The daily search for food to sustain life sometimes makes animals do strange things. A friend this week watched a crow dragging a dead squirrel it had found on the road up into a tree. Very often, as any driver knows, crows are seen on the road tearing apart and sometimes eating road kill. Especially in the early morning at first light, various birds are out on the road feasting on whatever creature happened to have gotten killed during the night. It is a good source of food for them.
Crows sometimes get hit by cars if they wait too long to get out of the way. Turkey vultures here in the warmer months are regular members of the “cleanup squad.” I have even see our elegant eagles feasting on road kill. One creature’s death is another creature’s food for survival.
Although red squirrels are smaller than grey squirrels it is not unusual to see a red squirrel chasing a much larger gray squirrel. Red squirrels are pugnacious little mammals. When you see one get angry, it makes you laugh, for the little squirrel stamps its feet and chatters in indignation. They are aggressive little mammals and rather unpleasant to other creatures as they defend their food caches and territories.
But they are also playful with other squirrels and will sometimes be seen resting quietly for hours. They are very agile and can run approximately 14 miles per hour. Their young are born naked, blind, pink and helpless. It takes about one month for them to start exploring on their own. The young usually remain with the family group throughout their first summer.
My grandsons and I were walking on a trail in the park once and watched a family of four or more young red squirrels playing around the trunk of a large tree right near the trail near the Wildflower Gardens. They were great fun to watch at their play. Red squirrels may live two years or more in the wild.
Red squirrels and gray squirrels will be seen out and about all year except in very stormy periods. Chipmunks sleep in their burrows and have a food supply stored with them if they wake up and need to eat.
Regardless of the weather, all of us living on this island can always go to the shore and explore the beaches for excitement in nature. Every storm brings something up on the beach or in the exposed tide pools that will be of interest.
While writing my latest book, there was never a time when the local shores were dull. A diver friend of mine keeps me up to date on local starfish and his comments about these creatures sent me out to find some in tide pools near my home. Tide pools are always unpredictable but they can be fascinating and they are well worth frequent exploration.
Starfish — also known as sea stars or echinoderms — are especially fun to find and observe. They are not the most abundant organisms in the tide pool but they often produce the most excitement when you find them.
Each creature has its own special place where it likes to live in the tide pool and knowing this information helps in your search. Sea stars can usually be found draped over the side of tide pools, but you can also find them under rocks and on pilings of wharves and docks.
Fossil records indicate that sea stars have been around for a long time. They appeared in the Ordovician Period about 450 million years ago and have remained relatively unchanged since then. They thrive in oceans all over the world, and can be quite colorful from beige, to pink, to dark purple. There is also a blood-red star, which is smaller.
If you are interested in the creatures and plants living on the edge of the sea, my latest book, “Living On The Edge,” coauthored with Thomas Vining, will be great to take with you on your next walk or as a gift for someone. It is for sale at several local libraries and at the Gilley Museum. I also have copies of my previous books about the wildlife on this island available. My e-mail contact is below.
With the trees bare now, deserted bird nests stand out, and you now find that some feathered creatures were living close to you or right along your favorite trail. It is not always easy to identify the nest builder without it being present but there are few clues that can help. Robins always use a layer of mud, have no leaves or sticks in the foundation and are lined with grass. Grackles also make mud nests but they will use weed stalks and sticks. They also have a tendency to put pieces of cellophane on the base. Some sparrows use horsehair or nylon fishing line.
Finding out whose nest you have discovered requires some good detective work on your part. Insects use old nests for their winter quarters, and abandoned squirrel nests and beehives are often used by white-footed mice. If a mouse takes over a cardinal’s nest you will find it further lined with cattail or milkweed down.
“Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!”
Send any questions, photos or observations to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 244-3742.