Dogwoods Disappearing

Pink Flowering Dogwood

Dogwood. It’s a Virginia favorite –the state tree and the state flower. But we don’t see too many Flowering Dogwood, Cornus florida, trees in the wild. They’ve been hit with dogwood anthracnose, a fungus that’s spread down the Appalachian mountains over the last 20 to 25 years. It makes the leaves wilt and die, cutting off food to the entire plant.

Miz Flora says nearly every front yard in our neighborhood had a Flowering Dogwood planted in it 40 years ago. Today, next to none–Hickory and I found it too depressing to go around and count. So we squirrels are enjoying the few we do have remaining in our neighborhood, and most of them seem to be the pink ones that have been tinkered with in some way. Maybe they aren’t as susceptible.

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Surprise!

Hickory and I were playing chase and leap through the natural area the other day and found a great dead tree to scamper over. As we got to a rotten part the last storm had broken open, Hickory suddenly froze. He backed up, turned and ran right into me.

“Geez. What’s up with you?” I asked.

He ran past me. “Let’s get out of here.”

“Why? Is it an owl?” I asked as I ran with him.

“No, worse. A snake.”

I stopped. “A big one?”

He turned around and shrugged. “Didn’t see.”

“You didn’t see? Then I’m gonna go look.”

You may think I was really brave, but I did go up a nearby tree and out on a limb to look. I got a good view—of a little garter snake sunning on the warm wood.

But better than that, I got to tease Hickory all the way home. Garter snakes are perfectly harmless, especially to an animal as big as we are. The may eat mice, along with a good many worms and salamanders, but they rarely get big enough to eat even a kit squirrel.

Thirsty Thursday – Thunderclouds

A few evenings ago I heard a rumble, so I sent those two young squirrels off to check the clouds for signs of rain. They were gone so long I left my post to them. An old squirrel like Ol’ Wally needs his sleep.

Hickory and I ran off to get the report for Ol’ Wally, thankful we might get some rain. “Let’s go watch from a green clearing on the golf course,” I told Hickory. We ran and leaped branch to branch with the rumbles sounding the whole way. We found a giant thunderhead cloud covering the skies to the north.

Those ornery clouds never moved closer, just passed us by to the north. The winds cooled our air a bit and made it a pretty evening for a romp. Finally another storm blew through and we had our rain.

Storm!

Lightening was still flashing across the skies as the rain let up and I stuck my head out of my new leaf nest. It held up well through a severe storm that blew through in the middle of the night, probably because the branches are still new and flexible. But the lawn below looked like a hundred squirrels had descended and nipped all the branches they could reach. In other words, a hundred times worse than my clippings Hickory showed you yesterday. We needed the rain, but not like this!

With the human sirens sounding and all of us a little shaky from riding out the storm in swaying trees, Hickory and I did a little tour of the neighborhood. Leaves and branches littered the ground and streets.

A few trees fell, thankfully none of them ours. We’ll have to do a better check once it’s light out.

~~~

We’re back with a daylight update. Please be careful out there – some branches–large branches that could pass for small trees–are still hanging and could fall.

Ol’ Wally told us younger squirrels humans used to call these ‘widow-makers.’

In our region, the storms mostly blow in from the west. As we scampered around we detected how that affects the trees and their branches. Of these two old spruces, the one on the western side now leans eastward.

This Red Maple branch that extended across the street got twisted backwards, but…

a neighboring oak’s dead branch in the lee of the trunk didn’t break.

The tops of several of the forty-year-old White Pines we’ve talked about snapped clean off.

This isn’t unusual Miz Flora says, because pine is a ‘softwood’. The tree grows fast, so the plant cells forming the trunk are large and well, soft. The wood breaks, is easy to cut and burns quickly.

So our neighborhood got by with minor damages, and we hope all our local neighbors fared as well.

O is for Owl

Owls equal danger for us squirrels, especially the large ones. I hate to mention these predators, but they are a part of a squirrel’s life, even in the suburbs. One of my correspondents, Jeanine Colwell, sent a photo from this weekend of two young Great Horned Owls on their nest. Notice, it’s barely a collection of sticks, unlike a proper squirrel leaf nest.

They’re cute now, but you better watch out! They will be flying in a half-hop soon and by fall on their own with their hunting skills.

People know squirrels are afraid of owls and put out these look-alikes to scare us off.

N is for Nest Box

Hey, remember that large house the kits had in the K-day picture? I got to thinking that sure would be nice. Hickory took me back to see that nest box.

 The hole was on the front, right? Wood ducks would like that, but squirrels actually prefer to have the hole on the side.I would have loved to move into this one, but sadly it’s resident was home and chased me off.

Hickory chattered at him and we bounded away. I guess Hickory isn’t as lazy as I though he was. Hmm, perhaps I will let him start that column he want to do on the squirrel nutwork. But after the A to Z Blog Challenge is over. I definitely don’t want to risk my run of blogs.

It’s hard to find homes. People don’t seem to like to leave dead trees standing around in their yards, so it helps when they replace those homes for cavity-dwelling wildlife with nest boxes. Then many mammals and birds can live in the suburbs as I do.

Hickory and I toured the neighborhood nest boxes. People had put up all shapes and sizes for all types of wildlife.

Purple Martins like to live together, so this house is like an apartment complex.

Smaller birds like wrens, like small bird boxes.

A chickadee would also nest here, but the one in our yard chose to fill up this box instead.

A White-breasted Nuthatch is checking out this designer model.

There were a few bluebird boxes around, but no bluebirds. Since we live near the golf course, maybe they prefer the plentiful open grass there. I had to ask Hickory what these fences, blocks of wood and circles of metal are for around the holes.

He—and I quote—said, “Duh, Nutmeg. That’s so raccoons and squirrels can’t get to the eggs and baby birds.”

Oh, yeah. I do like a fresh egg now and then.

“Or enlarge the hole enough to move in,” Hickory said.

What? Those boxes are too small, I told him.

He rolled his eyes. “You’re old enough not to waste your time, but lots of wet-behind-the-ears kits aren’t. And then there are Flying Squirrels. They can, and do, nest in bluebird boxes.”

Hmm, now I’m keeping an eye out. I hope to meet one of them someday.