Thursday, February 18, 2010

BUDDING FOR BREAKFAST

Since moving to the riverside, one of surest signs that winter has entered its final phase comes when I notice a fox squirrel doing a tail-waving balancing act on outer limb-tips of some tree on the island across from the cottage. As I've mentioned before, though the squirrels which daily visit my feeders are grays, the island is populated by larger, reddish-blond fox squirrels.
A squirrel in a precarious balancing position uses its long, fluffy tail as an effective counterweight, much the same way a high-wire walker employs a long pole. Because the big fox squirrels are constantly moving this way and that, shifting positions as they go from branch-tip to branch-tip, their balance point is also changing—thus the tail waves and flicks like some bright semaphore flag. It's invariably the thing that first catches my eye.
What the fox squirrel is doing is "budding," eating the sweet bud tips of certain trees. Late winter is a critical time for fox squirrels. Autumn stores of nuts and grains have dwindled considerably. Food is scarce . Buds offer a valuable source of nutrition. In Ohio, the buds of maples—especially sugar maple, red maple, and rock maple—are at the top of the list, along with elm, willow, and oak.
The fox squirrel in these shots was only about 20 feet up, though it was working various branchlet tips arching over the water. I've included one shot without cropping and enlargement to give you a better perspective. You'll probably have to double-click on all these photos to see much detail; the distance was beyond the best "reach" of my zoom lens.
Sometimes, though, a squirrel will do it's budding in the very top of one of the island's tallest trees, 100 feet above the ground or water. If you watch them through binoculars, you'll see they often have all four paws on a different twig, their body sagging over a fifth, and their long, showy tail draped over yet another one or two tiny twigs…done, I suppose, in order to spread their weight around. Branches sag and bob until you'd swear they were going to break. Plus the limbs and squirrels also swing about considerably in the wind—even as the whole tree sways in slow waltz. The feeding squirrels just ride it out, at home and in control regardless. They'll regularly hang by their back legs only, dangling face-down toward the earth far below, grappling for nearby buds, then holding and nibbling them as you or I might eat corn on the cob—except while upside-down.
Like I said, budding fox squirrels are an annual harbinger here along the riverbank, a sure sign that in spite of cold temperatures and deep snow blanketing the ground, time moves steadily on; soon enough, the seasons will change.

12 comments:

The Weaver of Grass said...

Many thanks to that fox squirrel for telling me what I desperately want to know and want to believe is true - winter is almost over.

I have never heard of a fox squirrel before, presumably he is called such because of his extra bushy tail>

Jenn Jilks said...

I didn't know there were different types of squirrels!
We're still frozen over in Muskoka.

Wanda said...

The fox and gray squirrels here are always doing something I don't understand, but I'm slowly becoming educated, thanks to your posts. At the moment, 2 gray squirrels look like upside down coat hangers, on the side of a tree, necks stretched out, one above the other. They stay that way forever. What fun is that?

Bernie said...

I have never seen a red fox squirel before Grizz....I do hope you are right and that this means Spring is arriving soon although our weather in Alberta has been beautiful these past few days, I can even smell Spring in the air.
I don't like to think these squirels are hungry and love your photo's.....:-) Hugs

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Weaver…

In spite of the snow and cold, spring signs are starting to appear if you know how and where to look. Nature always foretells the seasonal journey.

Fox squirrels are the one of four species we have hereabouts. I'm not sure if their name comes from the big fox-plume tail, their fox-like color (my photos aren't that good for really seeing details) or both. But they're lovely big squirrels, real characters, more solitary than grays and a but less wild, and preferring slightly more open woodlands. I'll try and do other fox squirrel posts this year.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jenn…

Not counting chipmunks and ground squirrels, we have at least four species of tree squirrels hereabouts—fox squirrels, gray squirrels, red squirrels (also called pine squirrels) and southern flying squirrels. Fox squirrels are the largest tree squirrels in North America, almost twice the size of a gray squirrel, and can exceed 3 pounds in weight. They can be gray-backed with yellow-blond bellies; reddish, with orange bellies; even black with white-tipped tails and ears.

Still frozen here, too. But the icicles are dripping…

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Wanda…

You wouldn't be bored hanging on a tree like that if you were a squirrel taking in some winter sun, maybe after having a flirty chase or two through the treetops, and now just filled to the brim with the joy of your sassy self. :-)

Squirrels are way more complicated and interesting than most of us ever expect. Ever see a fox squirrel pick up an acorn in the fall and, holding it in his teeth, give it a good side-to-side shake before going of to hide it somewhere? What he's doing is hefting—weighing—the nutmeat inside the shell; the larger ones he buries farther out from the woods, presumably to make them less easily found by his peers. And you thought he was just a weird ol' bushy-tailed squacker with the DTs.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Bernie…

I don't think you have fox squirrels in your part of the country; they not much found in the north.

Don't worry about these fox squirrels going hungry, they have plenty of buds, thus plenty of food. If any species of squirrels maintains a somewhat portly appearance, it's the fox squirrel. They pretty much omnivores and eat well.

Hey, I believe I catch a whiff of spring in the air now and then myself. It's surely a'comin'.

Robin said...

I don't think anyone but you will 'get' this....

I work at a 'Big Box Hardware Store' in a suburb of Chicago.

For the two springs/summers I've been there, there has been a Starling (most likely) that sits in the same place in the rafters and teases me with all the other bird songs he knows. Yet, he has his own song.

How I have missed him.

But. today I was outside stocking merchandise in a bit of snow and I heard him. So far he's sitting in a different place about 15 feet away from his normal perch, but it's him.

If Loss Prevention was watching that particular camera as my face registered joy, I'll be fired soon for being crazy.

But it made my day, his coming back again.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Robin…

I understand completely what you're saying and how something so small and personal can uplift your spirits in a way that's all out of proportion to the rest of the world. I've had several such scenarios myself—different, but similar in the ways that count. If I were the sort capable of analyzing such matters, I'd say that starling is, for you, a touchstone, a sort of totem individual creature that reveals some of the mysterious world beyond, allows you a glimpse of his world. He's not just a bird…he's your bird. There is much joy and wonder in this world, but you have to open your heart to see it. You, obviously, have.

Teri and the cats of Furrydance said...

Great post today...I learned a lot and enjoyed reading everyone's comments...I too, miss the "blue pointed" squirrel that's used to hang around here for the first 8 years I lived here, but this year, no sign of him...I makes me sad...

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Teri…

I'd like to hear more about that "blue pointed" squirrel…were the "points" ear tips, nose, feet, tail tip, or what. A smoky gray color? And on what overall color squirrel?

If you saw the same squirrels for eight years running, it lived a long life in the wild, I'd think. And it certainly would be sad to lose such an enchanting creature. But at least you got to see it again and again—and that's special.