Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Monday, September 28, 2020

For the Mammals

White-tailed Deer

Watching birds makes most of us more attuned to nature in general, so a mammal report once in a while isn’t out of keeping on a birding blog. Ever since my daughter and son-in-law and their dog Muxy fled New York to move in with us with us in April, we’ve been having a banner year as far as mammals go. Katie has always loved squirrels, and I can’t remember ever having so many healthy squirrels visiting our yard. Usually we see several babies in spring but only one or two, if we’re lucky, in fall. But this year we saw lots of babies in spring and right now there are at least four brand new babies visiting my feeders. 

Three baby squirrels
I don't have a photo with all four. 

Squirrels haven’t been the most prolific mammals in the yard—we’ve had more baby cottontail rabbits in this one summer than I’d seen in my entire life before this. I got bazillions of photos, especially of one little guy I call “Baby Big Ears,” who has weird flaps enlarging both ears in an adorable way. 

Eastern Cottontail "Baby Big-Ears"

Baby cottontail

I guess it makes sense that the year I get a brand-new baby grandson, who is also a mammal, would be the very year I get a bumper crop of baby squirrels and bunnies. 

Red fox next door!
I took this photo in March, and saw the adults or heard crows swearing at them most days
through April. Now I'm not seeing them, but neighbors still are. 

We also have a pair of foxes somewhere in the neighborhood. I presume they had kits this year, though I haven’t talked to anyone who’s seen any. I myself haven’t seen the adults since spring, but neighbors keep telling me about their sightings.  

White-tailed Deer in yard

White-tailed Deer in yard

For a while this spring, a small group of white-tailed deer were jumping over our chain link fence to feed in the yard. That ended as babies started being born—they’d be too little for such a high jump—but my neighbor Jeanne called a few times to let me know about photo ops when twin fawns were in her yard. She’s also told me when the buck is around. Last week, he was in our backyard munching on cherry tree leaves, but hightailed it out of here when a car pulled up before I was set up for good photos.  

Twin fawns at my neighhor's place

White-tailed Buck

I see chipmunks every day. I presume someone in the neighborhood has been feeding them—I never even tried to feed a chipmunk until last week, when one started jumping onto my shoe and once even climbing up my pants leg begging for peanuts. Now it will sit on my shoe to open the peanut.

Eastern Chipmunk eating a peanut on my shoe while I'm wearing it.

That one’s pretty funny—he first stuffs his cheeks with birdseed, and then comes up for a peanut. He opens the peanut, stuffs the kernels into his cheeks, and even when they seem filled beyond capacity, he asks for another peanut, and another. If he can’t squeeze any more kernels into his cheeks, he simply carries off the last whole peanut in his mouth. He must have a huge cache of winter provisions. Before he started doing that whole process on my foot, I got a video of it. 

Eastern Chipmunk stuffing peanut kernels into its pouches

In 2003, for the first time in the 22 years we’d lived here at that point, a red squirrel was hanging out somewhere near me and I got to see it a lot, mainly eating sunflower seeds at my feeder until it disappeared in early winter. Now I’ve been seeing one for a couple of weeks. I first saw it on September 8 or 9th though it ran up the tree and I couldn’t relocate it. For a short time I was actually afraid I’d misidentified a young gray squirrel, but then I not only saw it but got a nice photo on September 10. 

Red Squirrel on Peabody Street

Then I didn’t see it for a few days and figured my corner really isn’t appropriate habitat. But the little guy is now coming daily, taking cones from a spruce tree next to the house and carrying them off to its winter cache somewhere in the back of our yard or one of the yards behind us. So far it hasn’t shown any interest at all in either my bird feeders or my bird baths. I’m thrilled that this little guy might be sticking around even though the species is notorious for eating bird eggs and nestlings. At least that won’t be an issue until spring. 

Northern Flying Squirrel at my bird bath!

Deer mouse

Skunk taking a drink

I have trail cams set up to keep track of activity at my bird baths. If not for them, I’d not even be aware that a flying squirrel, a few deer mice, and a skunk had been in my yard. One mammal who’s visited twice since spring hasn’t shown up on the cams, and no one has seen it, but when I wake up to find our sturdy chain-link gate knocked down and the heavy-duty pipes holding up my feeders all bent out of shape and the feeders broken, it’s pretty easy to figure out that a bear was here. That happened twice in August but not since. 

A bear on Peabody Street
This is from 2018, but looked pretty much the same this year. 

Finally, we’ve had quite a few bats flying about this summer. I only saw them when I’d be sitting out on the back porch on pleasant evenings listening to birds singing vespers. I can’t hear the ultrasonic sounds bats make, but somehow listening to a robin at twilight while a bat flutters by is a perfect way to end a June day. 

Last night, September 27, when I took my dog out at 11 pm and made sure my cams were positioned correctly, I heard a saw-whet owl calling. I was thrilled, even though this species only survives by preying on the tiny mammals I’ve been celebrating. Irony is just another way of ending a perfect September day.  

Sleeping Saw-whet Owl