Lizzie Watching a Squirrel Eat Peanuts

Lizzie, being a typical dog, likes to chase squirrels. While I let her chase them because she enjoys it so much, I put Lizzie at the disadvantage by warning the squirrels, usually by making extra noise when I open the door. I enjoy watching her chase the squirrels but I don’t want her to actually catch them. Truth be told, I like squirrels, particularly the Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis). I enjoy watching them and they are, for the most part, harmless.

This winter I noticed a dearth of gray squirrels in our yard. We normally have 3-4 gray squirrels and an occasional American red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus). I have seen Red fox (Vulpes vulpes) come through our yard so I suspect they have reduced the squirrel population. The situation became so bad that entire weeks would go by without me seeing any squirrels in our yard. Deciding that I had to do something to help the squirrels (and keep Lizzie entertained), I began placing food out for them. I put the food in locations that they could easily access without putting them in undue danger of predators.

Lizzie watching a squirrel eating peanuts
Lizzie is watching a grey squirrel eat peanuts on a Tiki statue we have in our backyard.

Today, Lizzie and I looked out a window to see a gray squirrel eating peanuts on a Tiki statue in our backyard. Despite her penchant for chasing them, she quietly watched it eat. Perhaps she too understood that she can’t chase squirrels if there are no squirrels to chase and, therefore, let it have a meal.

Budding Maple Trees

Maples (Acer) are one of the earliest plants in Minnesota to bloom in the spring and, as a result, are an important source of food for pollinating insects.

Flower buds on a maple tree
Flower buds on a maple (Acer) tree.

Because the flowers are normally high up in the tree, we don’t see the flowers. On our evening walk, I was excited to see that our neighbor’s maple tree was in bloom at a level I could actually photograph.

A flower bud on a maple tree
A flower bud on a maple (Acer) tree.

Siberian Squill (Scilla siberica)

One of the first plants to bloom in Spring is Siberian Squill (Scilla siberica). It’s a pretty flower scattered all over our yard.

Siberian Squill (Scilla siberica)
Siberian Squill (Scilla siberica) flowers in bloom.

Unfortunately, it is considered an invasive species. I have no hope of eliminating it from our property. To do so would require extensive remediation for which I have neither the time, nor money, nor the energy.

Siberian Squill (Scilla siberica)
Siberian Squill (Scilla siberica) blooming next to the foundation of our house.

Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos)

Every Spring a pair of mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) temporarily makes our yard their home. There is a small creek at the bottom of hill in our backyard. In the spring it has sufficient water flowing in it for mallards to float around on it. It usually dries up at some point in the summer but mallards find it a comfortable place to hang out in for a few weeks.

The mallards will often come up to the top of the hill and wander around near our house and garage. If I’m lucky, I’ll get a photograph or two of them. Having keen eyesight, they are quick to spot me, even when I carefully peak through a window.

A drake and hen mallard pair
A pair of mallards (Anas platyrhynchos)

On Thursday, I saw a hen and drake eating corn near one of our critter feeding stations. I quickly grabbed my phone but they, having seen me, ambled away before I could get a good closeup photograph of them.

A pair of mallards
A pair of mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) wandering through the yard.

First Observations of 2020, Part 1

This is the second year in which I recorded the first observations of the year. The following are a few of our observations:

  1. On Sunday, March 1, 2020, I saw a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches (Sitta carolinensis) investigating a nest box I had filled with pine shavings the day before. The next day, I could see they were preparing it by removing shavings. Nuthatches are cavity nesters. They will often stash shavings and chips they remove from a cavity in the bark of the tree they are working in. I saw a lot of shavings stashed into crevices in the bark of the tree the nest box is attached to.
  2. Kat noticed buds on the maples and oaks on Monday, March 2, 2020. One of our neighbor’s trees has large buds on it. I don’t recall seeing that large before.
  3. It appears that as of Saturday, March 7, it is still mating season for the Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) mating season. I saw a squirrel being chased by another in a manner suggestive of one being a female in heat and the other an interested male.
  4. I saw and heard the first American Robin (Turdus migratorius) of the season on Tuesday, March 10. It was perched in a fruit tree adjacent to our patio.
  5. While walking with Lizzie on Friday, March 13, we heard Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) singing near the pond on the north side of the street.

Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

The sound of dogs barking alerted Lizzie and I that something was afoot in the neighborhood. It is not unusual there are dogs barking in our neighborhood but something about the barking drew our attention.

While I listened to the barks trying to determine the reason for the upset, Lizzie let out a low growl which immediately grabbed my attention. Lizzie rarely vocalizes and very rarily growls. To my surprise, looking to where she was staring, thirty feet away, I saw a bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). I regularly see them flying overhead but this was the first I have seen in our yard.

A bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
A bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) in our back yard.

Grabbing the binoculars, I saw it had been eating something. I could see blood in the snow and nearby what appeared to be the remains of an animal.

bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
To the left, the remains of a bald eagle’s dinner. And to the right, the bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus).

After the eagle flew off, Lizzie and I investigated the site, where we found tracks, blood, fur, and various parts of an animal.

Remains of animal killed by bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
Remains of animal killed by bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

Nest Boxes

It is that time of year again, time to empty the nest boxes. I empty the boxes in the fall on the first of October and fill them with wood shavings every spring on March 1st. Emptying and refilling them annually reduces the parasite load, thus, reducing risk for the birds.

This spring I purchased two additional nest boxes, bringing the total to five. I placed the two new nest boxes in the wooded area at the bottom of the slope at the back of our property. Additionally, I moved two of the other nest boxes so that there was greater spatial separation between all of the nest boxes.

Despite the additional nest boxes, only two were occupied this year. Again, a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches (Sitta carolinensis) took up residence in a nest box and raised a clutch of chicks. That nest box was occupied last year by a pair of nuthatches so I wonder if it is the same pair.

A white-breasted nuthatch on a tree
White-breasted Nuthatch. By DickDaniels (http://carolinabirds.org/) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18267531
The nest box used by the nuthatches
The nest box used by the nuthatches.
Nuthatch nest in a nest box
A nest made by Whte-breasted Nuthatches

A nuthatch started building a nest in the other large nest box but abandoned it after a week. I don’t know if it was chased off by another nuthatch or if it moved to the nest box that was occupied this year. Come spring, I intend on moving the abandoned nest box further away from the other large nest box in hopes that I might have two nesting pair of nuthatches next year.

An abandoned nuthatch nest
A nuthatch started and then abandoned this nest.

No Black-capped Chickadees took up residence in any of the nest boxes this year. However, I am confident a pair of House Wrens (Troglodytes aedon) occupied one of the new nest boxes located in the wooded area of our property. I didn’t observe them entering or leaving the nest box. However, they were frequently nearby, I observed them on the nest box, and they made a raucous whenever I or Lizzie were near the nest box. (Lizzie, for her part, ignored them.)

House wren on a branch
House wren. By Christopher Eliot from Brooklyn, NY, USA – House Wren, Troglodytes aedon, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30622363
Small nest box
The nest box occupied by the house wrens
House wren nest in nest box
House Wren Nest

The other new nest box was occupied by two mice when I opened it up. From the looks of it, they had not been in there for long as there was no nesting materials beyond the wood chips I had filled it with in the spring. They ran off before I could take a picture or identify them. Lizzie had a fun time hunting them in the brush pile they scurried into. She caught and killed at least one. I wandered off before I saw if she caught the other one.

Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana)

A Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana) has been a regular night time visitor. Other than a stray cat, it is the most frequent visitor to our night time yard.

A picture of a Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana)
An opossum (Didelphis virginiana) in the backyard.

From the images captured on the game cameras, it appears the opossum is searching for food under the shrubs in the back yard. It has been going there nearly every night for the last several weeks. Maybe it is finding grubs and worms. When I’ve looked in that area I haven’t found much of anything else.

A picture of a Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana)
An opossum (Didelphis virginiana) in the backyard.

I hope it keeps a low profile during the day because I don’t want Lizzie finding it. Two years ago, Lizzie found an opossum in our yard. When she attacked it, it played ‘possum, looking for all intents and purposes to be dead, releasing a foul-smelling liquid in the process. Lizzie, being a dog, promptly rolled in it.

Because the door to our house was wide open, I was concerned Lizzie would enter the house, fouling it with the her new “perfume”. I let her mess with the “dead” opossum while I stealthily made my way back to the open door. As soon as I closed it to prevent her ingress, I called her to me, ran to the exterior water faucet, turned it on wide open, and grabbed the attached hose. Grabbing her by the collar as soon as she got within reach, I hosed her down. Lizzie, disliking baths, tried to escape but I kept a firm grip on her until I had thoroughly rinsed her. To this day, she watches me warily any time I use the hose.