Catkins Coming Down!

If you’re dodging these masses of catkins rolling across your suburban streets, you know how we squirrels feel trying to to navigate the woods. We’re up to our bellies in oak catkins! Last week the male ‘flowers’ of the oak trees shed their pollen, coating our tree branches yellow, and this week the spent tassels have come down.

It’s all part of nature, folks. These fine plant materials contain no seeds and make great additions to your compost. Personally, we squirrels are hoping for a good acorn crop form their pollination!

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Q is for Quercus

Quercus, you ask? Unless you’ve been a Squirrel Nutwork follower for a few years. Q is one of the more difficult letters to find in nature names, so we’ve recycled this one every two years.

Quercus is home for us, the oak trees we live in, their acorns we eat. According to the National Wildlife Federation’s article on The Wildlife Benefits of Acorns and Oaks, so do more than 100 other vertebrate species–including turkey, crows, deer, raccoons, opossums, blue jays and quail. Insects? Yes, and we once heard it was over 200 different species, but now we can’t find that reference.

Clearly, oaks are an important species throughout North America. So why are you humans hesitating to plant them?

You are, we know because we see fancy little cherry trees and non-native crepe myrtle going in instead. Please give Quercus another thought if you have a tree to plant.

Need more photos of oak trees? We did a great job showing them back on Q day in 2016.

Please, if you have any Q suggestions for us to file away, please give them to us! (We’ve used Quince, Quartz, Quail and Queen Anne’s Lace in the past.)

Loss of Oaks

Yes, The Squirrel Nutwork is still on winter hiatus, but our recent weather is prompting us to speak for the trees!

Like most of the east coast, we had high winds in northern Virginia over the weekend. Sadly, our suburban woodlands around the golf course lost many old oaks, a loss for both the human and wildlife inhabitants.

Many were snapped off, but a closer look showed that the heartwood of the tree was rotten.

Unfortunately, these older trees had such a branch spread of strong limbs that they took down adjacent trees.

One was apparently decayed enough at the base and roots that it uprooted.

We squirrels noted that recent replacement of the sidewalk adjacent to this last double oak had also included a regrading of the entire soil bed surrounding the tree… The tree was rotten, but it’s never a good idea to mess with the roots of a tree! They extend farther than most humans think–one and a half times the diameter of the branch spread. Good thing to keep in mind to help your trees weather storms like we seem to be having more frequently.

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…

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

With the effort of completing our Blogging From A to Z Challenge, I–Hickory squirrel–considered skipping out on today…but couldn’t let you down. Also, it’s an anniversary for this column!

Our Mystery column has been running on Sundays for 4 years, having started in April of 2012. We have taken some Sundays off and take a winter hiatus, so today is the 150th mystery I have posted.

In honor of that, here is the first mystery I posted.

mystery #150

No cheating by looking back! (Ha, but who can stop you?)

I’ll check in later with your answer!

~~~

We had a correct guess today! Yes, these are oak catkins, all dried up and blown together in a heap along our streets.

 

‘Catkins’ are the male flowers, in this case of oak trees, that carry the pollen. If the wind blows the right direction, sending the pollen grains to the female flowers on the branches, they will eventually make acorns.

White Oak

With this many catkins we’re sure it will!

Thirsty Thursday

It rained! For more than one day, too!

Raindrops in spider web

Spiderwebs cauth with raindrops

We at The Squirrel Nutwork are excited, but not nearly as excited as this chipmunk in our neighborhood.

Eastern Chipmunk

The rain knocked leaves and ripe acorns from this Pin Oak, making them easy gathering for a fellow mammal who isn’t as keen on climbing as we are.

Pin Oak after rain

But when it’s easy pickings, we’ll grab some of those acorns, too!

Eastern Gray Squirrel gathering acorns

And happy first of October! (Where has the year gone?)

Q is for Quercus

What’s a Quercus?

oak

That’s a Quercus! It’s the genus name for the Oak tree family. North America has about 6o native species divided into two groups, the White Oaks and the Red Oaks.

The White Oaks are a Gray Squirrel’s favorite because the acorns mature every year and the nut meat is not bitter. The best known species of this group are the White Oak, and the Chestnut Oak. Like these two, most White Oak species tend to have rounded lobes on their leaves.

White Oak Acorns

The Red Oaks have pointy or bristle-tipped leaves. Their nut meats are bitter and only mature after two years. Willow Oaks and Live Oaks are in the Red Oak group.

Black Oak

Here at The Squirrel Nutwork, we like Oaks. Hundreds of different kinds of mammals, birds and insects depend on oaks for their food and shelter. We hope this year some of you humans will consider planting a Quercus!

Eastern Gray Squirrel

 

What? A FALL caterpillar!

These black and orange caterpillars are everywhere.

Orange-Striped Oak Worm

We had to look them up and discovered they are the Orange-Striped Oak Worms (Anisota senatoria). They feed on oak trees, which we certainly have many of in our neighborhood. Because it’s always dry in the fall, it’s hard to notice that the leaves are dropping from these caterpillars eating them.

But we certainly notice the caterpillars dropping!

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Here’s your week’s mystery!

mystery #57

This is NOT a Pawpaw.  I just want to make that clear. Sorry if I have disappointed any of you.

Give me a guess!

~~~

This is an Oak Apple Gall. These galls are formed from chemical reactions given off by a wasp larvae when it chews its way into a newly forming leaf in early spring. Instead of growing properly, the leaf creates a home around the larvae that grows as it does, until June or July when the larvae changes to a wasp and chews its way out of the gall. This one obviously dropped from the tree early, possibly by a, er, squirrel biting off branches to add to his leaf nest.

Here is a website explaining more details of the life cycle of the wasp.