Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Missouri Snow

Living in Missouri gives you one guarantee, if you do not like the weather wait a day and it will change. This year we have had unseasonably wet conditions and that seems to be continuing into the winter as well. December 23rd the snow began to fall and it didn't stop until December 26th. We ended up with 12 inches of beautiful white snow before the blizzard moved out of the area. I say blizzard, because that is what it turned into. It was bad enough that the snow fell without ceasing for 3 days, but with it came ferocious winds that drifted the snow in piles. Many county roads were closed entirely, and untold amounts of people were drifted in and could not leave their driveways. The highway where we live was down to one lane on Christmas day and we weren't sure we would make it out to visit relatives. Fortunately my husband was able to plow the driveway with the tractor and blade and I have a 4x4 Chevy Tracker that got us where we needed to go safe and sound. I couldn't help but feel bad for those families that were unable to leave and have Christmas with loved ones. Mother Nature simply had other plans for everyone. This is without a doubt the most snow we have seen in many  many years. Another inch fell last night, but it melted by this afternoon when the temperatures reached 35 degrees. That felt like a heatwave in comparison to the single digit lows we'd been having.

The icicles were photographed at my work. The first one was easily over 10 feet long and a very impressive sight. The second picture shows numerous icicles hanging from the eave of our building. The longest was nearly 3 feet in length and sharply pointed.  Very dangerous if it should happen to decide to break loose and fall at the precise moment you walked under it. Nevertheless it is still beautiful, especially glistening in the sunshine.

I can hardly wait to see what Mother Nature has in store for us in January and February, which are notoriously our worst weather months. We better hold onto our hats!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Striped Skunk

This creature needs no introduction, who among us can look at those tell-tale stripes and black and white coloring and not know this is the Striped Skunk? I've long been an advocate for the animals nobody seems to love, this includes our lovely little skunk here as well as many other creatures like Armadillos, Bats and Bugs.

The skunk pictured here was photographed a couple of summers ago on our farm in Fillmore, Missouri. My husband and I had made a trip up there to look at the crops and take a drive in the country. It was a beautiful late spring day in May. We drove across the pond dam and off to one side I spotted something black and white in the corn field. I told my husband to "STOP!" I jumped out of the truck and ran down the hillside. I was so excited at being this close to one of my favorite animals. Lucky for me I had my camera with me. I inched closer and closer, being very careful to not spook this little darling. For quite some time she seemed to not notice me (which I know was impossible). When I was within about 20 feet of her she became nervous and looked at me. For one long minute in time I was looking into the eyes of this sweet little creature. She cocked her head at me and decided I was close enough. She reared up on her back legs and stomped her front legs at me. What did I do... you may ask? I laughed of course, how absolutely adorable was that! I inched closer. Oh yes. Once more she stomped at me. This was simply too much, and I fell irrevocably in love with this creature. Suddenly I hear from the top of the pond dam...."If you get sprayed you are walking home!" Drat! I had completely forgotten my dear husband. I just smiled, I was very confident this skunk loved me as much as I loved her. I inched closer. This time she entertained me by changing her repertoire from foot stomps to dance moves. She literally did a head-stand and tapped out some fancy footwork on her front legs. I nearly cried at how cute this was. Now keep in mind this whole time I've been inching ever closer to this little stink bomb on legs, and was now well within firing distance. This whole time my  husband is shouting from the pond dam to get back to the truck before I get sprayed. While I was taking time to assure him everything would be okay, this lovely creature picked that precise moment to turn the tables on me. She charged me! She came at me at full speed....let me tell you what....having a skunk, no matter how adorable, chasing you, will make you move...FAST! I turned tail and ran as if my life depended on it. She chased me all the way up that pond dam. I was laughing so hard I could barely run. My husband dove into the truck ( the brave man he is). When I reached the truck the skunk stopped and turned to run across the pond dam. She stopped and looked around, making sure it was safe and she began digging in some dry grasses (pictured). In short ordered she disappeared under ground. It was at this point I figured out she was a momma with babies. Skunks have long had a nasty reputation for being a quick draw with the "Stink cannon". I found this little female to be very patient with a meddlesome human (namely me). There were many opportunities for her to spray me, and she chose not to. Perhaps she knew I was not a serious threat, that I was merely a goofy human with not much sense. I will forever remember my first close-up encounter with this lovely creature.... How sweet it was to be able to ride home in the "front" of the pickup!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Nature Brings Serenity








Ray Hancock

Saturday, December 5, 2009


Meet Rascal, an absolutely ornery raccoon that lived as part of our family for 5 months in 2004. She was part of a litter of five that was born in a chimney. Well meaning humans removed their mother, completely unaware that they were essentially leaving her babies behind as orphans. 24 hours later these delightful babies made their presence known with loud squeals and cries that only a raccoon can make. A rescue by the MDC in St. Joseph resulted in all 5 of these very tiny, very hungry and none too happy  babies ending up in my care. Within 3 days it became apparent that I was going to need help. Five raccoon babies all demanding to be fed every two hours around the clock, meant no sleep for me or anyone else within ear shot of these supremely loud youngsters. I found some friends willing to share this responsibility and I was left with two babies affectionately named Rascal, and Ringo. This was manageable but still a handful. If they had been the only thing that required my attention it would have been easy-breezy. Living on an 86 acre farm brings a lot of work along with it, mowing a 5 acre yard each week, two children, a home, meals, plus my job were all screaming at me as well as these adorable abandoned babies.
Even with their eyes shut they would still manage to crawl up the sides of their cage and I would find them crying pitifully as they scooted across the floor trying to find Mom, or some sort of warmth. I would scoop them up and put them back in the cage under the heat lamp. After about 3 jail breaks I finally rigged a top for the cage which kept them contained for the time being. They grew fast, as did their appetite. I did a lot of research, trying to learn everything I could about the proper care of these wild babies entrusted to my care. I met many people, all with horror stories to tell of raising raccoons. I admit to having many trepidations about the long term commitment that this obviously was going to be. You see, raccoons are not able to fully fend for themselves until they are 5 or 6 months of age. Now that may  not sound like a very long time, but let me assure you it is. Many wild animals are ready to be released at 2 to 3 months. This was going to be double that amount of time. These are animals that seem to have a special gift for finding and getting into trouble. At 3 months of age we placed them outside, they had full run of the yard and took up refuge in a hollow tree in our front yard. Each morning I would yell for them and they would very drowsily drag themselves up and out of the safety of their new found home to see what all the commotion was about. They would crawl down the tree, stretching in a very exaggerated fashion as if to tell me "this better be worth waking me up" A few treats in the form of marshmallows or grapes and all was forgiven.
Raccoons and water seem to go hand-in-hand, and it didn't take them long to find our goldfish pond, try and try as they might they could not figure out how to catch those obnoxiously tempting orange fish. You could almost see the frustration on their faces! I lost count of how many times they went head first into the pond, only to come racing out with their tail tucked between their legs looking all bedraggled from their experience. It almost seemed cruel to taunt them with those tasty fish that were inaccessible to them. I finally took pity  on them and bought a kiddy wading pool and stocked it with crawfish, minnows and tadpoles. should have seen them. They were like kids at Christmas, not knowing what gift to try first. In no time at all each of the treats swimming around in the water were stomped on, crushed or otherwise devoured. Oh what fun!
As each week went by they became braver and braver and began venturing out on exploratory missions that would have them gone sometimes for days. As any mother would I worried, concerned that some unfortunate accident had injured them or worse.....
They would return, heads held high looking quite proud of themselves for their grown-up behavior. I would just shake my head and smile...congratulating them on being big kids now. Nothing was safe around these mischief makers, if it struck their curiosity they found a way to get into it, or out of it. I walked on the back porch one day to find one of these "teenagers" laying on his back with a Mountain Dew can in his paws drinking his fill of the bubbly, caffeine laden beverage. Oh great!....just what I needed on my hands a caffeinated raccoon! As if they weren't energetic enough. I scooted him back outside sans drink. He pouted for a bit, but soon found something else to occupy his time.
Once they reached 5 months of age, in September, Ringo was showing all the signs of being an aggressive, independent male raccoon. His sister Rascal, was still sweet natured and liked people. So we had a puzzle on our hands, do we turn Ringo loose on his own and hope he makes it, or do we turn them loose together and hope Rascal stays away from people? The decision was made for me one evening when Ringo made his way into our duck enclosure and was trying have Duck Ala Orange' for supper. I entered the cage and grabbed for him and he turned on me. That was all I needed to see to know he was ready to be on his own. We took both of them 2 miles away to a stocked pond and beautiful pasture with nearby trees. Some friends of ours owned the property and were thrilled to have us release these raccoons on their property. They seemed so happy in their new home and I felt good about leaving them. Until......three days later Rascal showed up on a neighbors porch looking a little worse for wear. She had been in a fight with something, and was begging for help. We took her back in, gave her penicillin and fed her. Two days later my son drove her on his four wheeler back to the pond, only to have her return to our house the very next day. We were sitting in the kitchen and heard a racket, I pulled open the curtain to discover Rascal laying in a bird feeder on our kitchen window. Ok this wasn't going to do at all! My friend who owned the property suggested that she was probably just not ready to be on her own. She offered to take Rascal in for the winter and see what the spring would bring. It was amazing the difference a few more months made in Rascal demeanor. She became much more aggressive and raccoon-like. In March we released her again......or so we thought! She made her way back to our house again and tore into our greenhouse looking for food. We live trapped her and drove her 10 miles away to a conservation area, far away from people. It was high time she learned to be a raccoon. As far as we know she survived and caused no more problems.
This was one of the best experiences I never want to repeat that I've had in my life. Raccoons are charming, ornery, mischief makers that will win your heart, make you laugh, and drive you absolutely crazy!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


"An Animals Eyes have the Power to Speak a Great Language"

Bobcats (Lynx rufus) are one of the most common wild cats in North America, there are an estimated 1,000,000 roaming from Southern Canada to Northern Mexico. They can be found in almost every state within the continental United States. This wasn't always the case though, in the early 1900's these cats were almost non-existent in the Midwestern States. Over hunting and trapping had severely declined their numbers. A bobcats fur was highly prized and contributed to its near extinction in many parts of its range. Laws were put into effect that protected these gorgeous cats and allowed their numbers to rebound. They are now plentiful and common in almost all their range. While trapping and hunting are common practices today, there are laws and seasons in place to prevent their numbers from severe decline.
Bobcats can be found in a wide variety of habitats, including woodlands, and nearby edges, semi arid deserts, swamplands and they have adapted quite well to urban areas. They are commonly seen within the city limits of many large towns and cities. They feed on rabbits and hares predominantly; but they are opportunistic and will feed on whatever food is plentiful in their area, including turkey, quail, pheasant, mice, songbirds, fawns and any other small creatures that they are able to capture. Bobcats are one of the smallest wild cats in North America and typically grow to be about double the size of the average house cat. Males may reach up to 28 or 30 pounds, but that would be on the large size. Typically 23-25 pounds would be more in a normal range for them. Their color may be brown or gray with black tufted ears. They have a speckled underbelly and a short black-tipped stubbed tail (from whence they get their name). Bobcats like most wild cats are solitary and generally only come together to mate. Males and females will locate each other by scent markings and mating generally occurs in winter or early spring. Females carry their litter approximately 8 weeks. The female will secret herself away to give birth and care for her young kittens entirely on her own. She typically will have several dens located in a given area. She will move her kits from den to den as necessary. In about 11-12 months these young kits will be ready to venture out on their own and establish their own territories.

The one pictured here was rescued by animal control in Kansas City and turned over to a wildlife rehabber who specializes in raising these creatures. Bobcats will humanize quite easily, that is to say they will readily adapt to being around humans, making it near to impossible to release them back to the wild. They will have no fear of humans and will recognize them as friends instead of foes. A tame bobcat is a dead bobcat. The one pictured was found in an apartment being raised with a pet boxer by humans. After being turned over to the rehab specialist he was "taught" how to be wild again. I was asked if I could release it, along with two others. I drove to Kansas City with my son and after tranquilizing the cats, we loaded them in separate carriers and I headed north near where I live. We took them to a secluded place near the river at Happy Holler Conservation Area. By the time we arrived they were waking up from their naps. We placed all three carriers on the ground and opened the doors, two of the cats (males) wasted no time in sprinting from the cages. The smallest male ran and darted in and out of trees affirming that this is where he belonged. You could almost hear his heart singing in happiness. The larger male, was much more dignified and simply walked off with his held high in a very regal fashion and none to gracefully slid down the river bank onto the frozen river and disappeared from view. The sweet little female had to be coaxed from her confinement. She was very timid and shy. We finally had no choice but to dump the cage on end and none to delicately force her out. She got the hint and sprinted away. There is no way to describe in words that are adequate the feeling it gives you to return such a majestic creature back to their intended home. Well meaning people try to tame what Mother Nature never intended to be. Remember: it is ok to observe and learn from these creatures,to take photographs and appreciate them in all their glory, but it is NEVER ok to remove them from their natural home and try to make pets out of a creature that is meant to remain free and wild.

A recommended read is "Bobcat Year" by: Hope Ryden. This is a wonderful book written in a fact based fictional content. It is a must read for any animal lover. It can be purchased off or

Friday, November 27, 2009

St. Augustine, Florida

On a recent trip to St. Augustine, Florida (The oldest city in the United States), we spent a gorgeous 4 days exploring the beaches, restaurants, local shops and kayaking the salt flats. Brown Pelicans were everywhere, perched on pillars, docks and anywhere else they could find a vantage point for capturing fish.

The only thing more plentiful than the pelicans were the gulls. We stopped at a restaurant on a pier for some supper. Soon after you are seated the waitress brings you a basket of various breads to feed the gulls. Each table along the perimeter of the building has a trap door  that you are able to open and throw your bread down to the hungry, greedy gulls. What they do not manage to catch falls into the bay and the equally hungry ocean fish greedily gobble up. It is a unique dining experience, and a definite must do it you visit this lovely area.
One of the shorebirds checking for handouts

This is the view from inside the restaurant. It was so beautiful and peaceful here. We've traveled to many places in the United States, but I can honestly say this is one of my favorites.

Each morning we woke early and headed to the beach to greet the sunrise. We were never disappointed by God's handywork.

We spent many hours walking the beach collecting seashells, and came across many of these gorgeous purple starfish. Our time on the beach was probably the most enjoyable of the entire trip. We met many wonderful, nice people always willing to share a smile and conversation.

Another must is a visit to the Alligator Farm.  Alligators and Crocodiles are plentiful, they give feeding demonstrations throughout the day. For me though the excitement of this place lies in the birds that are present. This is a breeding ground for several tropical birds, like the one pictured above. Isn't he gorgeous all fanned out in his breeding plumage? What female bird could resist? Literally hundreds of birds flock to this area each spring to vie for the attention of females of their own kind. April is an excellent time to visit.

The Alligator Farm is home to many resident exotic birds like this Scarlet Macaw. They also have a small population of Old World Buzzards, like the one below.

No trip to this area would be complete without a visit to the St. Augustine Lighthouse. They give guided tours several times throughout the day. This is a view of the lighthouse from our Kayaks. While out on the salt flats we saw several Dolphins and many herons and egrets. No matter how hard I tried I could not take a successful picture of the dolphins, but it was enough for me to have seen them.
I know this is a blog about Missouri, but when we are fortunate enough to visit other wonderful areas around this great country I can't resist sharing them. If you ever have the opportunity to visit St. Augustine, please do! You won't be disappointed!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Earlier this summer we had a resident tree frog take up our birdhouse as his homestead. I thought it was so cute how he would sit at the entrance hole and peek out at us. If we wondered too close he would retreat to the safety of his new found home.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Some flowers to brighten up the day

I just love the combination of colors in this photo. Goldenrod makes a gorgeous accent against any flower, but especially the purple berries on this Beauty Berry Bush.

Tulips in the background and an unidentified purple flower in the foreground.

Bleeding Heart, this particular plant is from a start that belonged to my great-great grandmother.






Indian Grass

Asiatic Lily

I hope that these images brighten the day for you, no matter where you live

Monday, November 2, 2009

Casey all dressed up for Halloween

I know Halloween is past...but I just couldn't resist sharing a picture of our spoiled rotten little Casey Kitty. Here he is showing off his Elephant Costume for Halloween. Dressing up and trick or treating is hard work....

Friday, October 30, 2009

Black Snakes---just in time for Halloween

(Is it me..or is this snake smiling? Wonder what he is thinking?.....good thing I'm bigger than a frog)
Halloween.....and Snakes, they go hand in hand
Black Rat Snakes are one of the most common snakes encountered in Missouri. They can be quite large, reaching lengths up to 6 feet or more. I find more of these snakes than any other species of snake. They are plentiful around our farm, and often end up in our  basement, especially this time of year. As soon as the temperatures begin to cool down in the fall, something in the snakes genetic make-up tells them it is time to head for shelter. This can be in cellars, caves, holes in the ground, or basements. Often times these hibernaculums will have hundreds of snakes sharing the same den space. This can include venomous snakes as well as non-venomous. They seem to be tolerant of each others presence at this time, when at no other time during the year. Fortunately for us, only a few stray snakes make it into our basement each season. In March or April they come out of their hiding places (sometimes, they FALL out of their hiding places) giving me quite a start. I scoop up the uninvited guest and place them in a tank until it is warm enough to turn them loose. I have a tendency to let them go in the yard, and my husband gets completely irritated at me for it. He is convinced they will find their way back into the basement. This may be true, but there are worse things to find in your basement right?

Having no real fear of snakes I cannot understand when people are so put off by these amazing creatures. Admittedly I wouldn't want one falling in my lap unexpectedly, but I would feel that way about any creature.

That's just plain scary!

I am always excited to spot snakes in our yard, and I am completely fascinated by them. I just can't resist capturing them ( or should I say TRY to capture them). I have been bitten so many times, you would think I would learn to "look but don't touch", apparently I was dropped on my head as a child, because I still try to pick up every one I see.  Black Rat Snakes are one of my favorite snakes. They are usually mild tempered, except as babies. Seems when snakes are little, they feel the need to strike at anything that moves. Age brings self-control and they generally do not bite if handled gently and with respect. The keyword in that sentence was "generally", I would never say never!
The Black Snakes main diet consists of rats, mice, voles and other small rodents. They are capable of climbing trees as you can see in the second picture. They will feed on baby birds, bird eggs and the occasional adult bird, especially under cover of darkness when the birds are settled in for a long nights sleep. The snake will sneak up the tree and catch the bird unawares.

Snakes use their long, forked tongue to "smell" their environment. This will help them determine if food is nearby. They are capable of waiting patiently for hours without moving in the hopes of a meal passing by. A snakes tongue is forked for a reason, they can differentiate where prey is located by which side of their tongue picks up the strongest scent. If the right side of the tongue picks up more scent particles, then they strike to the right, same for the left. The tongue is drawn back into the mouth, and those scent particles are pulled across a very sensitive scent gland called the jacobson organ. This organ tells the snake if what he is smelling is food or not. Without the use of legs, arms, hands or feet, these creatures have had to evolve highly specialized ways of locating their dinner. They can silently sneak up on their prey, they use their extremely sensitive sense of smell, venomous snakes have heat sensing organs called pits located on their face that can detect the slightest amount of heat coming off even the tiniest of creatures, like mice.They have no ears, so they use their muscles to sense vibrations on the ground which alerts them of danger, or possible food nearby. Then venomous snakes take the evolution of species to a whole new level with the use of a powerful venom. Depending upon the species, the venom will act in different ways.
Black Snakes are a non-venomous snake, but they are often needlessly killed because of their resemblance to the Cottonmouth or Water Moccasin as it is often referred to as. People fearing a bite, will kill and ask questions later. Many non-venomous snakes pay dearly for looking so much like their venomous cousins.

Right now, as the weather carries the scent of autumn, you are likely to encounter snakes most anywhere as they seek shelter. Try not to be afraid, take a moment and admire one of God's truly unique creatures. Be grateful for the service they provide as rodent patrol. Please be kind, and resist the urge to get the hoe, and behead these poor misunderstood creatures. Above all.. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Bullfrogs are a sure sign of summer, their loud croaking signaling their desire to find a mate. Or maybe they just sing so loudly as sign that life is good, and it's great to be a frog. We have a koi pond in our backyard and it attracts numerous bullfrogs. One spring we were cleaning the pond out to get it ready for summer enjoyment. I noticed a movement in the bottom sediment once the pond was drained. I had to look twice to make sure I was seeing what I thought I was seeing. Sure enough, this bullfrog had legs growing from his mouth. Was this some sort of mutant frog? Had some weird chemical leached into the water causing such an odd malformation? Upon closer inspection-----it appears bullfrogs are cannibals. This large frog had consumed one of his cousins, or perhaps sibling, right before my eyes. I have not looked at bullfrogs the same since.

Once the hot summer months arrived, many more bullfrogs showed up at this pond. At one point I had counted 15, in various sizes. Each evening was filled with their loud singing. These Don Juans of the amphibian world were relentless. Croaking with all their might well into the wee morning hours. Finally daybreak brought silence. Sleeping with the windows open on cooler evenings would bring with it a serenade of epic proportions. Once in awhile the smaller frogs would meet an untimely demise by some hungry Garter Snake. I'm thinking these snakes hunted down the noisy little frog and silenced him!

Is it me or is this frog smiling? He looks just a little too pleased with himself. He's probably the little blabber mouth that kept me awake.  Regardless of the noise they make, I can't help but like these little green hoppers. I enjoy sitting by the pond watching them stalk their insect prey, and apparently sometimes each other. As they lazily float around on the lily pads I can't help but be envious of their relaxed life style. How grand would it be to float around on a soft bed in a cool pond on a hot day?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Signs of Fall

The seasons seemed to come and go so fast this year, or perhaps that is a sign I am getting older. Missouri summers are usually so hot and humid that the only relief is found in air conditioning. This summer was an exception to that rule, there were only a handful of days that reached above 90 degrees. I admit to being very disappointed by this fact. I love the heat, sunshine and long days. September rolled in with much cooler temperatures than normal. October arrived with temperatures that were more like November. I love the fall crisp air and beautiful colors, but I seem to enjoy them more when they arrive after a hot summer. There didn't seem to be much transition this year.

These pictures were all taken in the past few weeks, and are so reminiscent of fall, that I had to post them to share. The first two were taken in Rockport, MO. This little town is just south of the Iowa border, and is now home to a small wind farm that is supplying the town with natural energy.

These three windmills were tucked away in a valley between two bluffs, they looked so pretty against the bright blue sky. 

The trees pictured here are aptly  named the "Kissing Trees". They are located at the Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City,NE. They have a wonderful walking trail there, and a fifty foot tree house with a view of the forest floor. Leaning over the edge is sure to give you a mild case of vertigo.

Nothing says fall like a visit to the pumpkin patch. Arbor Day Farm has one of the biggest I've ever visited. We walked for quite some time until we found just the right one. Then we had to carry that heavy monster all the way back to the main building. We took turns lugging it, very proud of our find. If you look at this picture, ours is the one right in the center, now let me tell you this thing easily weighed 25 or 30 pounds. Now that may not sound like much, but factor in its circular shape and it makes for a heavy load indeed.

On our way home from Nebraska we made a detour through Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge. This is a wonderful wetland that attracts many species of birds. I've volunteered for them on numerous occasions and it continues to be one of my favorite places to visit. On this particular visit there were a few ducks, and pelicans visiting the area. Later in the season the Eagles will show up in great numbers, as will the snow geese. every year on the first weekend in December they host a special event called Eagle Days. It is not uncommon for hundreds of eagles to be present. It is truly a sight to see.

There were still a few Great Blue Herons braving the cooler temperatures and hanging close to the shore. I even seen one on a muskrat mound that had his head pulled in close to his body and his feathers were all puffed out warding off the cold (pictured below).

American Coots are one of my favorite "ducks". Their black coloring and white bill make them a stand out on any pond or lake. Many people think they are nasty, dirty little birds and don't have much use for them. I think I just tend to be a fan of the animals I see as the underdogs. I love armadillos, opossums, bats, bugs, and coots. 

The pelicans were hanging pretty far out in the water making it difficult to photograph them. They are such interesting birds.

If you are ever in North West Missouri this is a must for you to visit. You won't be disappointed. The scenery is beautiful, there are walking trails, birds, deer, and many other things to see. 

And probably the biggest sign that Fall has arrived is the return of the dreaded Multi-Colored Asian Lady Beetle! These non-native species have usurped our own lovely native species and have taken over with such vim and vigor that it is difficult to even find a native species these days. Wherever you live, I hope you enjoy this autumn season, and are able to get outside and explore.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Red Fox Squirrel

When you mention the word Squirrel it will raise mixed emotions depending upon who you ask. Bird watchers who spend small fortunes on bird seed each year, often find themselves waging war against these little thieves. Bird lovers often have to come up with some pretty ingenious squirrel deterrents. Baffles on poles, coffee cans on wire, greasing poles with oil or even Vasoline. Manufacturers have even gotten on board and created "guaranteed squirrel proof feeders". If you are battling these cute little critters, you are well aware that when it comes to squirrels there are no guarantees. For every puzzle we throw at them, it seems they sit and calculate the situation and in no time they've solved the problem of how to invade that delicious feed. Bird seed laid out in those handy little feeders, is like an all you can eat buffet, and offers too much temptation to a hungry squirrel. While I sympathize with each bird lovers plight, I just can't help but be on the other side of the fence with these little guys. What some people refer to as tree rats, I see as an adorable furry tailed creature that is sure to make you laugh.

Their energy is to be envied, they appear almost spastic as they leap, climb, and crawl from tree to tree with such speed as to sometimes disappear before your very eyes. Have you ever cornered one on the trunk of a tree? You on one side of the tree, and the squirrel on the other? Then it's around and around the tree we go, sometimes I think they view it as a game, knowing full well you aren't going to catch him, and if you did, you would get a nasty little bite for your trouble. In our area of Missouri there are two species of squirrels that we find, one is the Red Fox Squirrel, the other is a Gray Squirrel. Pictured here is the larger Fox squirrel. As you can see by the dirt smeared all over his face in the first picture he has been busy digging holes and burying nuts. He kept his eyes on me as I watched his antics. He repeated the same action over and, grab a nut, run somewhere else, dig a hole, bury the nut, cover the hole, repeat. Often I am asked "do the squirrels find all the nuts that they bury"? The answer is "no" they do not. They are able to locate seeds buried under the ground by smell, not by memory.  As they roam around during the winter months the powerful smell of buried nuts and seeds will lead them to hidden caches underground. Sometimes they find ones they've previously buried, other times they find ones that another squirrel buried, either way this caching serves them and the environment well. They are guaranteed food when times are lean and food supplies are low, and trees like oaks, hickories, and other nut bearing trees are guaranteed to get their seeds dispersed. Many of these forgotten nuts sprout and grow into young saplings, often not far from the parent tree.

Many years ago I completed training classes that allow me to rehabilitate wild animals in Missouri. To this day one of my favorite animals to rehab are these little tree squirrels. They are very easy to care for and their survival rate is high. I've had them come to me as "pinkie" squirrels, that is to say they are very tiny and hairless, maybe 3 or so days old. When I am able to save them it is a good feeling. At about 13 weeks of age they are released to our timber. For a few days I keep a supply of food out for them and provide them with shelter until they are confident enough to head out on their own. It doesn't take them long to figure out just what they were designed to do and I will see them leaping from tree to tree, and paying no more attention to me than as if they had never seen me before. Just as it should be. Many people have asked me how I can bear to release these animals after giving them months of care. The answer is simple, "they aren't mine to own". They belong in the wild, no wild animal truly enjoys a life of captivity. I would be doing a disservice to any wild animal if I tried to "tame it". If someone wanted to keep one as a pet there are some things you should consider. First of all is it legal, many states forbid the capture and containment of wild animals. Missouri is one such state that frowns on this. In certain situations permission can be granted, but you better have a good reason for keeping the animal, you better have permission from the proper authorities and you better be prepared for the care involved. If caught with a wild animal in your possession you can face fines, and time in a courtroom. Caring for these animals is no small feat. Large caging with plenty of room to climb and roam is needed. Fresh food and water is essential on a daily basis. If you let them run your house, be prepared to be a substitute tree. They will leap from any vantage point right on top your shoulders, or your head. Trust me this can take you by surprise, and those claws are sharp! As fast as they land on your head, they will in turn use your head as a spring board launching them somewhere else, once again digging their claws into you. My arms have had scratches on them to the point of being raw from their constant climbing. They are charming, spritely, hilarious and equally energetic, skittish and easily frightened. Their pulse races and they are constantly on guard. It is this timid, untrusting nature that keeps them alive in the wild.

The Red Fox Squirrel is the biggest squirrel in the North America and reach lengths up to 2 feet with the tail. They are found throughout the Eastern Portion of the United States, and have become very plentiful in urban areas. They are rusty orange all over with grayish colored tips on their hair. Sometimes this can give them a Old gray haired look. This long bushy tail serves many purposes. One is to aid them with balance as they tight-rope walk across power lines, or clothes lines. Another function of this gorgeous tail is to provide warmth, they will pull that tail up over their back to help shield the fury of winter winds(picture 3), or curl it around themselves as they sleep in their dens or nests. 
In captivity they are capable of living up to 15 years, in the wild they rarely make it beyond one year. They are an important part of the food chain and provide much needed nutrition for hawks, coyotes, fox, bobcat, owls, and various other meat eating predators. Only on vary rare occasions do they contract rabies, they would most likely not survive an attack by a rabid predator. If they did survive the initial attack it would still be very hard for a squirrel to pass this deadly virus along to other animals including humans. The squirrels teeth have a half inch gap between the front incisors and the back cheek teeth, this gap does not allow for the flow of saliva. It is this saliva that is the mode of transportation to the virus.
Whether you love them or hate them, they should be admired for their tenacity, energy and the great service they provide in helping plant trees, and for the sacrifice many make by playing their part in the food chain. If you just can't beat them at the "bird feeder game", try placing some corn, or sunflowers out for them away from the feeders to see if this will distract them, and help keep them away from your bird feeders. After all, sometimes there is truth to the saying "if you can't beat them, join them"