Roll Up Kids… We’re Headed To The Woods!

The morning following Mama Squirrel’s strange behavior, both FD and I had missed seeing if or when she left her nest. It was common for us to see her head for the woods between 6:45 and 7:00 each morning, but I did not think much about it that particular morning. As much as I tried to keep watch for Daisy deer’s arrival over the years, there were simply times I missed seeing her at the corn feeder or water tub down below the slope, usually when I got tied up with other work. Lately, I had been tending to baby chicks first thing each morning and,  from there, got hooked up with whatever project presented itself for the day.

Around mid morning, I thought about Mama Squirrel’s five babies and headed over to the squirrel tree just south of the house to check on them. I needed to shuck my boots on the back porch before going into the house anyway, as they had a thick layer of mud on them. As I walked to the back of the house, I marveled at the work FD had done thus far in building a new pool fence. He only had a few remaining steel poles to set and then we could purchase the wood and get the rails up, finishing off with some beautiful cedar pickets. I hated how taking the old fence down had made traveling to the woods much tougher on the squirrels. Squirrels use trees, shrubs, fences and yard ornaments to aid in protection from predators, both in the air and on the ground. Most of the orphaned squirrels we had raised, used the old fence for protection while traveling to the trees from our house. Slinking around the pool was also a security measure. Now, without the presence of the fence, Mama Squirrel had to make a mad dash between trees to get to the woods. It was a big risk with Ms. Foxy always hanging about and looking for an easy dinner.

Baby Squirrel_4998

Sure enough, as I approached the nesting tree I saw one little squirrel perched at the entrance hole looking out. It appeared to be watching something. I looked further out to see what might have this little critter’s attention. There was Mama Squirrel running to the woods with something big and brown in her mouth. It only took a couple of seconds for what I was seeing to hit me – she had a baby in her mouth! It looked like a rolled up fur ball! Unfortunately, it was too late to get the camera by the time I realized what she was up to, and I knew I had to try to see where she was going! Down the slope I ran, staying parallel but keeping some distance from her so I would not interfere. I tried to keep my eyes on her, but with her coloring and the ground being much the same color, plus tall weeds keeping her well hidden, it was very difficult to follow her. As I reached Daisy’s tall clover patch in the “bowl” area of the bottom land, I realized I had lost sight of Mama Squirrel. So, I did what I learned to do long ago while sitting quietly in the woods with my camera. I stopped and stood still, using “splatter vision” or peripheral vision – staring into the distance, but using my peripheral vision to spot any movement around me. It worked! She had just run past the burn pile and was headed to an area where she would cross the path I used for the electric buggy. I wouldn’t bother her taking the lower route down the buggy path, and it would keep me from having to follow her through the tall vegetation. As I rounded the curve heading up the buggy path, there she was! She quickly jumped to a large, old elm tree, and I watched her carry that rolled up baby all the way up to the top of the tree without stopping. My eyes only caught a blur of brown and the swish of a tail as she dove into an old woodpecker hole in the top of the tree. As I looked up and around, I spotted another baby squirrel poking out the top of a big limb on the other side of the old elm. Hoping to catch sight of the mama heading back out, I waited in the shade of the woodlands, just a short distance from the elm tree. I wondered if she would come out of the same hole or if there were other exits. While scanning the tree, I saw two more of her babies peering from a different woodpecker hole at the very top of the tree! So here were three babies plus the one she just delivered! No wonder we missed seeing Mama set out early this morning! She had been very busy moving her kids. Was there one more hiding in the elm that I couldn’t see, or was there still one back at the tree south of the house?

One baby peeping out of a knot hole.
One baby peeping out of a knot hole.
These two watched from high above, using an old woodpecker hole as a lookout.
These two watched from high above, using an old woodpecker hole as a lookout.

I decided if there was one baby left in the nest, my best chances of photographing the move would be to camp out at the house and wait for Mama Squirrel to come back for it. I climbed up the slope towards our house and quickly spotted one wee baby squirrel keeping watch from the nesting tree. As I sat in the grass nearby, and waited… and waited… and waited some more, I wondered how it must feel for this last little squirrel being all alone for the first time in its life. Did it wonder about its mother and siblings? Did waiting bother it?  Did it think about anything, like we humans tend to do? I moved positions a half-dozen times while I pondered these questions. I was hot. The buffalo gnats were irritating the hell out of me. Where WAS Mama Squirrel? The old Eeyore in me really got busy with negative thoughts… what if Mama Squirrel waited until closer to sunset to move the last one? Had she spotted me and was waiting for me to leave? Sunset was hours away. I had things to do… and then I laughed because I was accountable only to myself for the day. Photographing a squirrel moving her baby was much more important. And, how many people were lucky enough to actually photograph such an event? The baby squirrel disappeared into the hole. It was probably taking a nap, but I did not have that luxury. Someone had to stay alert for Mama Squirrel to come back, as it was my only chance to photograph the move. An hour and forty minutes went by while I sat in the miserable heat. Thankfully, Mama Squirrel finally returned!

 

Mama Squirrel is always very cautious about approaching her nest tree. She has spotted me and takes a long time before deciding it is safe to proceed to her baby.
Mama Squirrel is always very cautious about approaching her nest tree. She has spotted me and takes a long time before deciding it is safe to proceed to her baby.
Baby waits for Mama Squirrel.
Baby waits for Mama Squirrel.
Mama Squirrel checks on her baby and coaxes it to come with her.
Mama Squirrel checks on her baby and coaxes it to come with her.
Uh oh, there's that pesky photographer again!
Uh oh, there’s that pesky photographer again!
Mama Squirrel (lower left tree crotch) coaxes her baby down (upper right near roof).
Mama Squirrel (lower left tree crotch) coaxes her baby down (upper right near roof).
Just follow me!
Just follow me!
I'm scared Mama.
But I’m scared, Mama!
What are you lookin at Mama?
Whatcha lookin’ at Mama?
Follow me...C'mon, you can do it!
Follow me…C’mon, you can do it!
Mama I CAN'T! I'm scared!
Mama I CAN’T! I’m scared!
Ok! Roll up and I'll take you!
Ok! Roll up and I’ll take you!
Hang on tight!!!
Hang on tight!!!
Now the dangerous part... the fox is always lurking!
Now the dangerous part… the fox is always lurking!
Use the shadows to hide and camouflage!
Use the shadows to hide and camouflage!
Mama! My feet are slipping!!
Mama! My feet are slipping!! (Click photo to see larger view)
Final destination! Up to the tree top!
Final destination! Up to the tree top!

As I looked back over my photographs and culled out the blurry ones, I was a bit disappointed that I only had a few decent photos to show for more than two hours worth of work, but I was still happy to have the photographs that I had. Wildlife photography “on the move” is never easy. Each time I sit in the woods, I learn more about patience. And, I have gotten very good at practicing my “splatter vision” while I’m watching for Ms. Foxy or some of Daisy’s herd to come along. I hope some day I will be content to sit for hours and not be bothered by insects or reptiles. Maybe I will always be prepared with the right clothing. Perhaps the heat and bitter cold will not be a constant bother. With each outing, I understand what I have yet to learn, and I think about how I can do something different the next time.

I returned to the big, old elm tree two days later and found three of the baby squirrels doing what squirrels do… playing, eating and resting. I have returned several times since, but I have not spotted any of the squirrel family. I am quite sure Mama Squirrel has already shown them the ropes of starting the day early, learning to leap from branch to branch and make daredevil jumps through the air. She has likely led them to tasty foraging spots throughout the woods. She has probably had to fight off other squirrels and in doing so, and taught her little ones how to defend themselves. Soon, they will learn the calls and chortles of communication in the woodlands. And I bet for a few weeks yet, they will all come back to the big elm tree, to take afternoon naps in their own little knots holes, and return again just before sunset for bedtime. And very soon, when they gain the skills and confidence Mama Squirrel is teaching them, they will each venture out to find their own niche in Daisy’s great woodlands.Baby Squirrels_5105 Baby Squirrels_5110 Baby Squirrels_5116

© 2016 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…


51 thoughts on “Roll Up Kids… We’re Headed To The Woods!

  1. Well you have done it again!! What a heartwarming and thought provoking piece! I too have enjoyed watching the mother squirrel with her young one here and have learned so much from observing their interaction and from you! Thank you so much for sharing the trials and tribulations of humans and wildlife!

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    1. Well, Yetta, if it wasn’t for that photograph you took at Saratoga I wouldn’t have known how mama squirrels carry their young. It isn’t often I take the time to observe squirrels in the woods, and this week the horrid mosquitoes have emerged. It’s just miserable down in the canyon! So the timing on Mama Squirrel moving her little ones was perfect for me… or rather my comfort level! Ha ha. I’m still dreaming of that zoom lens we talked about. Right now our money is going towards putting in a storm shelter. 🙂

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  2. What a gorgeous story, and so well illustrated with your photos and I love the title. I’m in awe. If you don’t mind me saying, your writing gets better all the time Lori, not that it was ever bad! You really know how to tell the story. I am riveted once I start reading! Those squirrels are just the cutest and I feel so privileged to have seen such a unique event. Thank you so much for sweating it out with those insects!

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    1. Thank you, Ardys! Gosh, your lovely comment made “sweating it out” and battling buffalo gnats (not to mention my Eeyore thoughts) worth it! Your words mean so much to me… such a confidence builder. I too, felt very privileged that Mama Squirrel made the event possible. Sometimes I feel like the luckiest girl – to live on this little piece of land and have so many unusual experiences with the wild things. Everywhere I go, there is something to observe and learn from nature. 🙂

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  3. Wow! What amazing photos you were able to capture!! I feed squirrels at lunchtime everyday, they are so cute. As they become more comfortable with me they will come right up to me. I always know when there are newbies around as they are skittish, but after awhile when they realize I won’t hurt them they trust me. I am so grateful that you shared this story and your photos, and I’m grateful for your patience!! Just fantastic. 🙂

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    1. Thank you, Deb. Your observations are quite correct! Squirrels are very skittish, and it takes them time to feel comfortable and trust. When we raise orphaned squirrels, we use a soft release method since we live on the edge of the woods. That way when they are ready venture out, they may do so a little at a time at their own comfort level. It is the same with human contact. It doesn’t take long for them to trust the “food” lady and feel safe around you. And, it may sound silly, but I believe animals read our energy. I believe they know when we have good intentions. 🙂

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      1. Oh I believe they feel our vibrations too. It’s so funny because I feed them at an office building and they come right up to the glass doors, sit in their hind legs tilt their head and look up the stairs at me, waiting for me to come down with their peanuts. Some of the really comfortable ones will approach my car once I park it. But you can always tell when there’s been a change in squirrels by their fear level. Have a beautiful day on the farm!! 😊

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          1. Thank you, the sun is out here too! I’m so glad the name piqued your interest, that was my hope when creating it. See you soon. 😊

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  4. I watched a mama squirrel move her nest from our neighbors tree to an oak tree in our back yard. What drew my attention to what I was seeing was the unusual ‘knot’ about her neck which, of course, turned out to be one of her youngsters. When she was in the process of moving the 3rd one, she paused in our drive way and lay there flat on her stomach, just panting away for several minutes. As soon as she had rested up she was up again running to the oak and on up. It was the first time I had ever witnessed a squirrel moving her nest. It was was quite a sight to see and witness. I felt very privileged to be able to see this part of nature in action.

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    1. Isn’t it great, Donnie? What you described about her laying flat (I see them do that a lot resting in the trees) and taking a break from lugging those kids around was probably the reason Mama Squirrel took so long to come back and fetch the last kid. I can’t imagine how heavy they were at about 10 or 11 weeks old, and she did not stop once while traveling to the elm tree! It wasn’t just a short distance either! If she started out at 7:00 and it was 2:30 by the time she finished up transporting, that had to be one long day for Mama. Like you, I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to observe and photograph this beautiful and fascinating event. Thank you for sharing your experience. 🙂

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  5. Oh that was just perfect – I have never seen anything like it and thank you for naming that peripheral vision we use. – splatter vision – excellent. These were truly wonderful shots – thank you! c

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    1. It was my first time seeing a mother squirrel move her babies and it was fascinating! I have no doubt if I could just camp out in the woods day after day, I might see many events and actions that I never knew existed or took place! I am not sure how humans know how animals see, but I have read that “splatter vision” is how wild critters see. It certainly explains how Daisy manages to see something in the distance that I often have difficulty spotting, until I use my peripheral vision. While star gazing one evening at a friend’s house who has a large portable telescope, I was having difficulty seeing the Pleiades star cluster. Finally, I tried using the same peripheral vision technique only I believe it was referred to as “averted vision” by our star gazer friend. Finally, I could see the cluster clearly! I use this technique quite a bit on my hikes to the river. I see a lot more wildlife that way, rather than looking directly ahead.I bet you have to use splatter vision when Sheila or Tima and Tane take off rummaging through the harvested fields. Of course, big movement like that might be easy to spot anyway!! ha ha! 😀

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  6. Lori the photos are excellent in my eyes. They could not be much better. Great documentation as usual and the captions are so cute. Squirrels are smart and really are diligent workers. I loved the story and I’m glad you had the patience to watch and photograph the marvels of nature. As usual, I very much, enjoy your nature tales/tails. 🙂

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  7. Lori, I’ve seen cats do this when I was a child, but never squirrels. It makes sense that from time to time wild creatures will be faced with a move too. How fun that you made the effort to catch it all in photographs. Thanks, Lori!

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    1. Lynda, I just get lucky most of the time when I spot these types of activities going on. If I wasn’t outdoors so much of the time I would miss so many things happening. I’m in my element when I’m working outdoors. There’s no better place to be! 🙂

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  8. Bravo for your patience, which was so well rewarded. I was surprised that the mother could carry her babies, they’re so big. What a great series of photos. How is Daisy and yourself ? Xxxx

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    1. Hello Henri! I agree with you, that must have been quite laborious for Mama Squirrel to carry every one of those kids. At 11 weeks old, they’re quite large. I have only this past week managed a few photos of Daisy. She’s well, and has now separated herself from her friends – a sign that she’s readying her nursery area (wherever that will be but I suspect somewhere nearby). She’s already got a big belly and she’s eating like a machine! I’ll try to post some photos of her by next week. She’s still just as friendly as ever! 🙂

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    1. I do not like the fox, but she has a right to be here too. I’ve seen her (and another female fox) do too much killing in the last couple of years – I wish she would move on to another area. I do notice she goes into town in the night – likely feasting on dog and cat food left outside. She also eats deer feed, especially enjoying the fruity deer kibbles we put in the feed for Daisy deer.

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  9. More exciting than any cliffhanger TV program. Living side by side with nature makes us more aware and in touch with our inner humanity. Lovely post 🙂

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    1. Well, that’s a mighty nice compliment, Fran. What I write is my experience – what I see, feel and what I’m thinking. I am glad the squirrel move occurred when it did… the woodlands have been taken over by a huge mass of mosquitoes and I have seen a few snakes. I’m not likely to be camping around down there with my camera – unless it involves Daisydeer. 😀

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  10. This was such an endearing post — I read it three or four times, and was fascinated by those photos of the mama carrying her babies. I’ve never thought of squirrels doing that, but now I remember that two years in a row a mother raccoon brought her babies for me to see — and she had to carry them up a tree to my second floor balcony! Anyone who says behavior like that is only instinct — well, I’m just not sure about that.

    It certainly gives “head ’em up, move ’em out” a whole new meaning!

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    1. Thank you for sharing that interesting story! Was it a raccoon you were familiar with? I wonder why she did that? Mama Squirrel was trying to be secretive, but I was bound and determined to know where she was taking them. I felt so much better knowing they were in that most excellent elm tree – so many hidey holes and such a huge place to play safe from predators. And the fact that its limbs grew into other tree limbs made for a super highway into the woodlands. Such a clever mother to have scoped that out for her large family. The more I see of nature, the more I admire these tough and yet gentle mothers.

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    1. Ha ha! I knew you would like it. Now I’ll be on to some new adventure – I’ve been back to the elm several times and I never seem to see any activity. It will be difficult to spot them now with all of the leaves out and the woods so dark. And there’s the problem of mosquitoes… they make even a walk down the path a complete misery!

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  11. Another brilliant post Lori, and I’m so glad the tale (no pun intended) ended so happily 🙂 And your patience was well rewarded, I think the photos of Mama squirrel carrying her last baby to safety are absolutely amazing! I would never have believed that a squirrel could carry something that big.

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    1. Andy, I have a friend who recently managed some great photos of a mama squirrel carrying a baby in this rolled up manner – it was the first time I’d ever seen that activity. So when I saw the hairy ball in Mama Squirrel’s mouth I knew immediately what it was. I had not seen my friend’s photos maybe a month ago. Funny how I was educated at just the right time! 😀

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  12. I love it when the the episodes are back to back and I don’t have to wait too long.
    The first squirrel pix is wonderful with the detail/texture of the fur showing so well.
    I’ve never seen a rolled up baby being moved before – mostly scampers along fences and flings among branches ( with a close call of an almost fall. Whew)
    Look. These 2 posts are your children’s book – or just use the last one called “Mama Squirrels’s Moving Day” . Seriously rare photos and people of all ages would love this! You have all the necessary work done: plot structure – the conflicts – the emotions shown – the characters. Would certainly be a marvelous book
    And thanks for braving the itches and bitesy bugs! So worth it

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    1. You are right of course. I wish I wasn’t so overwhelmed by what it would take to self publish. I think about what is legally involved… and maybe it’s not that big of a deal. Maybe I make a mountain out of a mole hill and talk myself out of a book. I need to check on Amazon and see about doing a simple children’s book. Thank you for your encouragement. What a wonderful fan you’ve been all along. 🙂

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        1. I’ve often thought that writing children’s books using my wildlife photos and stories would serve a wonderful purpose for instilling mindfulness about nature and our environment. It would also be helpful in learning to follow instinct (inner gut feelings and alerts), and also consider totem character qualities. There’s really so much to learn. I sure glean a lot from observation and doing a little research each time I write. I’d love to pass that information on. 🙂

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          1. HAve you considered nature magazines for kids like Ranger Rick ( submission guidelines either on line or at library in books about writing and selling books/stories for children. Amazon has paperbacks…and there’s a childrens’ writing/author organization you can investigate in order to get the latest opportunities. It’s a niche you could easily fill – a good way to get started if a book is too intimidating)

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  13. Oh my gosh, what an adventure! Your photos are wonderful, and I’m so glad you captured the babies peeking out of the woodpecker holes. Great job, Lori!

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  14. Big Sister~ that was a FABulous post! I love the fact that you waited mama squirrel out, in the heat, with those terrible gnats, lol! It was all worth it, you have amazing photos to show for it! I’ve learned so many interesting facts about wildlife from your posts, and what’s really awesome, is having the pleasure of experiencing some of that each time we visit you in person. Love the story and the photos!!!

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    1. Thank you, Jules. Yes, I am quite sure you enjoy sitting on our squirrel-eaten patio chair cushions, and you just love when we’re visiting or cooking together and I see Daisy arrive and I just dash off! There is never a dull moment here… and I’m happy you and your family come to visit often. Em and Sid seem to share the love of nature and critters. 🙂 If it weren’t for those pesky mosquitoes and insects we could be camping in the woods!

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  15. Hi Lori, I have enjoyed reading your most recent posts about the squirrel family. I was impressed that the mother squirrel was able to climb to the top of the big elm carrying her youngster – what strength and determination! It seems male squirrels have it easy – no family responsibilities.

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    1. Margaret, I too was amazed at Mama Squirrel! Those kids were fairly large for her to move like that. But, squirrels are very timid until they are familiar in their surroundings and these little ones had never been off that tree, and possibly only around the entry area of the nest. I imagine she had to carry all five of them in that manner! And yes, there are many “males” of various species of wildlife that do not assist in rearing the young. Sometimes I wonder if that’s such a bad thing anyway! ha ha! 😀

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  16. What great documentation of the squirrel family, Lori! I really admire your dedication and persistence in getting so many photos to show us this fascinating event. I’m amazed that she carried the little ones the way she did…very cool!

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