Monday, December 1, 2008

SQUIRRELS AGAIN?

As I write this, about 9:00 a.m., the snow which the National Weather Service forecast for “mainly after noon” is falling briskly. Apparently this snowfall comes under the part not covered by that post-noon prognostication. The temperature is 32 degrees, just two degrees under the day’s predicted high.

I’ve been up for more than three hours already, breakfasted on my usual bowl of steel-cut oats, and attended to a couple of outside chores—the main one being the rehanging of the bird feeder nearest the river, and the one most visible from the dinning table and front room. The feeder fell sometime yesterday while we were away on a shopping junket to Greenville. I noticed it down when I let the dog out for her evening constitutional. With snow coming in, I knew the birds would want to get to their own morning meal as soon as possible.

When I went out to pick up the feeder and bring it in for examination and any needed repairs, I found the snow had already started—at least it’s precursor of fine sleet peppered my eyes and face, and rattled soft and persistent, a subtle background hiss, on the sycamore and box elder leaves littering the yard. Perhaps a portent of things to come? 

The surprise came when I saw it was the rope suspending the feeder that had given way. I’d expected the cause to be the stripped threads on the ring-cap. I suspend this feeder to the end of a hanging rope which is simply looped over a convenient limb. A brass swivel clip is tied onto end of the rope and snaps through the feeder’s ring-cap for handy refilling and cleaning. The long steel rod which extends through the feeder’s center is threaded on the top end. The ring-cap—a sort of nut with a one-inch ring at it’s tip—is what you screw down to hold the feeder’s top and must be removed each time you fill the feeder with seeds. This ring-cap is made from a softer alloy or “pot metal.” It’s actually this part that has the stripped threads.

Obviously, at some point the ring-cap got crossthreaded onto the rod. Steel being harder than the material of the ring-cap, won the encounter, stripping out the interior or “female” threads. I discovered this problem last spring when giving the feeder it’s pre-summer cleaning. The best fix I could think of at that time was to wrap the rod’s threads with plumber’s Teflon tape, thereby making it just a scoosh bigger in diameter…which actually seemed to work, though I knew a fall/winter/spring round of feeding would be the real test of my uninspired repair.  

When I saw the feeder on the ground last night, I glumly assumed it was my makeshift fix that had failed—perhaps assisted by cold-weather contraction. After all, this is a large feeder, holding approximately a gallon of the sunflower-cracked corn mix I use, and thus fairly heavy. Hence my surprise to find the repair had held, and instead, the 1/4-inch nylon rope used to suspend the feeder had parted. 

This was puzzling since the rope’s breaking strength is well over a hundred pounds. A long exposure to sunlight’s UV rays can age and weaken nylon, of course, but this bit of rope hadn’t been up all that long—and the portion that was still attached to the clip end was bright and strong and seemed in good shape. Too, the end looked more like it had parted because of a clean slice rather than a frayed break. So I don’t know what brought the feeder down…but I’ve decided to blame the squirrels. 

Around here, squirrels are a convenient scapegoat for a variety of ills and problems. Furthermore, they’re often actually guilty—and even when they’re not, they look guilty. Plus they come equipped with incisors more than sufficient for the job of rope-gnawing. There were, in fact, two guilty looking gray squirrels hunched in one of the big sycamores, bushy tails wrapped like scarves over their shoulders and head, who seemed to be amusedly watching me when I stooped to retrieve the downed feeder and swiftly jerked upright because a dose of wind-blown sleet found the gap between the top of my sweatpants and my pulled-up tee shirt. I did a quick tuck, snatched up the feeder, took it indoors…then found I had a different problem to repair than anticipated. 

So I restrung a new rope, attached the brass swivel-clip, filled the feeder with fresh seed, added another layer of Teflon tape to the top of the steel rod for insurance, put it all back together and hung it in it’s usual place. 

“Breakfast is served,” I said to the chickadees and nuthatches waiting in the nearby hackberry. By the time I’d washed up and taken a seat at the dinning table to enjoy a second mug of coffee, the chickadees and nuthatches had been joined by goldfinches, house finches, pine siskins, titmice, and a Carolina wren. Downy and red-bellied woodpeckers were busy at the nearby suet feeders. The squirrels were suspiciously absent...

4 comments:

The Solitary Walker said...

Mmmm... I agree with the comment on the previous post... you write so well! Thanks for this.

The grizzled but still incorrigible scribe himself! said...

Thank, you, Solitary Walker, for reading.

I enjoy your site very much, too—and on this dark and sleety afternoon, I'd like to be able to join you on a ramble down a sunny, ancient trail.

Deb said...

I just popped in via your comment on Forest Wisdom's blog, and I've only read this post but I really enjoy your writing style! Looking forward to reading more.

p.s. I'm envious of your titmice. They just don't make it this far north.

The grizzled but still incorrigible scribe himself! said...

Deb…

Hey, I read your blog daily, having become a fan when I stumbled onto it somehow and got interested in your house building. I have a small piece of land up on Lake Superior, in the U.P. and I keep hoping, before I'm too old to care, to be able to put up a small cabin. I'd like to watch a few seasons roll around from that shoreside vantage point.

Didn't realize titmice were not found that far north, though. Would have, of course, if I'd have paid closer attention to my copy of Peterson's. On the other hand, you have snowy owls and great grays, which makes me envious. Guess it all evens out.

Thank you for your comments. Please visit often.