitation, contains small fish bones and scales!

Herons also have a throat pouch. When they have young in the nest, they swallow a fish or two and carry them back to the nest and regurgitate them for the young birds. Young birds might do the same if a predator attacks their nest to frighten it away.

Want to learn more about Great Blue Herons? The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a camera on a heron nest and answers many questions about these birds on their Bird Cam FAQ website.

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Another shot of our changing leaves.

Mystery #171


Any guesses for what they are?

I’ll be back later to check your answers!


Isn’t that a gorgeous tree! It’s an oak, and common, maybe more so than you humans realize.

Acorn of the Chestnut Oak

Chestnut Oak, Quercus prinus, is easily identified by its large rounded teeth along the margins of the leaves and growing in the higher, drier soils. The acorns are bigger than most oaks, and oval in shape.

And speaking of acorns… We squirrels are having a plentiful year, but as always, it’s a tiring chore preparing for winter. A regular reader asked if we’d be taking our winter hiatus again, and the answer is yes. We have some catching up to do. Nutmeg and I need to pick when, but it’ll be soon.

Get outside while the weather is good, folks!

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there,

Staying seasonal with our mystery, what are these red leaves?

Mystery # 170

Or if you want a challenge, what are the green ones?

I’ll check back later for your guesses!


This beautiful fall color brought to you by Red Maple, Acer rubric, and Metasequoia, Metasequoia glyptostroboides. Enjoy!

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

It’s fall, how about a leaf mystery?

Mystery #169

We’ll check in later!


The Black Tupelo, Nyssa sylvatica, always turns a beautiful color in our woods–though it might be reds to purples as you see here, or yellows and oranges.

Black Tupelo Blackgum tree leaves

Sometimes known as Black Gum or Blackgum, this native tree blooms in late spring and produces a berry that is high in energy for birds. You humans hardly ever see them because they are so small and get eaten very quickly.

The name ‘tupelo’ comes from the Native American Creek words “ito” for tree and “opilwa” for swamp. We don’t have many swampy areas where we live, so haven’t taken note of that. Maybe if they do live in wetter areas, the tree grows larger. Here in Northern Virginia, the Black Tupelo is a smaller, slow growing tree.

Black Tupelo tree

That’s one, in the center foreground, with the yellowish leaves, right beside the trunk of a mature Black Tupelo tree. Very pretty, and one we’d sure recommend you humans look at if you are picking out something native and helpful for wildlife!

Black Tupelo Black Gum tree leaves

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

We have a garden resident who has slowed down in the cool weather.

mystery #168

Many of you probably recognize this fellow, but if you’re a little hazy on your identification, throw a guess into the comments section.

I’ll be back later with the correct answer.


Yes, we had a correct guess today! The Eastern Garter Snake is very common in our suburban neighborhoods, but we wish more appreciated! This little snake is harmless and does so much to keep down mice, voles and even slugs. We won’t mention that the larger ones sometimes try to get into squirrel and chipmunk nests. Darn things.


This is an easy snake to recognize because it has two stripes running the length of its body. These white to yellow stripes make it hard for an enemy to tell the garter snake is moving, and–bam!–it’s gone before you know it!. The body color on garter snakes is splotchy and ranges from tan to brown to green. This makes them harder to see in the dappled sunlight on grass, mulch or the forest floor. They can swim and like to to catch fish and frogs. They can climb trees and like to eat baby birds.

No wonder this snake is so common–it eats about anything!

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Recognize this fellow?

Mystery #167


If so, give us a shout in the comments.

I’ll be back later with the correct answer!


carolina mantis eating

As one of our regular readers said, it is a good bug eating bad bugs! That’s the life of the Carolina Mantis, a predator you humans often call a praying mantis. If you’ve ever encountered one, you know those front limbs are lines with little barbs, perfect for catching and holding insects.


This female has colored herself gray to blend with her surroundings. She can’t change frequently, like a chameleon, but can adjust color when she grows and molts her exoskeleton, up until she is full grown. And how do we know this is a female? Size is one way, the females are larger than the males. But a more certain way to tell is the wings. On a full-grown female, they extend only 3/4 of the way along the abdomen, leaving her tail end exposed.

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!


One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Ever seen something as crazy as this?

mystery #165

Let me know what you think is!

I’ll be back later to post the answer!


Hope y’all knew it was a caterpillar…it’s a Variegated Fritillary just starting  to make a chrysalis. Here’s a before shot of the caterpillar, on the right, sharing a Passionflower leaves with another caterpillar.

variegated fritillary sharing passionflower leaves

This was a little after the first photo.

variegated fritillary starting a chrysalis

About halfway done.

variegated fritillary middle of making chryslis

And nearly done.

variegated fritillary finishing chrysalis

Pretty neat, huh?

Variegated Frittilary on Violets