by Winding Pathways | Feb 23, 2023 | Mammals, Nature
Squirrels are athletic.
Winter squirrels are amusing as they scout out food resources, navigate high wires to cross the road, and forage at local feeders.
Diane and Frank Olsen feed birds, and squirrels, daily and enjoy the antics and dexterity of the neighborhood amusing winter squirrels. Frank noted, “After they raid the bird feeders we have for the juncos, black-capped chickadees, and sparrows, our squirrel friends snarf down the peanuts-in-a-shell that Diane puts out.”
The urban squirrels quickly learn who has the best treats. Photo credit Frank Olsen
This squirrel concentrates on eating while keeping an eye out for predators. Photo credit Frank Olsen
Our cousin to the north has “battled” squirrels for years and watched in awe as a squirrel foiled a winter hawk by jumping into the squirrel trap. The hawk contemplated the situation and then flew off to find easier prey.
Where Are the Squirrels?
We’ve not had much luck foiling squirrels over the years. But, recently we’ve had NO squirrels! They are greedy and do chase off the song birds, but they are fun to watch and usually forage on wild nuts, box elder seeds and other natural delicacies. They also know how to shelter from storms as you see in this summer video.
by Winding Pathways | Dec 8, 2022 | Garden/Yard, Mammals, Nature, Travel/Columns
Fair Oaks Farm
A couple of times a year we drive to and from New Jersey to visit relatives. It’s a long thousand-mile slog each way, but we recently discovered an amazing driving break……watching a calf being birthed.
Our fastest route is following Interstate 80, but that involves running a traffic gauntlet in northeast Indiana and paying tolls and boredom along the Ohio and Indiana Turnpikes. On a recent trip, we took a more southern route, mostly following secondary roads to avoid tolls and traffic. Never would we have imagined that, on a driving break, we’d watch a birth!
Yup. A birth. We’d been following smallish roads across the Hoosier State and had vaguely heard of Fair Oaks Farm. As our car cleared a rise by an enormous farm field we spotted their colorful water tower and stopped in. It’s really not a farm…but then again it is. Mostly it’s a fascinating living museum of American agriculture, focused on dairy, pork, and crops combined with a hotel, restaurant, and gas station.
After checking in we entered the birthing barn to take in an amazing sight. Two Holstein dairy cows were giving birth, with a human attendant attentively watching to help as needed. As we sat with other families in the darkened seating area, two hooves emerged from each cow. One gave birth quickly. The other struggled until the attending woman helped by gently pulling the calf from her. We, and many others watching, were riveted by the real-time arrival of new living animals. This event brought to mind Marion’s experience growing up on a Maine dairy farm watching a calf being birthed.
From there we enjoyed exhibits telling the story of how crops are grown, dairy cows are cared for, and pork is produced. We walked from building to building enjoying interactive exhibits telling the story of food production. The Farm calls the exhibit areas Crop, Dairy, and Pig Adventures – and they truly are adventurous.
Ninja Warriors in Training
Kids on ropes course
At Pig Adventure we encountered a couple with two small children. “We were on a long drive from Indianapolis to Chicago. The kids were restless in the back seat. So, we stopped. Look at them now,” declared their mom. A young boy and girl were testing their balance on a large complex obstacle course sort of like we see on TV’s American Ninja Warrior. They were harnessed in and guided by employees. Thrills and exercise, yes. Danger, no.
As a seasoned museum professional Rich was impressed at how exhibits were accessible for walking-challenged folks with plenty of places to sit and rest. Yet they gave kids a chance to burn off energy as they moved from exhibit to exhibit. For example, kids could climb small “hills” and slide down the other side to see new displays. One boy operated a hand crank to move large constructed kernels of corn up a vertical elevator to drop into a “silo” and back down for kids to repeat the process. Great learning combined with physical activity. It was, for the family, an educational and exciting way to burn off energy.
Take Time to Experience
We are far from being kids but we gave the crank some turns, also. Then we took a tour break and enjoyed lunch at the site’s eatery, called the Farmhouse Restaurant. As we dined, we watched cheese being made behind a huge glass wall.
We could have boarded a shuttle bus to see actual dairy and pork operations nearby or walk to the orchard and pumpkin patch but time was pressing. We needed to hit the road. So, we will be back.
Pig Adventure Starts here!
Fair Oaks Farm was the dream of Mike and Sue McCloskey who began creating it in 1999. It opened a few years later and new exhibits – actually agricultural adventures – are regularly added. Today about 275 staff host thousands of people every year. Jobs for local teens, parents, and grandparents as they warmly welcome visitors.
It’s not all pigs and cows. Many people visit the orchard in the fall to pick apples or the pumpkin patch to stock up on the orange globes for Halloween. Later in the season, there’s ice skating, a forest of lights, and even igloos to enjoy.
The Farm is just off Interstate 94, which links Chicago and Indianapolis. Anyone driving East/West might consider taking smaller roads that parallel Interstate 80 for a less stressful drive that leads past the Farm. For information check out fofarm.com.
by Winding Pathways | Sep 15, 2022 | (Sub)Urban Homesteading, Birds, Garden/Yard, Mammals, Nature, Pests
Guest Blog by Jackie Hull,
in the foothills of Virginia
Bears Barely Tolerable Behavior
Bear Raiding Feeders
Well, the bear did it again. It tore up some of the spindles on the porch railing, tipped over a couple of the vegetable pots, and yanked a six-foot portion of our picket fence off the posts. All this to remind me that I should not feed the birds this time of year. It’s May.
So what to do but put away all the feeders? Maybe I can try again in the fall when bears retreat to the dens for their winter snooze.
This pretty much gave me great moments of sadness especially since I’ve had to shed other favorite activities.
Bird Antics Bring Joy
But today was a day of great surprises. My beautiful main stays, the birds, were everywhere. As I sat in the kitchen peering out the window, I spotted the adult turkeys poking their heads above the uncut hay. I could feel their parental thoughts “The coast is clear so keep scrambling forward.” The chicks were not seen but definitely there. A goldfinch zipped over them. Then I saw two wood thrashers near the holly tree scavenging for insects. Oh, my look how that crow struts!
Wrens are Chatterers
Listen, that’s the wren by the back door. She keeps chattering to remind me she built her condo in the hanging planter. Then a flash of bright red caught my eye as I walked onto the porch. It’s a cardinal. Then the female house finch flicked from her nest over the front door light. She doesn’t like me stepping onto the porch. She is quite timid.
Even though the feeders have been down for nearly two months, the birds have kept their vigil at my country home much to my delight. They are in the trees, along the lane, and in the hayfield. What a great day!
by Winding Pathways | Feb 24, 2022 | Mammals
The birds we share Winding Pathways with have a good life. Our property has old trees, prairies, and bushes to provide lots of natural food plus nooks and crannies for chickadees, nuthatches, and other species to hide and shelter from tough weather.
Squirrel tails have many uses.
Birds aren’t the only animals that gorge on the sunflower seeds and corn we daily put in the backyard. Deer, raccoons, and opossums sometimes visit at night. And squirrels constantly work the day shift.
Two squirrel species visit our feeders. Grays are more of an eastern species that prefer woodlands with big trees, while Fox Squirrels prefer edges – places where woods meet prairies, cornfields, or meadows. They are most common in the Midwest.
Even in winter the squirrels’ fur looks healthy…except for their tails.
In spring 2021 through winter 2022, we have noticed that many squirrels, especially grays, had few tail hairs, making them look like rat tails. That’s not good for a squirrel.
Squirrels use tails for balance.
Their bushy tail is more than an ornament. We’ve observed three important uses. It helps them balance. Notice this when you see squirrels cross wires or balance on tiny branches bouncing in the wind. On cold and wet days, we see squirrels drape their tail over their back, perhaps like putting another blanket on the bed or a poncho. Twice we’ve seen squirrels fall from tall oaks. Both times they “spread eagle” in the air with their legs and tails outstretched. They descended with their body horizontal, hit the ground with a thump, and took off running, apparently unhurt. So, their tail helped them parachute down.
According to Dr. Neil Bernstein, a squirrel lacking a tail may have been in a mating fight with another male and came out the loser. Four of our resident squirrels have a tail but each lacks hair. It could be mange, but this often leaves a bare patch of skin on the animal’s body. Our squirrels have perfect body hair.
Loss of tail hair could be caused by a fungal disease called dermatophytosis. Often this causes hairs to break off, rather than shed from the skin. A squirrel with this condition has short bristles. We think that’s the case with our squirrels.
Often otherwise healthy squirrels recover from mange or dermatophytosis. We hope ours will.
by Winding Pathways | Feb 10, 2022 | Birds, Mammals, Nature, Pests
Guest Blogger, Dr. No More Squirrels
(Photos by Dr. NMS)
Much of my time and energy has been spent battling a 1-pound enemy – the gray squirrel. I love feeding and watching birds, but with a neighborhood full of acorn-bearing oak trees I feel no guilt at all at not wanting to pay for bird food and letting the squirrels eat it. Through trial and error, I have found how to place all our feeders so that they are always out of the reach of squirrels. Almost always. Every few months a new guy shows up; a determined daredevil squirrel who figures out how to slide 20 feet down the string holding a feeder to get to the mother lode.
A variety of feeders for the birds.
the “raiders” jump through hoops to get to the feeders.
When that happens, it’s time for an involuntary relocation.
This was the case on a frigid January morning here in Minneapolis. My live trap was set and within minutes I heard it snap shut. But what I then saw was a shock. The squirrel was trapped all right, but sitting next to the trap was an immature red-tailed hawk! She hopped onto the trap and all around it, trying to get at what she thought would be an easy breakfast.
Minutes later, she gave up and flew to a nearby perch to contemplate how she had been beaten by a 1-pound ball of gray fur.
I knew exactly how she felt.
This immature red-tail hawk tries to figure out how to get the squirrel.
Landing on the trap
by Winding Pathways | Nov 25, 2021 | Mammals, Nature, Preparedness, Uncategorized
Two years ago, hardly anyone knew what the novel Coronavirus was, but since then this crafty virus and the nasty disease it causes, COVID-19, has hardly been all over the news. Like most people we thought it was a disease of only humans.
We were astonished to learn that a high percent of Iowa tested deer has been found positive for COVID. With deer hunting season approaching we wondered if deer pose a threat to people either butchering an animal or eating the meat. So, we contacted Dr. Tyler Harms. He’s the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Deer Program Leader.
Dr. Tyler Harms, head of deer project in Iowa recommends safety gloves and hand washing when processing and preparing venison.
According to him the threat seems minimal, however, he recommends the following actions for anyone processing a deer:
- Wear rubber gloves when processing an animal.
- Wash hands and equipment thoroughly after handling deer meat
According to Dr. Harms, Iowa’s deer are asymptomatic. They don’t seem to be getting sick or dying.
Bucks are still active in December.
December is Iowa’s main deer hunting season. Over 100,000 animals are likely to be harvested. Here at Winding Pathways, we enjoy venison as local, organic, free-range meat. But we’ll be sure to follow Dr. Harm’s advice when handling meat.
In many ways COVID is a mysterious disease. Where it came from remains a hazy mystery, and its variants continue to perplex people. Now it’s been found in animals. Iowa’s deer aren’t the only animals that test positive. The disease has been found in leopards in zoos and mink. It’s likely that many other animals and deer nearly everywhere carry COVID. How they got it and how it’s spread is a mystery.