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Posts Tagged ‘Red squirrel’

littlered

Little Red

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Except for a few little spats, Winter has been gentle so far this year, with many unseasonably mild days and little snow. On Thursday, he decided it was time to get tough, and our first real storm of the season settled in. Freezing rain began to fall in the wee hours of the morning, and by mid-day, everything had a coating of ice.

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Over the course of the afternoon, the freezing rain turned to snow. I kept the feeders filled and the blue jays and chickadees took full advantage of the handout. Birds would just as soon do their own foraging, and with the mild winter weather we’ve had to date, business has been slow at the feeders, but with a storm underway, the birds were anxious to stock up.

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Even Little Red dropped by, once those pesky blue jays cleared out.

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The snow continued through Friday, far exceeding the 4 inches predicted by the weatherman. By Saturday morning, the ground had a blanket of more than a foot of snow. The storm had moved on, and Saturday was sunny and clear. Wow! What a winter wonderland! Everywhere you looked, the world was postcard perfect. It sure felt like winter too, with the temperature plunging. On Sunday, another beautiful day, we woke to the mercury crouching low in the thermometer, -30°. A gardener is grateful for a good blanket of snow when the temperature dips so low.

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When the snow slipped from branches, it exposed the initial layer of ice, sparkling in the sun.

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As the sun set on Saturday evening, it bathed the snowy landscape in a warm glow, a beautiful ending to the day.

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We’ve been enjoying a string of beautiful fall days. I’m not a huge fan of fall, mostly because autumn means winter is around the corner. However, there is no denying that some of the most gorgeous days of the year come along in this shoulder season. On Sunday, it was too nice to stay inside. After getting some chores looked after, we headed up to Nepean, at the edge of Ottawa.

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With an inviting array of 100 km of trails, the National Capital Greenbelt offers hikers many choices. Since it was mid-afternoon when we arrived, we explored a couple of the shorter loops. The Sarsaparilla Trail is an easy hike on a level, gravelled pathway. It is just .8 km long, but it proved to be very rewarding.

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The trail circles through attractive, open woodland with many beautiful big trees. The Y in this tree was clearly a favorite posing spot for hikers. A large branch was propped up behind the tree so that photo subjects could climb up to the opening.

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Near the trailhead, we looked up, way up, and saw two dark shapes in a treetop: two porcupines dreaming in the afternoon sun high above hikers.

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Dogs aren’t allowed on the trail and this probably explains the dozens of chipmunks that dart boldly across the trail.

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There were also squirrels, both little red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) and their larger cousins, gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis). Black squirrels are just a different colour morph of gray squirrels, not a separate species.

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About half way around the loop, the trail opens onto a deck overlooking a large wetland.

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As we stepped out onto the lookout deck, ducks and geese hurriedly retreated to a safer distance.

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We gazed out over the water, admiring the sun sparkling on the surface. At the far side of the swamp, there was a tall white bird, a Great Egret (Ardea alba), not a common species in this region. Cool!

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Near the parking lot, was an inviting picnic pavilion. We were struck by how perfect the Sarsaparilla Trail is for introducing young children to nature and hiking. It offers a short, easily traversed trail, plenty of little critters, an interesting lookout over water, and a great place for a picnic.

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We had time for another trail, and travelled a short distance to the nearby Beaver Trail loop on Moodie Road. The Wild Bird Care Centre is near the trail parking lot. It is open to the public between noon and 3:00 PM, and an interesting place to visit. For more information, visit their website at Wild Bird Care Centre.org.

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Like the Sarsaparilla Trail, the Beaver Trail loops through open woodland and leads to another wetland lookout.

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Here and there along the trail were little caches of mixed seed and sunflower seed left behind by visitors. Near the lookout, a family with two youngsters were feeding chickadees. The young girl kindly stood patiently until I was able to get a photograph of one of the chickadees helping himself to a seed from her outstretched hand.

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Chickadees and nuthatches were flitting about near the trail, obviously accustomed to handouts. Another time, we’ll take some sunflower seed or peanuts with us. Both these trails had a number of families visiting, which was nice to see.

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littlered

Little Red appreciates the new Blue Jay feeder too. Every afternoon, once the main crush of Blue Jays has moved on, this little red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) arrives to enjoy his share of the treats. He can reach the feeder very conveniently by dropping from a nearby branch and scrambles back home the same way. In the photo above, he (she?) is keeping a wary eye on me as I stand at my kitchen window.

We don’t have the larger grey squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) that were more than abundant at our former Toronto-area home here, and I don’t miss them one bit. Little Red is a cute little guy though, and it is nice to see him. These smaller squirrels don’t seem to gather together in large numbers in the manner of their outsized kin. Red squirrels prefer coniferous forests, with their abundant supply of cones, but are adaptable and widespread.

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It’s common to hear a red squirrel expressing his annoyance at an intruder with angry chattering. They’re feisty individuals, and will chase away much larger interlopers, but I’ve noticed Little Red avoids the Blue Jay hoards. While grey squirrels stick to nuts and seeds, red squirrels have a more varied diet, and enjoy a range of food items that includes insects, bird eggs and even young rabbits and frogs, and fruits and mushrooms. Probably other small creatures don’t find Little Red as cute as I do! In the fall, red squirrels cache food to help them make it through the winter. In conifer forests, you may find piles of cones assembled by a red squirrel. I found this cache, in the photo above, in a forest with many Scotch pine (Pinus sylvestris). Red squirrels don’t hibernate, but during severe weather, they may go into a state of torpor for an extended period.

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During breeding season, red squirrels build large, grassy nests formed into round balls in the branches of trees. In winter, however, a more secure home is need, and a cavity in a tree offers a snug, dry spot to spend the night. When moving firewood we had purchased recently, I came across a split log with stuffing hanging out. I carefully removed the stuffing and found a cavity of about 3 inches in depth behind the opening. It probably served as the winter home of a red squirrel. The stuffing was soft and clean and grassy. It looked like a comfortable winter hideout. Hopefully, the squirrel had moved on to a summer nest before the tree was cut down for firewood.

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Little Red

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The birds aren’t the only ones who enjoy a meal at the birdfeeder. Little Red is a regular visitor too. Red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) don’t hibernate. In severe winter weather, they have the good sense to stay snug and warm in their nests, but on mild or sunny days, red squirrels are industriously gathering seeds. To help them make it through the winter, red squirrels store large caches of food over the summer, but this little guy seems happy to take advantage of a free lunch.

He (or she) sticks close to the feeder and I rarely spot a red squirrel out in the open. Rather, the squirrel takes advantage of the foot of snow on the ground to stay out of sight. There is a trail of tunnels that lead to the open area and walkway around the bird feeder and the squirrel can disappear into the snow in the blink of an eye.

Little Red watches me carefully with his bright eyes, seated at the entrance to his tunnel

If I take a step closer, all that can be seen is an empty doorway.

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