Al Batt: Black squirrels are really gray squirrels in disguise

PHOTO BY AL BATT Black squirrel or gray squirrel in disguise?

PHOTO BY AL BATT The female cardinal is a beauty. I hope she brings you good luck.
By : 

It was another day in paradise with no normal to the weather. The nice weather had coaxed a raccoon from its winter napping place. Trash pandas have sharp minds and strong paws. 

A window is a lens to the outdoors. It's nature near at hand. Everything is new and different. Every window is unique. John Muir said, “Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world.”

The morning had gathered enough light that I was able to marvel at a handsome white-tailed deer. The buck, with impressive antlers, paid little attention to me as it was watching a coyote trotting past. The coyote paid no attention to either of us. I gloried in the lovely red color of the red-twig dogwood, otherwise known as: red-osier dogwood, red willow, red brush or dogberry tree. Charismatic chickadees attacked a feeder's sunflower seeds. Like any cafe owner, I appreciated the regulars. 

Phil Morreim of Albert Lea had 24 squirrels on the deck of his home. He gets that many because he feeds them well so they'll leave his bird feeders alone. Among this scurry were four black squirrels. Black squirrels are gray squirrels in disguise; a color variation, not a separate species. The color is the result of a genetic mutation that causes excessive pigmentation. They are melanistic, which refers to melanin, a dark pigment. The black fur offers a thermal advantage, enhancing survival during extremely cold winters.

There are eight members of the weasel family in Minnesota — short-tailed weasel, long-tailed weasel, least weasel, American marten, fisher, river otter, badger and mink. I watched a mink lope along. I had a bit of nature awareness available that allowed me to notice the mink and realize that it wasn't wishful seeing. I used a technique I'd learned years ago. I stood motionless with a fixed gaze. I hoped to gain the wide peripheral vision of an owl. Stillness and a wide-angle vision cause motion to become evident. It's not difficult. Imagine you're an owl. Look straight ahead and pretend your eyeballs cannot move in their sockets. Pick a spot directly ahead of you and train your eyes on it. Hold that spot in the center of your vision as your focal point. If your eyes wander, bring them back to your focal point. Always return to that spot. While staring at it, you can see some ground between you and that spot, and some sky between you and that focal point. You can see the ground, the sky, and that spot all at the same time using your peripheral vision. This is called having owl eyes.

An easy way to see things in nature is to look beyond your cellphone.

As winter begins, I had a thought. I have one occasionally. The warblers wintering in warmth are counting the days until they return here.

Echoes from the Loafers' Club Meeting

I can't believe it's 2020. 

Time flies. May all your troubles last only as long as your New Year's resolutions. 

If this is 2020, that means it's been an entire year since I gave up trying to become a better person than I'd been in 2018.

Driving by Bruce's drive

I have a wonderful neighbor, named Bruce. Whenever I pass his drive, thoughts occur to me, such as: Every year, something incredible comes along. It's called Christmas. I want it to stay, but it's like hanging onto smoke. My wife made delicious biscuits, an acini de pepe salad with mandarin oranges and maraschino cherries (no eye of newt), and Swedish pancakes served with lingonberry preserves on Christmas Eve. There aren't any better things to pile into a piehole. I'd acquired a small jar of asparagus pickles. I'm fond of pickles — dill, okra and asparagus are particular favorites. My wife took the asparagus pickles along with her cherished watermelon pickles to a Christmas party I was unable to attend. I worried that the people there would snarf down the asparagus pickles as if there were no tomorrow. That wasn't the case. Each pickle returned just as tall as it had been when it left our abode. Not a single one was eaten. I wasn't unhappy about that. 

I can't sing. I can barely clap, but I can listen to powerful good music like Barenaked Ladies and Sarah McLachlan singing, "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen"/"We Three Kings" as we opened gifts. A gift should warm twice, once when given and again when received.

I took possession of a few pairs of socks. They were new, which means that now some of my socks match. I garnered tasty cashew and almonds. I scored a lovely book. The world lives in the written word. Between family things and work, I read a couple of books at Christmas time. One was about the Harriman Alaska Expedition and the other about the Navajo. I started reading a book by Malcolm Gladwell. I must appreciate his writing as it will be the sixth book of his I've read. I enjoyed reading the recent issue of The New Yorker. I started reading that magazine when I was 17, thanks to the encouragement of a high school librarian named Mrs. King. I don't believe I ever thanked her properly. Shame on me.

My wife and I gathered donated edibles for the local food shelf from the Kiwanis Holiday Lights at Sibley Park in Mankato. We picked up 1,113 pounds of nonperishable foods that more than filled my car. My stuffed vehicle resembled an overly optimistic food truck. Laina Rajala came to our aid. She not only helped loading and unloading the foodstuffs, she transported the overflow from Mankato to the food shelf. Every gift should warm twice. Laina's gift certainly warmed us both.

Thoughts while eating Swedish pancakes

Never say that a day is the worst day of your life. It will give the next day a challenge.

I'm leaving my body to science, but I'm keeping the oil and mineral rights.

Any music with its volume turned off is easy listening.

Nature notes

The temperature was supposed to drop. I think it was likely due to the cold. A little winter snarkiness there. Sorry. The night’s activities are often inscribed in the snow, but the snow had melted or hardened, making clues difficult to find. I picked up trash from the road ditch. Like a crow, I pick up shiny things from the ground. Blue jays had a collective cow as I walked. Jays are known to eat eggs and nestlings of other birds, but in a study of blue jay diets, only 1 percent of jays showed evidence of having eaten eggs or baby birds. The diets of the jays studied were composed of mostly insects and nuts. The oldest known wild blue jay was at least 26 years, 11 months old.

On the subject of studies, researchers discovered that opossums have impressive memories when it comes to food. Opossums were found to be better at remembering food locations than were cats, dogs, pigs, and rats. Any mammal can get rabies, but the chance of finding rabies in an opossum is extremely slim.

A white-tailed buck’s antlers begin growing in April and are fully grown by mid-August. Depending upon the source of the information, his antlers grow one-fourth inch to an inch per day.

A red fox has a white tip to its tail and a gray fox has a black tip to its tail. 

Neighbor stops by

My neighbor Crandall stops by.

"How are you doing?" I ask.

"Everything is nearly copacetic. Once you get past the first day of winter, there are only 300 days of winter left. I'm saving on my fuel bill this year. I bought a heated toilet seat and turned the furnace down."


"How far away should I haul a squirrel I've live trapped to make sure it won't return?"

I don't know. There is a paper, “Movement and Mortality of Translocated Urban-Suburban Grey Squirrels,” published in 2004 by Adams, Hadidian and Flyger, which focused on live-trapped, radio-collared squirrels that were moved from a suburb of Washington, D.C., to a large wooded area. The study found that 97% of the relocated squirrels died or disappeared from the release area within three months. Relocated squirrels have difficulty finding food, water, safe hiding places and shelter. Being dumped in the home range of other squirrels leads to territorial disputes. There are rules and regulations that could apply. It's unlawful to release wildlife on state-owned lands without permission.

"Why do snowy owls fly south in the winter?"

Scientists once believed the owls left because they were starving in the Arctic, having exhausted the supply of their primary prey item, lemmings. However, many of the travelers are relatively healthy and well-fed. Their visits may indicate it was a boom year for the birds and the population was so high they couldn’t all stay in the Arctic. The owls move for food availability or due to population density.

Listen for these current events with your good ear

1. The whistled "fee-bee" song of the black-capped chickadee.

2. The drumming of the downy woodpecker on a resonant surface.

3. The blue jay's pump-handle call.

Meeting adjourned

Measure your words, but be free with compliments. Happy New Year!

Thanks for stopping by

"At some point in life the world's beauty becomes enough. You don't need to photograph, paint or even remember it. It is enough." — Toni Morrison

"The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion." — Thomas Paine

Do good.

© Al Batt 2019