This shot, that I took of a Squirrel in my back yard climbing the pole which housed my platform feeder, is what sent me on my journey of both blogging about wildlife and taking photographs of them. Like most people, photography as a hobby was financially out of reach for me, because of the cost of developing film. With the age of digital cameras it opened glorious doors to anyone with an eye and a camera.
I have always loved Squirrels, and yes I know they are just rats with prettier tails and better PR, but their antics have always amused me, and can always brighten up the most miserable of days. I have a Squirrel feeder on the tree in the front yard, it houses a box which I fill with a special “critter mix” as well as a screw that acts as an anchor for a whole corn cob. While I am working in the yard at the weekend, I will notice the familiar “snap” as the box lid on the feeder shuts after a Squirrel had retrieved a peanut, a piece of corn, or a sunflower seed.
In honor of the fundraiser for The National Wildlife Foundation I will now tell my absolute favorite Squirrel story. When I was in the Royal Navy, my last posting before I left and moved to the US was MHQ Pitreavie, which was the NATO HQ in Scotland and many other things. It was nestled in the grounds of an old Scottish Mansion and surrounded by trees and more importantly wildlife. The view outside my office window was boring, so I recruited a couple of our maintenance lads to construct me several bird feeders so I could enjoy something other than a barbed wire topped fence as I worked.
In short order the feeders were visited by a variety of birds, including Bluetits (a cousin of the Chickadee in the US). Seeing as I enjoyed their antics, I bought a coconut, sawed it in half and hung the two halves from the end of the platform feeder that we had constructed. The Bluetits enjoyed it for a while, but then realized it was too much work when there were easy pickings to be had on the feeders.
At one point a Squirrel arrived (it was a Grey Squirrel, as we had both Grey and Red in the area). The Squirrel took one look at the coconut half and had an expression on its face that screamed “that is the BIGGEST nut I have ever seen, it must be MINE, MINE, ALL MINE!” What followed had both me, and the rest of my staff in the office, completely abandon work for the afternoon so that we could watch the show.
Getting the coconut off the string was a doddle of course, he (or she, but for brevity’s sake we shall say he), simply chewed through the string and let it drop to the grass. At that point he tried several gambits (and I am reminded of the prehistoric Squirrel and his acorn in the Ice Age movies but I assure you this story takes place in 1989). First he tried carrying it with both arms in front of him, but it proved a little too heavy. Then he tried stuffing it under one arm, but it was slightly too large for that and kept slipping out. Then he tried stuffing it under the other arm (obviously thinking that his right arm was perhaps a little larger than his left). Then he began rolling it in front of him using both arms. This worked perfectly until he got it to the base of the tree.
He continued with the pushing it forward with both paws until it became obvious that progress was going to be slow, as the half coconut probably weighed more than he did. He then turned around, grabbed the coconut with his front teeth and tried dragging it up, as he edged backwards up the tree. Invariably he would lose his grip, and the coconut would fall back to the ground, and he would scurry down to retrieve it.
At this point everyone in the office was rooting for the Squirrel the way you root for your favorite sports team. We absolutely wanted him to get that coconut into that tree, so he could sit in peace and feast on its delights. Pretty exhausted, the Squirrel sat at the bottom of the tree and contemplated, he kept looking at the coconut, and then looking at the spot in the tree where he obviously wanted to be.
It was almost as if a light bulb went off over his head. He very carefully rolled the coconut to the base of the tree with his back legs, and then very, very gingerly, he began backing up the tree, the coconut gripped in between his very strong back legs. Using his front legs and his teeth he inched up the tree. Occasionally he would stop and catch his breath, obviously exhausted.
The office staff stood at the window in wonder and were cheering him on, quietly of course as we did not want to spook him. Inch by inch he went up the tree, his back paws with a death grip on the coconut. Five O’clock arrived and we knew we had to go and catch the bus back to base for the evening but none of us wanted to leave. We decided, that if necessary, those of the staff with cars would give everyone who normally took the bus a ride back to HMS Cochrane. The Squirrel inched up the tree. It became almost painful for the audience, as every muscle in our bodies were joining in this epic battle between Squirrel and coconut.
Dusk began to fall and the Squirrel continued up the tree. He eventually managed to shove the coconut into a intersection of branches, and he could let his back legs have a rest, you could see his chest heaving and falling as he caught his breath, and his mouth open as he panted. At that point he carefully turned around and nudged the coconut at little further into the intersection until it plopped neatly into a hollow within the branches. The office cheered, not quietly this time, full throated cheers, in celebration at the utter steadfastness, and sheer audacity of the Squirrel.
He hopped up beside his prize and turned it right side up. He then stuck his face into it and began eating the meat from the coconut, gnawing out chunks and then holding them between his tiny paws and savoring its goodness.
The office staff left, and I stood, as dark fell watching the Squirrel enjoying his meal. I am sure he enjoyed the feast, but I never put out another coconut. I decided that the Squirrels should stick to sunflower seeds and peanuts. I just couldn’t put him through that again. It seemed almost cruel. While I marveled at his ingenuity, his determination, and his sheer stamina, I figured that he probably expended about four times the calories in obtaining the coconut that he actually gained by eating it, and the dead of winter that could be the difference between life and death.
Shortly after that I installed a feeder that was full of just peanuts. It seemed the best thing to do. I will never forget that Squirrel. #squirrels4good