August flora and fauna

… mostly fauna, the birds and creatures, squirrels especially. From the little world that I see in my long confinement (now into its sixth month), on the narrow patio outside the big window by my work table. The view from that window on 6/27:

(#1) From the inside of the house: the bird feeder, attached to the outside of the window; in the foreground, succulents (notably a silver Echevaria); a planter with tall-standing calla plants; and an assortment of cymbidium orchid plants; with an ivy-covered wall in the background

History. In my 6/9/20 posting “The June flora and fauna report”, about my hydrangea, devastated by snails, but on 6/8 coming back, though afflicted by powdery mildew.  It is now devastated by the mildew and has set no flower buds for this year); it hasn’t bloomed since 2017, and is, very sadly, about to become compost.

Also in that posting, about the roof rats, challenged by the total drought in February, which came down to the ground looking for food; we caught them in rat traps baited with peanut butter. And then:

But then I started discovering dead roof rats in the condo’s parking area, every few days for a while. And finding dead squirrels in the street outside my house. Clearly, someone had set out poison for the creatures. Since then, I haven’t seen a single rat or squirrel on my patio.

… Somehow the disappearance of the roof rats and squirrels cascaded into the disappearance of every kind of bird … I can hear birds singing in the morning out behind my condo, but I haven’t actually seen a bird in months, during the time I’ve been confined to my house.

… In an attempt to relieve my evident distress at birdlessness, Kim Darnell got me a really cool bird feeder, a window model from the Nature Anywhere company, which specializes in bird feeders

But then, in comments: on 6/12 a jay (a California scrub jay) appeared; and on 6/13 a small brown bird, which turned out to be a junco (a slate-colored junco); eventually, more of each followed.

Reports on the jays and juncos in my 6/27/20 posting “Meet the Jays”; and in my 7/3/20 posting “Variability: juncos”.

More recent days. So eventually I filled the feeder with a mixture for various birds, plus peanuts for the jays (they are maniacs about peanuts), and spread the birdseed mixture on the ground, for the ground feeders.

Then on a Tuesday a rat returned, darting out repeatedly from the same space at the bottom of the ivy-covered wall on my patio to consume huge amounts of birdseed (and utterly ignoring a baited rat trap, which was inside a box; we’d been warned by Palo Alto bird people that a trap out in the open would snag peanut-loving birds, but unfortunately the rat shunned going into that enclosed space. But it did seem to be gaining weight rapidly from all the birdseed it was eating.

The next day, a second rat, of ordinary size, appeared, with the larger rat, and it was clear they were a mated pair and that the larger one was a pregnant female, nesting somewhere in the ivy covering on the wall. We decided to risk putting the trap out in the open, right in front of the spot the rats issued from. I spread peanuts on the ground around it to seduce the rats to the trap. At this point the rats vanished from my sight, to their nest somewhere in the ivy cover, and I haven’t seen them since.

But wait, there’s more. In the midst of all this, a squirrel appeared. Apparently young, with a scraggly tail. It darted about, suspiciously, and then (while I was out of the room) apparently sprung the trap without getting caught in it. We rebaited the trap.

The next day, Scraggle-Tail appeared again, went right to the trap, and then there was a wild mid-air thrashing of squirrel in trap, from which the squirrel limped off, looking damaged. We rebaited the trap, moved it right up to the wall, and I sprinkled lots of peanuts on the narrow garden strip there, to keep the squirrel satisfied, away from the trap and also from the birdseed. We were now into squirrel-feeding.

The day after that, Scraggle-Tail was back; an entertaining creature, but, it seems, dumber than a box of rocks, since it went right to where the trap had been, sniffing at great length at the spot, obviously yearning for a rematch with the trap. In the end, it settled for the peanuts. While it was snarfing down peanuts, another squirrel, a black one, appeared, and the two squirrels jockeyed for dominance, inconclusively.

And then the day after that, there were four squirrels, two gray and two black, producing early morning hours of a kind of sciurid circus on my patio — Kim Darnell refers to it as my telenovela (NOAD: noun telenovela: (in Latin America) a television soap opera. Also called novela.), unfolding just outside my big window. I was now deeply into supplying treats for them, to try to keep them in the garden strip and away from the birdseed on the ground and, omg, in the bird feeder. They haven’t yet discovered the bird feeder, which is gratifying, though I might just be living in a fool’s paradise.

At this point, I read up on feeding squirrels and was inundated with warnings about the dangers of feeding squirrels a lot of peanuts. Apparently they totally love them, but the nuts are nutritionally inadequate, so squirrels that rely too much on them will suffer from a nasty form of malnutrition.

By then, we were moving away from jars of dry roasted peanuts to bags of peanuts designed for animal feed. Plus bags of sunflower seeds, which the squirrels and lots of my birds love, and which supplement the peanuts nutritionally.

Of course, the true squirrel food is acorns, and I have in fact purchased a (relatively small) bag of acorns, via Etsy, from the jokily named conpany My Family’s Nutz! (in Leominster MA).

(#2) An ad from the company

As I write this, Scraggle-Tail is out in the garden strip, enjoying some of them. They are, however, quite expensive from this source, so I’m still searching for cheaper bulk sources of acorns.

An unexpected benefit of the acorns is how the squirrels eat them. With the peanuts and sunflower seeds, they mostly scarf them down quickly on the ground. But the acorns are a bigger project, so they carry them to the top of the fence (right in my line of sight), where they can monitor the surrounding landscape for dangers. And there they perform an acorn-eating routine for me.

The bird patrol. From one pair of scrub jays, and then a pair of slate-colored juncos, the bird population has exploded. The largest-scale effect has to do with the juncos, now from at least two different species (see below) and present in large numbers. They appear at the very first crack of dawn light; as soon as I can see something out of my window, I see a junco. Often I can see them perched on my fence or on the arbor above my front walk before they fly down to the ground, but mostly they appear to be dropping from the sky. The effect is ridiculously exhilirating; the juncos give me great pleasure all day long. (And they have become accustomed to me, so when I go out on the patio to feed the creatures, the juncos don’t flutter away but tolerate my presence.)

Summary: the pair of scrub jays (which don’t tolerate others of their kind); a whole bunch of juncos (whose interactions with one another are largely opaque to me); mourning doves on a regular basis, methodically mining the garden strip for their food; house finches; and, recently, oak titmice, adorable crested birds.

On the finches, see my 7/19/20 posting “Birdland”:

In the midst of this, two more birds showed up at the bird feeder, new kids in town: a pair of house finches, a reddish male and a plain brown female.

And then the titmice. When Opal Armstrong Zwicky last visited, she noticed a cute crested bird at my bird feeder. I thought it was just another female finch, but I was wrong. From Wikipedia:

(#2) Oak titmouse (from the Cornell Lab All About Birds site)

The oak titmouse (Baeolophus inornatus) is a passerine bird in the tit family Paridae. …

The oak titmouse is a small, brown-tinged gray bird with small tuft or crest. The face is plain, and the undersides are a lighter gray. Sexes are similar, as there is very little to no sexual dimorphism.

This species lives year-round on the Pacific slope, resident from southern Oregon south through California west of the Sierra Nevada to Baja California, but its range surrounds the central San Joaquin Valley. It prefers open woodlands of warm, dry oak and oak-pine at low to mid-elevations but can also be found in forests as long as adequate oak trees are present.

… Oak titmice eat insects and spiders, and are sometimes seen catching insects in mid air. They will also take berries, acorns, and some seeds. This species forages on foliage, twigs, branches, trunks, and occasionally on ground, sometimes hanging upside down to forage, and hammering seeds against branches to open them. Oak titmice are attracted to feeders with suet, peanut butter and sunflower seeds.

Morphological digression. From NOAD:

noun titmouse (plural titmice): a small songbird that searches acrobatically for insects among foliage and branches. Family Paridae: three genera, especially Parus, and numerous species, including the chickadees and the tufted titmouse (P. bicolor). ORIGIN Middle English: from tit [‘a titmouse’] + obsolete mose ‘titmouse’. The change in the ending in the 16th century was due to association with mouse, probably because of the bird’s size and quick movements.

For fanatics who insist on etymological fidelity, especially in inflectional morphology, this is a notable example, because etymologically, the plural titmice is just flat wrong, a mistake that the ignorant unwashed have somehow foisted on the language. It’s like stewardi as the plural of stewardess. If you really care about etymological purity, you should insist on the plural titmouses, nothing else will do.

Finally, more juncos. Once again, from the Cornell Lab site:

(#3) Dark-eyed junco, an adult male (slate-colored); there are 15 described races, they interbreed, and indeed interbreed with other junco species — but the white tail feathers (which are very noticeable) are characteristic

Dark-eyed Juncos [Junco hyernalis] are neat, even flashy little sparrows that flit about forest floors of the western mountains and Canada, then flood the rest of North America for winter. They’re easy to recognize by their crisp (though extremely variable) markings and the bright white tail feathers they habitually flash in flight. Dark-eyed Juncos are among the most abundant forest birds of North America. Look for them on woodland walks as well as in flocks at your feeders or on the ground beneath them.

My many juncos are now a great delight to me. I can almost always see at least one of them from where I sit at my computer — four of them at this very moment (plus a black squirrel). And, as I said, they drop from the sky, which is incredibly cool.


2 Responses to “August flora and fauna”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    Plus bags of sunflower seeds, which the squirrels and lots of my birds love, and which supplement the peanuts nutritionally.

    Apparently, not just for squirrels and birds. I no longer remember where we got this information, but a very long time ago our household learned that peanuts plus sunflower seeds produce nutritionally complete protein (i.e., all the essential amino acids, not present in either by itself), so we developed a habit, which continues to this day, when we decide we want peanut butter on bread for lunch or a snack, of sprinkling sunflower seeds on top. It’s a very nice combination, apart from its purported tuitional benefits.

    I can’t imagine deliberately feeding squirrels, whom I regard as vermin. And as far as I can tell, what they mostly do with acorns is bury them, so that we can have oak seedlings in our flower beds. (One winter they stored a large number of acorns in an open bag of composted cow manure in the garage.)

  2. Two reflections on rats | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] A report from 8/9/20 (in “August flora and fauna”, on this blog): […]

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