Red Squirrel

A stroll down a suburban alley reveals remarkable wildlife.

The sun rises laboriously in September, battling the recent chilly mornings along with the multitude of goosebumped commuters.  I relish in the new brisk temperatures–drawing the fresh air through my nose like a milkshake through a straw.  Without any morning commitments, I go for a leisurely walk to the mailbox via the alley behind my apartment.  The alley is normally a busy place in the morning as three apartment buildings empty of residents on their way to work, but this is apparently a window of calmness.

The old catalpa tree just behind the apartment is still green but the leaves look tired and worn from the long hot summer and have helped to produce green pencil-width bean pods, some as long as my forearm.  Through fall and winter they’ll dry and turn brown then open to spill their beans–maybe I’ll collect some pods to spread the beans elsewhere as the flowering trees are just spectacular.

Further along a thin strip between a fence and the alley grows up with ragweed and goldenrod.  The ragweed flowers are a pale and unimpressive green compared to the splendid yellows of the goldenrod.  A few thistles present their spiky heads though some are a tattered mess of down.  I look closer at a spiky stem and notice a kissing bug snacking on a moth.  The kissing bugs (Triatoma sp.) live up to their name by biting sleeping humans near the soft skin of the lips–an apparently painful bite that itches and swells.  This particular species mimics a poisonous relative, the milkweed bug, with red bands on its black body.  They are carnivorous and use their proboscis to pump digestive juices into their victim and then suck them dry.

The strip of goldenrod ends in a grassy edge along the fence where one homeowner diligently mows.  I wish it could be forgotten so that more wildflowers would have the chance to grow here.  A Norway maple hangs a few branches over the fence, the leaves of which present browned edges symptomatic of poor water conditions for the tree.  Many trees in the city show the same signs around this time of year likely due to the intense heat and compact soil of urban landscapes.  Similarly just up the road connecting to the alley a couple large sycamores are already dropping their leaves.  Without the wet conditions that they prefer the trees will attempt to stave of too much water loss by losing some leaves.

On my way back to the apartment something stirs in the branches of a hemlock.  Churr-churr-churr-churr-churr.  The culprit is a red squirrel–a chatty and fearless little beast compared to its larger relatives, the grey and fox squirrels.  The squirrel is clearly not pleased with how close I am.  I move just far enough away to watch it pluck the small hemlock cones that dangle at the edges of twigs.  As it gathers the tiny seeds from each hemlock cone it pauses briefly to scold me and then moves on to another twig.  Because it remains active throughout the winter, the red squirrel will soon start to gather food and materials for winter which it stores in heaps mostly above ground.  The thistle down in the alley will make great bedding material and the nearby conifers will provide most of its food source.

Already the rising sun has warmed the air proving that summer is not over yet.  A few crows take off from a rooftop into the air on a curved path toward the east low over the treetops.  Their cawing breaks the moment of stillness in the air and causes some excitement from a nearby blue jay.  Their cawing grows faint as they carry on fervently in the distance,  announcing the start of their day.  Being at the end of my morning walk, I decide to quietly follow their cue.

Author: astanyoung

I'm a natural history educator and outdoor enthusiast. I want to help people understand and enjoy the natural world that we live in.

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