Little Nature Stories Feed

A Nutty Little Nature Story

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I was wishing I still had my "nature notes" column up, because Earlybird and I observed the funniest little nature "story" yesterday!

It was a lovely afternoon, golden and breezy - and we were sitting in the learning room, with a couple of windows cracked open. EB was at the computer, and I was reading in my chair, when the sound of rustling leaves caught my attention. I thought it might be an animal of some sort walking by, but every time I looked outside I saw nothing. I did notice some rambunctious blue jays hopping around, so I dismissed the "ruckus" at that.

But, next thing I know, I start hearing little "pops" and "bangs" on the roof and windows. Now I'm kind of freaking out because I truly can't figure out what is making all this noise! I'm thinking perhaps some early Halloween "tricks" were being played on us!

Finally I figured I'd best take a closer look ... so I walked out front and when I looked back at the house I immediately noticed a flurry of movement at the top of the HUGE spruce tree that stands beside our house. The branches were swaying like crazy!

Glinting in the sun, and weaving in and out of the branches, was a bright ball of reddish-brown fur, and a closer inspection revealed this:

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A tiny red squirrel was perched way up high in the tree (and let me tell you, that is one super tall tree!) and making quite a business out of "harvesting" spruce cones! He'd climb onto a branch and nibble at the cone till it fell ...

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... and THAT was what we were hearing!

Cone after cone being dropped from the tree by the squirrel. They'd hit the ground, the roof, the windows ... like little bombs, lol! This went on for over half an hour - such an industrious fellow!

Archie was quite taken with the whole procedure:

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EB and I walked out to the feeder area to take a closer look and we were amazed by how many cones were covering the ground!

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So we'll be watching these next few days to see how many cones disappear and who all is spiriting them off. (One squirrel or more?) We often find cones half-stripped looking like this ...

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And these have been quite nibbled as you can see.

On the diet of red squirrels ...

"His food is far more varied than many suppose and he will eat almost anything eatable; he is a little pirate and enjoys stealing from others with keenest zest. In spring he eats leaf buds and hunts our orchards for apple seeds. In winter he feeds on nuts, buds, and cones; it is marvelous how he will take a cone apart, tearing off the scales and leaving them in a heap while searching for seeds; he is especially fond of the seeds of Norway spruce and hemlock."

(From the Handbook of Nature Study by Anna B. Comstock) 

So Earlybird and I are starting the "squirrels and other rodents" portion of our animal study this week. We already have lots of great "field observation" to report! Throughout November we'll be covering the general topic of hibernation as well.


Well, my friends, I hope you're all having a good week. I'm almost caught up with Call the Midwife ... made it about halfway through the show last night, and hope to finish up this evening or next. When I do, I'll pop back into Monday's post to catch up with comments. :)

In the meantime, take care of yourselves and your loved ones ... I'll see you here again very soon!

The Chickadee Post, Mid-December


Dear Earlybird,

Today is a very cold day in the woodland. Most of our food sources are snowed under, so we really appreciate the food your family puts out for us! Many of my feathered friends like the black oil seed the best, but I also like your spruce tree cones! I've sent you one as a small gift ~ I'm not sure if you like to eat spruce cones (I'm guessing probably not since there's always plenty on your tree!), but maybe you could put it on your nature shelf? (Or you could hang it on your Christmas tree. I've seen it through the windows. The lights are very pretty!)

In other woodland news, a Cooper's hawk has made himself quite a nuisance at the feeders. Perhaps you heard about poor Red Belly's close call yesterday? She's one lucky woodpecker, I tell you! Lately I've been keeping to the deeper areas of the woodland, so I've been safe. I'll come visit later in the winter when my food stores run low!

Well, Earlybird, I'd best get this note off to you as I'm expecting my cousin Gray Tail for tea at any moment. (I bet you'd like to know what I'm serving: fresh juniper juice and thistle seed cake!)

And here's Little Chickadee now, ready to deliver my note to you today! I'm so glad your Nana made you that special mailbox ~ now we can share all kinds of news with each other!

Keep warm and be well, my dear little boy ...

Your Friend,

Red Tail the Squirrel

There was some excitement here yesterday afternoon ~ Earlybird received his very first piece of Chickadee Post! How did he know? Well, for starters, the flag was up on his special nature mailbox!

Inside the box, EB found (top photo) a small note card and a real spruce cone ...


Now, the note card is just a piece of oatmeal-hued cardstock, folded over and adhered with a sticker. I used a rubber stamp for the chickadee image (and thankfully, my mum happened to be here, so she drew the little branch he's sitting on) ...


EB opened it up as fast as fingers would fly, and inside he found a special note ...


He was a bit over-excited to sit and listen at first, so I had him go and get his little red squirrel puppet and I read the note to him through the puppet's "voice." :) He enjoyed the story very much, and asked for it to be read again a few times over! Right after we finished reading, we set about decorating the spruce cone for our tree.

Of course, we began with a good spackling of glue ...


... followed by a liberal sprinkling of glitter, and then a jingle bell tied on with a bit of twine. Once dry, it was ready to hang:


Stay tuned for more tales from the woodland ~ brought to you (and EB!) by Chickadee Post! :)

Little Nature Stories: Red's Time of Day

My favorite little critter at his favorite time of day - just before sunset, when all the commotion has died down at the feeders. His only dinner companions are the cardinals who also prefer this quiet hour before dusk.

This cage feeder suits him just perfectly, as he can perch at the top:


Hang down over the edge:


Rappel down inside to find just the right seed:


And pop right back up again to feast:



I tell you, I never tire of watching the red squirrels who visit our feeders. I wouldn't think of shooing them off, or heaven forbid, trapping and moving them as some people do. Sure they eat their fair share of seed (as do their bigger gray cousins) but all God's creatures are welcome at our feeders. Well, I do draw the line at larger (or predatory) animals such as coyotes and bear. We've never had anything like that, though. Just raccoons once in a while and the occasional neighborhood cat. The cats I drive off with some hand clapping and the raccoons we photograph if we can. The coons eat a good bit, and sure they might drag off a suet cage now and again, but really, most of the critters in our little habitat play fair.

We stocked up on birdseed yesterday, and today we will clean up the feeding area and fill up all the feeders. I would like to do a post about the feeders we employ in our yard - what kinds and how many. This is a great time of year to get your feeders going again, so stay tuned!

In other nature news, I have organized a little nature study club for my homeschool group and our first meeting is coming up! We are meeting at a local nature preserve to walk and explore and discuss ... I am planning to hand out a scavenger list of "signs of fall" for the kids to use as they walk about the place (with sketchbooks or cameras in hand).

Our plan is to meet once a month at the same place and do some nature study all together. I have wanted to organize a club like this for some time now, and was gratified so many families were interested - 25 at last count! You can be sure I'll be posting all about our first meeting later this week. :)

Have a beautiful Sunday, everyone!

Little Nature Stories: Dexter, the Blue Jay

My friend Marcie from Louisiana has kindly been sharing pictures with my boys and me of a blue jay who has been calling her yard home. I asked for her permission to share them here with you all, because they are truly amazing!

Back in June, Marcie's family rescued 3-week old "Dexter" (as he came to be known) from the mouth of a cat! They cared for him, fed him (mealworms are a favorite you can see) and he continued to come to them, becoming quite tame. Here he is on Marcie's arm (having just vacated the top of her head):


Even more recently Marcie sent me pictures of Dexter molting and I gasped with surprise when I saw these:



What a look! Have you ever seen a blue jay looking like this?

The funny thing is, we have a blue jay in our yard these days that has the exact kind of oddly-shaped head. We didn't know what was going on with the poor fellow! We were afraid he might be ill or had been attacked. We got to calling him Turkey Head because we thought he looked (in shape) somewhat like a turkey vulture, lol. We were glad to learn he is only molting! How extraordinary that we both have unusually molting jays in our yards this summer, a thousand miles apart!

Of course Marcie's family is on much more familiar terms with their jay than we are with ours! We do enjoy watching the ones who visit our yard, though, and recently several of them saved a red squirrel from an enormous hawk! Bookworm watched it happen - the jays mobbed the descending raptor, squawking and rushing at him relentlessly. He finally gave up and the little red squirrel was able to make a safe escape. The birds kept up their alarm for almost a half an hour!

I now have a soft spot in my heart for blue jays - in light of their recent heroics, and especially now that I've had the pleasure of getting to know Dexter.

Marcie tells me these days Dexter is more wild than tame, visiting their feeders less and less, though he does call to them when he arrives.

Here he is with his new feathers coming in:


And a final picture of Dexter, looking dapper at last:


Marcie's photographs are amazing, arent' they? You might remember that her photos are the ones that bring my Field Days alive. Which reminds me ... it's been a long while since I've run a Field Day, hasn't it? Hmmm, stay tuned for an announcement before (hopefully) too long. :)

In the meantime, thanks to Marcie for sharing these awesome photos and such a great story with us! And thanks, as always, to you all for stopping by. And if you pass a blue jay in your travels today, tip your hat to this delightful - and dapper - songbird!


We need help in identifying this beetle, the biggest we have EVER seen:


(Please click image for a bigger, better view.)

Well, it's been quite an afternoon for nature study! This bug was spotted just minutes after the toad sighting we described earlier today. There we were, back at the windows, finishing our lunch and watching the birds and squirrels beneath the spruce tree, when Bookworm exclaimed: "Hey what's that big beetle out there?"

Now, my first thought was: How on earth can he see a beetle from way up here? My second thought was - upon spying said enormous beetle, from which, mind you, the squirrels and chipmunks fled: What on earth is that bug and should I grab the camera or call animal control?

No, no, I'm kidding. Really. I did in fact grab my camera and, as the specimen was trucking though the bark mulch, I started snapping pictures. It was hard to focus in on a moving target so finally I got him onto a piece of paper and barricaded him in with a few bricks (humanely of course; I never touched him). I placed a quarter next to him for size comparison, because let me tell you - he was BIG. Never seen a bug so big - other than a butterfly or moth.

So, any ideas on what we have here? We spent a bunch of time poring through field guides and came up with some kind of long-horned beetle - a prionus like this one seems to match, but we can't make a firm i.d. Any advice would be great!

Oh, and just so you know, we let him loose after his photo shoot, and, just like the toad did earlier today, he ran straight under the family room addition. Heaven only knows which species would be the worse for wear at that meeting!

Hey, Big Fella!

We were eating our lunch just now when Bookworm spied a huge toad beneath one of our birdfeeders. He sent me outside with the camera to get a shot, and naturally, I was happy to oblige:


This was as close as I wanted to get as he was rather larger and bumpier than any toad I've handled before. (Thank goodness for zoom lenses!) He hopped away from me slowly and then, spying an ant on the foundation wall, paused for just a moment - then ZAP! - he ate the ant in half a second or less! Quite nonchalantly, he then continued on his way, disappearing beneath our family room addition which is where we suspect most of our toad population resides. A "knot" of toads they would be called, though my favorite nature author would call them a "blessing." All bumpiness aside, I would tend to agree. :)

"In the early years we are not to teach nature as science, we are not to teach it primarily for method or for drill: we are to teach it for loving - and this is nature study." L. H. Bailey


Thank you to everyone who left such nice comments after my planner post last night. I am working on a follow-up post with the autumnal ideas I mined from those books and my journals. I will also try to answer a few of the questions you have. Until then, have a lovely afternoon ... :)

The Earlybird ... Spots the Deer!

Just now Earlybird ran up to the glass doors looking out at the backyard and called over to me:

"Wook, wook! A deeah!"

Now, I first thought he was saying "a geese" - which just goes to show I hadn't had enough coffee yet - but when I joined him at the windowpanes, sure enough he had seen a deeah, and right in our neighbor's backyard:


EB looked up at me, eyes wide and said, "Oh My Dearness!"

What a nice way to start this quiet, misty morning. I hope your day is starting off nicely, too. Thunderstorms moving in around here .. I'm off to get that second cup of coffee. :)