KINDA LIKE A VERY SMALL AND FURRY CREATURE

Kinda like a tiny little chipmunk

As I was watching the coffee brew, I watched our “least Chipmunk” skittle up our deck and jump onto the feeder. As her little cheeks got stuffed with seeds, she would run off to feed her babies, wherever they may be. She was back and forth for about and hour and between her travels, I got a few nice — square — pictures.

KINDA LIKE BIRDS OF MANY FEATHERS

Kinda like Birds of Many Feathers

I have to admit, I have taken a lot of pictures of birds. i know this because when i look for pictures — any kind of pictures — the page is dominated by photographs of birds. I hadn’t realized I’d become so obsessive about taking birdy pictures, but the evidence is hard to ignore.

That for the past 7 months we have rarely left this property probably has a lot to do with it. The birds — and associated other small wildlife — are the only interesting things to take pictures of.

STRANGE OUTCOMES FROM THIS STRANGEST YEAR

Who knew that  2020 would be a wretched excuse for a year? The climate is collapsing. Half of the U.S. is burning down, another quarter is flooded … and we up here in the northeast are 10 inches low on rain. That is a lot of missing rain. Considering that we all live on wells — there is no “city water” here — we are at the point of fearing lest our wells dry up. Meanwhile, all over the world there is a slow-moving but lethal pandemic. It’s not speedy as the 1918-1919 flu epidemic was. It’s probably not going to kill half a million people, but it’s doing pretty well. Europe is beginning to see a resurgence. The rebound that everyone expected seems to be inching up on us. The U.S. has exceeded 200,000 dead as of today, which is the first day of the Autumnal Equinox. We aren’t into our “second wave” because no one is sure we’ve entirely gotten past our first wave.

The economy is in tatters pretty much everywhere and there has been an international rise of nationalism. Trump is the worst, but Boris Johnson isn’t far behind. Why is it that when the world is at its most fragile, the autocrats and dictators seem to crawl out of every corner. And for even more obscure reason, we (and I don’t mean me or you, but “we” in a far more general sense) seem to accept this as normal. Maybe not initially, but ultimately we get tired of fighting the battle to be free.

Are we free? When was the last time you felt a real sense of freedom? I’m 73 and I’ve been buried under financial, emotional, legal, and child-rearing issues for my entire life. I have cooked every night and am still mostly cooking. I’m worn thin. Yet between my feelings of loss for the world that used to be normal and my very real sense of despair that we are losing the wilds and even our weather, I have weird periods of optimism. Garry says he has this feeling he never loses that ‘something wonderful is going to happen.’ He doesn’t know what it will be, but something.

Today I learned that the prices of houses in this area have gone up by nearly 20% since last year. Why? Because people want to get out of the city, get out of the crowded suburbs. Get out of there little plots of lawn and garage and move to someplace where there’s room between them and their neighbors. In other words, here. It turns out that living in the boonies, which no one wanted 20 years ago is now what everyone wants. Houses just like this one are selling like well, hotcakes. I’ve always wondered where hotcakes are selling so well, but that is a question I’ll never get answered.

Photo: Garry Armstrong – Our house in winter

The problem is I don’t want to leave the neighborhood. For all the problems of living in a small town with too little business and far too few facilities, I love the wildness of it. I love fresh corn and the friendly cows and goats and horses. What I really want is the same house I live in, but flat. Without stairs. I’m not sure that this is a viable option, but not having those stairs to haul myself up — and Garry’s getting to the “hauling” stage himself — would make life so much easier for both of us. And I don’t want to lose my woods and my birds and my squirrels. Even though there are many repairs this house needs, it is still saleable now that we’ve installed a new boiler. The other things it needs are basically small, but that was a biggie.

The house today

 

So for all the terrible things that happen, some little piece of good happens too. It’s not a big thing. Not something ‘wonderful,’ but not bad either. It’s nice to be in the black (not racist, just bookkeeping) for a change. I’m not sure what we will do. My best guess is that we will stay here because we don’t want to leave the area and maybe getting a better chair lift would solve the problem. The idea of moving is terrifying anyway. I remember when we moved here thinking they will have to bury me here because I’m never moving again.

I guess we’ll see if that turns out for be true.

LIVING THROUGH A DROUGHT

It hasn’t rained in weeks and it has been very hot. The trees are dropping green leaves which is a very unhealthy sign for the trees. It means that the roots are dying and many of these trees will die and not come back in the spring. The forsythia are turning brown. The rivers are so low the fish are dying. The herons have flown to deeper rivers. I try not to worry about water and our well. It’s a deep well and anyway, worrying about it isn’t going to make it rain. Maybe we need to organize a special dance?

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The entire state of Massachusetts currently holds a status of extreme or severe drought. We’ve had less than 5 inches of rain here in central Massachusetts. Areas around Boston and northward into New Hampshire have had an inch less … around 3.75 inches. That’s very little water. Dangerously little water.

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If you’d like to see an interactive “drought map,” here is a LINK. Other states in New England are also dry, but as far as I can tell, Massachusetts is overall, the most dry, although there are areas of New Hampshire, Maine, and New York which are also very hard hit.

For inexplicable reasons, the river has more water in it than it did last year at this time. Maybe whoever controls the water locally decided to give our fish, fowl, and other wildlife a chance to survive. Last year, they had nowhere to nest, and pretty much no food in the dry ponds and rivers.

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I love the river and I miss the birds. I haven’t seen a goose, a heron, a swan, or even a duck this entire summer. Of course, we haven’t been out much, but we do hear about it on the news and they’ve been taking a lot of pictures of dried out rivers all over the state.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

We’re burning up. As I see the first tenth tropical storm of the year heading for Florida, I can’t help but hope it stays a mere storm and brings its precipitation up our way. We really need water.

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There is, I might add, nothing more futile and frustrating than worrying about the lack of rain. You can’t do anything about it. Nothing. We have zero control over weather. Fretting about that over which we have no control is mind-destroying and considering the rest of our  worries, adding one more doesn’t seem sensible … but it’s hard to not worry.

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Nonetheless, I worry about the well. And the aquifer. I have nightmares about drought. Because if our well goes dry, we have no other water source. Neither do our neighbors.

HANGING OUT WITH THE SQUIRRELS

Orange Cardinals? Blue Jays with white crests? How about some normal squirrels just hanging on the feeder. They have a definite and very specific fondness for black sunflower seeds. So do the flying squirrels. As do the raccoons. Not surprisingly, I have to fill that feeder twice as often as the other one.

Just hanging out
He’s flirting with me
Peek-a-boo?
More munching

DEATH OF THE LAST BIG BIRDFEEDER – Marilyn Armstrong

When Owen came upstairs this morning, he looked out the window and realized the birdfeeder was missing. It’s a very big feeder and (used to) hold almost 20 pounds of seeds. We had the feeders down for a few weeks and only put them back a couple of days ago.

Not only was the feeder gone, but the bracket that held it was torn off the oak stanchion, We didn’t have the camera up, but it had to be a big racoon … or a bear. We do have bears, but so far, they haven’t bothered us. And they won’t bother us … unless we keep feeding them. They apparently habituate quickly and lose their fear of people in a hurry. These are black bears, the smallest of North American bears … but even a small bear is a lot stronger than a person.

Whatever took the feeder down was strong. I hope it was a racoon. I’m not ready to deal with bears. Both raccoons and bears not only tear down feeders, but frequently steal them entirely, tucking them under their arms and taking them home to the nest..

Aw, c’mon! That’s not fair! Feeders are not cheap!

Owen found ours on the ground. It’s pretty bent up, but at least the bracket is in one piece and he can probably straighten out the rest of it, more or less. I don’t think the birds will care if it’s bent. I’m not sure what else to do, but I’m thinking of just tossing seed to the ground and let everyone have a go at it without having to climb onto the deck.That would minimize photography, but I’ve gone through four feeders this season … and it’s only the end of June.

Raccoons are not true hibernators, but grown ones store up fat so that they can sleep through most of the winter. The problem is, our weather is getting warmer. Will winter be cold enough for bears to hibernate? Or will they be coming after the feeders and trash cans all through the year?

Sketchy Goldfinches

So, for now, since we have a lot of feed, we will put it on the ground below the deck. Everything can eat without climbing the deck. Bears are big and strong. If the Duke goes after a bear, it will not go well for the Duke.

I’ve run of money. I can’t afford more feeders. I’m worried it might have been a bear because so many have been seen locally. Bears also mean finding secure places to store trash cans. Bears can break into sheds, or for that matter, houses.With such warm winters, even a hibernating bear might not sleep soundly and come out for a midnight snack. 

AT LEAST IT’S A CHIPMUNK – Marilyn Armstrong

He is a chipmunk, but he’s a tiny little thing, maybe the size of the palm of my hand. He always comes alone, and if there are no birds or squirrels (or photographing people) around, he looks for fallen seeds on the deck. In fact, he is a “Least Chipmunk,” a rather miniaturized version of the big guys.

First I thought he was a baby, but he is the same size he was in February.

A least chipmunk
More seeds and I’m so hungry
He’s watching me doing his portrait

The last two times he visited, he somehow managed to get up onto the feeder. The big chipmunks seems to have disappeared. Possibly eaten by bigger predators? The big ones make a proper dinner, but this little guy is hardly worth the effort.

Portrait of a tiny chipmunk

Related to squirrels, flying squirrels, and chipmunks, he’s like a miniature version of a normal chipmunk.

Good meal, wasn’t it?

He sees me taking pictures. He watches me while he eats. When he fills his mouth pouches with seeds, he quickly leaves. He has figured out that I’m not a predator, but you never know about those birds!

Just think for a moment what a LONG trip it is for this tiny guy. He has to climb from the ground up the rail of the deck — at least 20 feet. Then he found his way onto the deck, then up the rail. Finally, he climbed the center rail and finally, finds a place on the feeder.

THE NIGHT OF APRIL 25TH – Marilyn Armstrong

On top of the feeder and in the air – Flying Squirrels

The flying squirrels were super active last night. Flying and feeding, closing the “wings.” They were all over the feeders until the raccoons showed up and took over. You can actually see the squirrels body in the big wings and he is definitely ON TOP!

Two Flyers, with probably more in back and on the other feeder
On the march! Foof awaits … but not much

FLYING GLIDING UP IN THE AIR SQUIRRELS – Marilyn Armstrong

SQUARING THE FLYING GLIDERS

Sorry. I just wasn’t feeling inspired today. So I’m posting my favorites and most popular from the past few weeks. I’ve been writing a lot and every now and then, it’s hard to find something to say I haven’t already said.

I spent hours last night — like three of them — searching the online world for birdseed that I thought our birds will eat. There is cheaper food, but the birds don’t eat it. They literally toss it aside to get to the better stuff. Everything is backed up for weeks and in a lot of cases, months. I finally found some things on Chewy, so assuming it arrives on a reasonable schedule, the buffet lives.

And here are today’s squares. They are flying and gliding squirrels in the light of the moon. In some, you can see their big shining eyes.

Past lives and the full moon
You can see how tiny the squirrel really is when his wings are folded … and those shining eyes
A glider and a feeder by the light of the full moon
Sketching the squirrel
Duochrome flyer on the feeder

MORE FLYING SQUIRRELS, SOME OF WHICH ARE GLIDING – Marilyn Armstrong

Many of these pictures are squares, but some are not. I hope you will forgive me, but some pictures just couldn’t fit into a square and they deserved to be grouped.

GLIDING AND LANDING FLYING SQUIRRELS!

I actually got something like form and almost details on the squirrels this time around. The camera took its usual 1020 pictures, about 650 of which showed nothing but a moving feeder or such a tiny bit of squirrel it wasn’t worth processing.

In the end, I got 250 pictures of flying squirrels and another 200 pictures of raccoons. I don’t know why I got better pictures this time, but amazingly I did.

And yes, I am going to show them to you.

I thought this was a neat way to really show the shape of the squirrel (square!)

Above, three squares, three not-squares


It does take me an awfully long to process the pictures. The quality isn’t very good and my goal is to try and extract quality when it’s essentially invisible. Even though I didn’t personally push the shutter on the camera, I did a lot of work on the pictures and figure I’m allowed to affix my name.

You can see the wings and the squirrel! Cool, isn’t it. (Another square)

But, it is a camera trap. If I wasn’t afraid of what the rain and wind might do to my better cameras — which are technically waterproof but I’m not sure exactly HOW waterproof — I’d try to do them with my better camera and lenses.

I’m not that trusting. The wind could blow the tripod over. A raccoon could come and investigate the camera and do strange and terrible things with his tiny little hands. So for now, I’ll just pass and use the cheap but waterproof trail camera.

And in honor of Earth Day, I will feed my animals until I can’t get seed for them anymore. These little squirrels eat a LOT of seed every night … pounds of it! Soon, their favorite seeds will be unavailable and they will have to make do on less yummy treats. I’m sure they will manage to adapt. I’m not sure, but I think I now have dozens of them gliding home every night.

BESIEGED BY FLYING SQUIRRELS – Marilyn Armstrong

In the midst of the madness, the flying squirrels come every night and eat at least four or five pounds of birdseed. That’s approximately 2 kilos.

You can almost see the whole squirrel!

We’ve stopped filling the feeder every night because there’s food in the forest and they don’t really need to dine at our place every night, but apparently, our food is tastier.

A few nights ago, the overnight camera went wild and took another 1020 pictures, about 800 of which were squirrels you couldn’t see because they were on the back end of the feeder. Or the amount of squirrel you could see was so small, it really wasn’t worth processing.

It has taken me several days to go through all of those pictures and weed out a few more than 800 of them. I should probably dump another hundred and fifty because I doubt I’ll ever process them. These are the best of the bunch.