Caterpillar of the Apocalypse!

Woolly Bear Caterpillar with fallen cedar bits as a comparison. The little guy doesn’t look impressive in the photo (and its russet middle doesn’t show well). That’s a ruse….

Must be dead, I thought when I found it on the driveway. Even at noon, the 21F/-6C temperature was much too cold for caterpillars.

After lunch, I prepared to go back to work. The woolly-bully was closer to the car. If I squinted, its tiny feet seemed to be moving! Slllooowwwwly, though. It’s also curling a little in on itself, as woolly bears do when threatened.

When I came home at sunset, it was motionless as I took the photo. I had no doubt it was still alive. I didn’t want to accidentally squish it under the tires or scrape it up with a shovel of snow, so I tried to flip it onto an oak leaf. It “stuck” because its amazing grippy feet were clinging to the tiny grooves in the cement. Gently, I rolled it onto a leaf and put it in the flowerbed.  

Today it was gone.

A charming custom in Eastern and Midwestern USA is to look for woolly bears (“woolly-bullies” where I grew up) in the autumn. The length of its black bands was said to predict the length and severity of winter. If that were the case, what apocalypse is foretold by it hightailing in the dead of winter?!?

Wet Squirrels

I tried unsuccessfully to get a photo of the squirrels today. Torrential rain started before dawn and returned throughout the morning. In the early afternoon, a break in the clouds passed overhead.

Squirrels came onto the deck to feed on fallen maple buds. Their fur was fluffed because of the chill but rainwater clumped it together. Their sodden faces seemed more rat-like than usual and their bellies sported spikes of fur. They looked like a punk band after a rough night.

Unfortunately, they were more skittish than usual, so I didn’t dare move closer to the windows.

Thanksgiving

I’m thankful for truck drivers who drive at a steady pace on the interstate highways, so strings of cars can follow in their tracks through the sloppy snow. I am also thankful for road-graders. But most of all, I am thankful that I survived a white-knuckled drive through a snowstorm and arrived safely at my destination.

Morning in my childhood home.

The whitish area at the top of the shot is ice forming. The darker area is slush. You can see trails through the slush where ducks meandered eastward.

An Invasion of Arachnids

Last week, I killed three spiders in my bedroom and another yesterday. It is now a bedtime routine: I put on my nightshirt, turn on the TV, and prepare for an hour or so of entertainment. Then a familiar shadow moving on the wall or the doorframe, just enough to draw my attention.

Blammo! with a shoe or a tissue box.

I killed a black marauder (not its name; I don’t know what they are) in the bathroom. It was enjoying a siesta on the paper roll when I reached over… That one ended up going on a flume ride.

A delicate cellar spider died in the shower under mysterious circumstances. (Note: “Mysterious circumstances” connotes “a full-blast faucet and a squeamish bather’s feet.”)

Today I surveyed the garden – the delicata are coming along nicely, but the tomatoes are lazy. Afterwards, I hopped in the car to do some errands. And banded garden spider was hitching a ride on my thigh.

Immediately I jumped out of the car and started doing the Get-Off-of-Me Dance, complete with brushing my pantleg and yelling “Get off me!” (Which is rather silly, because spiders don’t understand English; they speak Italian sotto voce, naturally.) The spider bungee-corded into the grass.

After regaining my composure, I opened the car-door and began sliding behind the wheel…. The unwanted passenger had cleverly moved to the inner side of my pantleg.

Gah!

(Flashback: Biggest Brother mercilessly refusing to kill spiders for me. I thought he was Being Mean. In hindsight, he was like the drill sergeant forcing the new recruits to toughen up and face the enemy head-on. It was For My Own Good.)

I think it’s time for chemical warfare. After all, I can sympathize with spiders craving a bath and a nice place to sleep. But hijacking my car? No.

The Sound of Sile… What is that NOISE?

I have to laugh at a couple city-dwelling friends who found out that, with traffic reduced, they can hear NATURE. Usually it’s birdsong, which can be very loud before dawn and at dusk. (I sympathize with the folks near the Detroit Zoo who hear peacocks! Oh, they’re loud and they sound like a child yelling for help. Who wants to wake up to that?)

Because of shifting animal demographics, people living in less-populated areas can be startled by new sounds. An acquaintance discovered that foxes’ calls during the mating season sound like someone is being murdered by a yappy dog. He described it as “SCREEEEAAAAMMMM. Woof-woof. SHREEEIIIIK. Yodel. Woof-woof.”

An early-rising jogger friend-of-a-friend heard a deer screech: “Freaked me right the F out the first time I heard it.” I think he lives in a region with small red deer. Whitetail make a kind of grunting noise that is distinctive but not stress-inducing.

A few days ago, one of the Middle School Mafia decided to incite a disturbance by howling in the backyard. All the dogs in the neighborhood joined in and couldn’t be quieted for a good thirty minutes. Everyone had a laugh except the nightshift neighbors.

As the lockdown lifts, I hope people keep an interest in the sounds of nature.

The New Neighbor

Since the destruction of the birdfeeder, I made a seedpile for the critters and gave up restocking. The usual critters came: grackles and cardinals and silent, stately mourning doves.

Then I spotted something that looked like a field mouse!  A squirrel chased it off during a ruckus with another. When it returned, I recognized it as a chipmunk. I tried several times to capture it on film, but the twitchy little thing kept bobbing its head up and down.

The best I could do was a hastily zoomed-in shot of his profile, complete with seed-stuffed cheeks:

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I kept a close eye on it because, unlike big squirrels, chipmunks have the mouselike ability to exploit tiny openings into human spaces. When we shared an apartment, M’e the Fashionista lost an entire sleeper sofa because the storage area was invaded by chipmunks. They managed not only to disembowel it – stuffing EVERYWHERE –  but filled every nook and cranny with acorns.

Luckily for me, Chip-chip-chipper lives somewhere beyond the fence. He came through while I was sweeping the deck and froze. He stayed frozen while I eyeballed him and snapped a better photo.
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Then I looked away, giving him the opportunity to unfreeze and run away through the hydrangea and under the fence.

 

Survival

I have a favorite little squirrel. It’s rather ugly. This winter it looked so scrawny and its fur so patchy that I thought it was diseased. There’s a big, bald knob on its spine.

It fattened up over the winter – a rare occurrence when most animals are living on their reserves.

Eventually it lingered on the maple tree long enough for me to get a good look. A parchment-colored scar runs along its neck. The fur along its back is thin where other scars run like seams on a badly-patched stuffed animal.

I think it’s the young squirrel that a neighborhood cat attacked and carried off. The cat must have kept it alive to play with it.

It’s still more skittish than other squirrels, but occasionally it feels safe enough to hang by its back feet from the feeder. Or explore the deck, as in the hastily-snapped photo below.

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Inclement Weather Days (aka Wildlife-watching)

Snow, ice and bitter cold meant I spent almost two days with only the briefest of excursions outside. One was to refill the feeders and throw a few handfulls of sunflower seeds on the ground.

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Snow on nose, squirrel looks for food in the storm.

Starlings discovered them the second day.  Ugh, starlings! They arrived in a raucous crowd, bumping each other and the glass sliding door. They left red-orange droppings all over the deck and yard.

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The last of the invaders to leave.

Finally the sun came out and, despite freezing temperatures, melted the snow from the dark pavers.

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Sunny days bring more squirrels.