Snacky Hawky Time

Yesterday was my last day in the Austin office for a while. There were at most three other people on my floor today, so it was pretty darned quiet. At least no one breathed on me!

The excitement started when I was getting ready to go home. I had decided to walk the parking garage for a little exercise, for old times’ sake, and just started out when I heard all sorts of commotion, consisting of upset bird chirps, upset squirrel sounds and the unmistakable call of a red-shouldered hawk.

I ran to the side of the garage that looks over the courtyard and saw a lot of wings, flapping, and screeching. I followed the sounds of the hawk (certainly not a subtle hunter) to the oak tree next to last year’s nest. There he or she sat, triumphantly pecking away at whatever creature got caught in all that commotion.

Allow me to screech about my current meal.

I’m not sure, but I think it was one of the squirrels. I couldn’t get a good enough photo to tell for sure, since the sun was at an awkward angle. It certainly appeared to be a satisfactory snack.

I’m trying to hide over here. Go away.

I hung around a while to see what all the bird sounds were. I saw a mockingbird, what appeared to me to be a nuthatch, and some really pretty birds with red on them, but I’m not sure what they were. I wish I always had binoculars!

The other thing I saw all over the courtyard were these masses of leaves in the trees, mostly the cedar elms, but others as well.

There are dozens and dozens of these clumps of leaves.

I knew they just weren’t leaves the trees had shed, because they are stuck on their really well, no matter how windy it gets or anything. I figured there must be an insect or something in there, so I looked closer.

Aha, webs.

Sure enough, it’s webs that are holding the masses of leaves together. I wonder what it is? I’ve gone with fall webworm moths on iNaturalist, but am patiently waiting to see if that’s verified. If it is, we’re in for a lot of pretty moths at some point.

I’m so glad to have this oasis of nature right next to the building where I work in Austin. I often give silent thanks to whoever preserved this little bit of nature and added so many native plants to the courtyard to make it a wonderful respite for so many people. I miss my desk with a view of the hawk nest, squirrel nests, and birds.

And now, back to Cameron, where I shall avoid germs like…um…the plague.

What’s in Bloom? Who’s Happy?

Stork’s-bill lights up the lawn.

That’s the question I asked myself this weekend. So I wandered around with my head down to see what’s there.

I

Speedwell is so tiny, but it lights up the ground as it opens by midday.

was surprised to find the lawn (sorta) around our old church property blooming away. Granted, they were tiny wood sorrel, blue speedwell, and pink storks-bill flowers, but they were enough to keep at least four kinds of small butterflies happy.

These are prettier in person. Their bodies look blue.

I saw lots and lots of these lovely tropical checkered skippers, plus elusive little sulphurs and a hairstreak. And my friends the fiery skippers still are hanging around. Not bad for December.

The fiery skipper loves the wood sorrel.

Looking Up

When I looked up, I noticed the big oak tree (the only tree on the property) seemed to be shaking, even though there was no breeze. Then I heard a whole lot of chattering.

The tree is holding up well, even though it lost some limbs in recent storms.

The tree was filled with fat, happy squirrels. They ran up and down, jumped over branches, and tussled.

I’m a happy rodent.

Why were they so happy? Well, it’s autumn, and this tree alone has provided enough acorns for an entire city of squirrels. Why go elsewhere?

The ground is solid acorn. Busy tree.

I wish you the bounty and happiness these little guys have found. I also hope you are finding the life and beauty wherever you are. It’s there!

Guest Observations from California

burrow3After my post about the squirrels last week, my friend Matt Hickner began telling me about his own wildlife experiences at his relatively new home in Bakersfield, California. They don’t have tree squirrels there (not really any trees, as its a desert). But they do have ground squirrels and friends.

Since Matt’s house was recently constructed in a new neighborhood, there are quite a few empty lots nearby, featuring lots of dry grasses and dirt, which give him prime critter viewing opportunities.

A couple of days ago, he posted this on Facebook:

In the vacant lot across from my house are burrows that the local ground squirrels dug. These burrows were also a great temptation for the endangered Western Burrowing Owls to occupy. I can see all of this activity from my home office so I clicked a few pictures of them this morning.

Yes, burrowing owls! I’ve always been fond of those, since they were the mascot of the school my brother and my friend Anita went to (Florida Atlantic University, all the way across the US from Matt).

burrow1
Borrowing owl keeping watch.

I checked with my friends at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and sure enough, both those places are year-round burrowing owl habitat. Apparently the eastern burrowing owls have more white spots than the western ones, but they are the same species.

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Squirrels and Me

squirrel
Fox squirrel, busy trying to find a place to dig another hole.

I like squirrels. I had a pet squirrel as a kid, named Squirrelly, who we shared with our neighbors. He was cute and fun, though he made a lot of noise running in his wheel at night. Later he lived in our treehouse until we let him go.

Here in central Texas, we mostly have the fox squirrels, which are bigger and have more tan on them than the other ones, the gray squirrels, which are what you mostly see east of here. We do have some of each. They dig lots of holes, which mean the dogs think there’s treasure in there (acorns).

Squirrel Adventures

A couple of days ago, while Anita and I were walking the dogs, I saw a squirrel in the greenbelt with a black head and tail, with a gray middle. That was some cool genetics happening there! I’ve seen a black one near where I work, too.

Of course, some places have lots of interesting squirrel variations. I remember white squirrels in Baton Rouge, for example.

You always know when the Property Brothers (that’s a TV show) are in Toronto when you see the black ones running around. I have a deep connection with the black squirrels of Toronto, since I was walking down a side street one day when one tried to jump off a building into a young tree, but the tree couldn’t hold it. It landed on my head. All I knew was that suddenly there was a THUMP and scritching on my head. A little old dude excitedly pointed down the road and shouted, “Skwi-rrell!” in a cute accent. Then we all laughed our heads off in the middle of Yonge Street.

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