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.
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?
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!
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.
© 2016 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…