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Red squirrel

Last Saturday was a miserable day of snow, subzero temperatures and gray light so dark you needed illumination all day. Sunday morning when the storm was over we had more than a foot of picture-perfect, spotless dry powder. The snow was so fluffy that my snow shoes couldn’t keep me on the surface, but it was impossible to stay indoors. I plodded around the meadow sinking knee deep with each step despite the snow shoes.

A winter sun, strong as it can be in January, tinged the shadows, lengthened by its low arc, blue. That sun’s photons also promptly cleared both solar arrays of their snowy blankets, and popped the electrons in silicon cells of the PV panels into action. My energy factory was fully operational by noon.

If you have to have winter, it should be like the day after the storm. By mid week, warm rain, falling at night, washed the snow away. I’m old enough to know that winter isn’t over in January. But I’m not too old to wish that a warm day with a strong breeze could hasten spring’s return.

Maybe it did. The ground is workable. Despite temperatures under 40, the sun was out. In an hour and a half, I cleared a 15 foot by 15 foot section of meadow of both Chinese wisteria and honeysuckle (Lonicera I presume japonica, i.e., no good!) roots. I’ve let the Lonicera vine get too firm a foothold in that north western area close to the house and under the Maple. It thrives as well¬† in the section of the meadow behind the western evergreen hedgerow and out to the road, but this is to be the year of trying to control the more open part of the meadow to prevent its escape into the boarder field.

I like to think I slowed the vine’s spread down. Slowing down a weed by pulling it up by its roots is a cherished concept of mine. I know eradication doesn’t work according to this metaphor, but I’ve held the notion so long I can’t remember when I did not use it as a mantra while weeding. Did I inherit this from my father? He preached trying to get all the root out when pulling weeds. But his battlefield was a lawn and his target mostly dandelions. You can slow down a dandelion by removing most of its tap root. Did I invent it myself? Whatever its origins, eradicating an invasive takes lots more muscle than pulling some of its roots.

Let the record show, however, that I found less than 3 feet of Bittersweet root and only one grub. When I’d finished the ground looked not dissimilar to terrain I’d seen in the Hill Country of Texas where wild boars are a nuisance.

Wildlife is reappearing as the days lengthen. Three robust squirrels with fulsome, twitchy tails have been prowling under the bird feeders. I can’t figure out their familial relationships: one seemed perturbed by another; these two ignored the third. A red squirrel has come out of hiding. Though I have not seen two together, its a good bet we have two red squirrels. I scared one down the driveway — that is in a different part of my yard from where I’d seen a red squirrel before; he darted across the road and through a hole in the neighbor’s stone wall suggesting he might live over there. One red squirrel is plenty.

I tried to snap a photo of the FIVE male Northern cardinals who are in residence. By the time I had my camera out (photo of three attached), two males had flown into the Douglas firs. Five couples increases the carry capacity of past years by one pair.

Three of five male Northern cardinals

Remains of a Blue jayThe Blue jays have not done as well. Carrying capacity has been two pairs. Earlier this year a Sharp-shined hawk had a jay for lunch. The pile of feathers was the tip. I had a rare sighting of the hawk recently. It perched atop the bird feeder with its back to the kitchen window allowing me to decide it was Sharp-shined not Cooper’s by the shortness of its tail. Needless to say, the entire meadow was silent of all bird calls while he visited. Had I not been on the phone, I just might have caught the hawk on camera; he sat for longer than I anticipated.

Looking forward to the breeding season, I emptied inactive nests from the four bird houses. One nest had been built by a Carolina wren, two were made by Tree swallows and one was an incomplete effort by House sparrow. I did not remove a sparrow’s nest from a Prairie rose bush. I also just admired the many insect galls attached to the stronger stems still standing in the meadow.

My book dealing neighbor gave me a book on moss gardening. I don’t need another project, but it’s encouraged me to be more accepting of what moss I already have. On my circuit around the meadow today, I photographed the club mosses in the path in the lower field and the moss that has taken hold where I’m allowing sedges to propagate under the three Amelanchier trees.

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The three resident Red squirrels (and I do hope they are not in residence in any of my structures!) were in a noisy twit by the Sugar maple. I went to the porch for a look. It was that period of time mysteriously called nautical twilight — roughly 9:00 to 9:30 pm these days — by the website I use to check on the sun and the moon. I scanned in the dying light for the squirrels, but saw instead on a branch of the Sugar maple just off the porch the silhouette of a Great-horned owl. I could not make out his facial features, but he turned his head nearly 360 degrees, as owls can. I slipped inside for my bins but he took off before I returned exiting, as owls can, in complete silence.

His departure allowed the squirrels to go the sleep. The relative quiet of crickets and frogs singing their evening songs suited the complete silence of the June bugs. Nautical twilight and a waxing crescent moon provided enough light for a meadow stroll. Do the June bugs like certain parts of the meadow better than others, I wondered. In general, I’d say the population of June bugs is down, perhaps because I have been killing them in their grub stage as I’ve been digging in up grass to reduce the lawn.¬† As I was coming to the conclusion they liked the less dry areas of the meadow better than the Little bluestem grassland, the Great-horned owl swooped across the meadow headed for the forest. If I had not seen him — this time just his in flight form — I never would have known he was there.

Nautical twilight was giving way to astronomical twilight, but the deck of the folly reflected the moonlight. I stopped by to reconsider the distribution of June bugs in the meadow. Now it seemed there were as many June bugs in the bluestem as anywhere else in the meadow. A deer I could not make out brayed somewhere near the wall and the stream. Time to head home.

Back in the house, it’s night. From here the sounds include moths bumping into lights, the occasional car passing, crickets and frogs calling. One night earlier this week, I woke up to the wails of distress. I must call 911, I thought, until I came to enough to remember that I was neither in NYC nor DC, and the cries were not human calls for help. Somewhere just off the porch, a creature was meeting its end at the jaws of another creature, likely a coyote or a Fisher cat. Too bad the meal wasn’t a Red squirrel, although without the squirrels, I would have missed the Great-horned owl.