Quieting down for the winter…

Eastern Gray Squirrel eating acorn

Hickory and I are closing the blog for the winter a bit earlier than last year–see our 2015 post here. We love our readers and sharing our suburban nature findings with you, but the cold weather makes us want to burrow into our leaf nests and take a break. So we do!

This is our fourth winter closing the blog. Using our sidebar menus, you can look up other posts and our thoughts about certain plants and wildlife. Or if you like our Sunday mysteries, search the title “What is it?” to test your nature skills. Our archives are still open.

Have a safe, warm and productive winter. We squirrel will see you in the spring!

Your friends at The Squirrel Nutwork.

Nutmeg, Hickory, Ol’ Wally and Miz Flora

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!

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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…

S is for…

Samaras!

Red Maple samara branch

Bet you thought we’d say squirrels. Hickory wanted me to say squirrels. He wants us to feature squirrels as much as possible during the Blogging From A to Z Challenge, but we got over that a few years ago.

We enjoy a good scamper in the Red Maple trees in our neighborhood, which have been a steady red to pink the last month, looking like they are still blooming.

Red Maple full of ripe samaras

It’s the seeds, the samaras. This is a name given to any winged fruit. When the seeds are ripe, the ‘wings’ dry and are quite papery. They loosen and spin to the ground, and if there is a wind, are carried far from the parent tree, giving them a better chance of growing themselves. It’s part of nature’s plan to make the earth green! When we woke up yesterday, all those little winged Red Maple seeds were floating to the ground–the proof being the humans just laid down mulch yesterday.

samaras on fresh mulch

Of course we got busy, too and nipped off some of the bunches.

Red Maple branch tips nipped by squirrels

Don’t ask me why, it’s just a squirrel urge. And sometimes we eat the seeds.

Red Maple branch nipped by squirrel

But we can’t eat all of them and the samaras of course will go everywhere and send up maple seedlings in the most unlikely places.

samaras in sidewalk crack

Enjoy!

Hello ‘real’ winter!

We’re still on our winter break, especially with the dump of snow hitting our little corner of the world. But a reader sent a great photo to us and we had to share.

Squirrel feeding in snowstorm

Our normal ways of collecting food–sniffing out the acorns and hickory nuts we buried last fall–isn’t working too well with several feet of snow on the ground here in Northern Virginia. Our reader put seed in cleared area to help us out–and perhaps the birds, too. We thought we’d share her idea in case a few of you might also be able to help your neighborhood critters. Thanks, Mary Ellen!

If you aren’t a regular reader, please see our prior post explaining The Squirrel Nutwork‘s winter blogging break.

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey,

These long, long leaves may not be too familiar to many of you…but we squirrels love them. What tree is it?

Mystery # 133

Check back with you later!

~~~

Difficult one today, huh?

These very chewed up leaves of the Eastern Black Walnut, Juglans nigra, are compound leaves and look pretty much like Ash, Tree of Heaven and Sumac tree leaves, so we squirrels don’t blame you for your confusion. Also like the last two of these, the walnut likes sun and will grow along the edges of woods. But the thing that makes walnut trees oh so much better than those other species, is hitting the ground right now.

Eastern Black Walnut

You guessed it, walnuts!

Now the Black Walnut’s nut arrives in a pretty nasty hull. It falls, green and hard, and starts to rot on the ground, turning into a sticky black mush that will leave your paws black, too. In fact, we squirrels have heard tell that these hulls were used by humans as a dye. It doesn’t come out.

The smart thing to do is leave those walnuts on the ground–wherever they fall–until the fall rains wash off the hull.

Eastern Black walnuts collecting on ground

I did spy a clever chipmunk raiding the nut meats from the crushed walnuts that fell in the street in our neighborhood and were run over.

DSC08270

We collect them, chew through the very hard shell and devour the nut meat. It has a strong taste which isn’t for everyone.

Happily, that just means more for us squirrels!