We all agree that 2020 is like no other year, unless, of course, you were around for the 1918 influenza pandemic, but let’s not go there.
It is nine months since “lockdown” and “social distancing” suddenly infiltrated our vocabulary and in mid-March, the words “Coronavirus” or “COVID-19” kicked election news headlines to the curb.
Everyone needs a safe haven.
Due to COVID-19, family quality time sure took on a new meaning in 2020. Suddenly, whole families hunkered down and huddled together after many workplaces closed, schools were shuttered and schedules got scrambled. Patience wore thin as COVID jail prevailed and it was not quite warm enough to head outdoors for some much-needed space alone. Men and women were lucky if they already had a man cave or she shed in place, thus giving them a respite from the family. Sadly, domestic woes and volatile relationships in the confines of the home, day after day, led some to leave and seek a safe haven. And here we are again – round two, with surging stats and Winter weather on the horizon. Sigh.
Our little critters need a safe haven to shelter as well.
I do “get” the predator-prey cycle of life and that every critter must eat to survive, but yes, ol’ bleeding heart me has difficulty grasping that concept.
Though I feel a tug at my heartstrings every time I walk out the door with no furry or feathered friends to beg for peanuts here at the house, I’ve not written about the demise of my merry band of squirrels and Blue Jays and Cardinals which I fed for three years … that is until the Cooper’s Hawk decided that, one by one, each would become his meal and they disappeared. I didn’t see any of the six (two gray squirrels, two black squirrels and two Fox squirrels) though I put out peanuts – evidently, the birds were enjoying them. Then the birds also didn’t show up – the peanuts were still there later in the day. So, after a few weeks, I sent a message to my neighbor to ask if he’d seen Grady the gray squirrel and his mate/buddy, both which begged incessantly and I was told “didn’t you know there was a Cooper’s Hawk eyeing them from the big tree across the street?” That simple statement about their demise just cut me like a knife. “No, I didn’t know that” was my answer and I instantly felt sick. They livened up my mornings on those bleak and gray Winter days and I filled my blog with pictures and stories of them and their antics. How I wish I knew as I’d have stopped feeding them to encourage them to go away, maybe to a safer neighborhood.
This Summer when the Cooper’s Hawks begin to circle overhead at Council Point Park, I vowed it would not happen again. What could I do – I’m not there 24/7/365. Then I saw a hawk go after a black squirrel twice … I chased it away one time, just before the final swoop and the second time, another squirrel sounded the panic alarm, thus thwarting the attack.
Obviously I can’t count noses every time I go to this Park to ensure each of my furry pals is present and accounted for, but I decided back in October, I had to find a way to protect them from this enemy as best I could.
So, I created a safe haven for them.
There are many trees at Council Point Park and, as you know, approximately 60 of them are memorial trees, with special plaques placed at the base in a loved one’s memory. When I first started walking here, I tried to get a tree for my mom, but I was told they no longer were doing memorial trees.
I’ve passed this Weeping Mulberry tree for years and even referred to it as “Cousin Itt” from the Addams Family TV show. My neighbor has the same tree, though it has routinely been pruned – this one has not been pruned and its branches almost graze the ground. Unlike a Weeping Willow with soft and bendable branches, this tree has hard branches, a quality not lost on me, since in the Summer months the tree looks a little wild – a mess of leaves and maybe even a place that youngsters would use to play hide-and-seek.
I decided the dense foliage and hard branches would be perfect to shelter the squirrels, if only I could train them to go under the tree to eat their peanuts, away from the Cooper’s Hawks who would not readily want to go crashing into the hard, drooping branches and risk injuring themselves just to make a meal of my furry friends.
In the past I’ve herded the squirrels and birds to the picnic table for the Winter when storms were brewing or freezing rain and snow were on the way. I would leave extra food for them. Seed bells, trays of sunflower seeds, suet cakes and lots of peanuts lured them under the pavilion, away from predators and the food stayed dry. But, this year, the picnic tables were removed in early October instead of remaining in place all year around.
So what the HECK did Linda do for her furry pals?
I Googled all over looking to find some information about the person on this memorial stone, Stella M. Heck, but found nothing.
Since I sought a refuge for the squirrels, I decided to dump abundant peanuts under this tree. Could I train my furry friends to stay put while eating, then scamper back to their trees or nests without being preyed upon?
For the most part, yes – I did.
The Weeping Mulberry is featured up top and, in October, this is how it looked when the leaves began turning gold.
Usually, the squirrels see me toting the bag of peanuts and are on high alert and either come rushing over to dance around my feet like Parker, or simply hang back, but study my every move to see where the peanuts are going and to anticipate if I will stay and be in their way. They are savvy and likewise the Blue Jays similarly plan how they will snatch a peanut.
I made a point of waiting until a few squirrels had gathered, then after a load of peanuts were strewn beneath the Safe Haven Tree, I stepped aside to watch. I finally had to leave to get ready for work and the cache of nuts went untouched – that was the first time. I tried again – no luck, but the third time was the charm as the expression goes.
Puff was the first of the furry bunch to figure it out. In short order, a few times he was waiting under this canopy of leaves and descended the tree to see what I’d left.
It was all good, then the remaining leaves dropped and blew away after several windstorms in November. So, did I have to go back to the drawing board and find a Plan “B” or could the Safe Haven Tree still work as a feeding frenzy shelter for my furry pals?
Well, without leaves you see how badly the tree needs a good pruning and admittedly, there are a few gaps.
But, those branches that nearly sweep the ground DO offer some protection.
Now that the leaves are gone, it’s easier to read Stella Heck’s memorial marker.
Over the past six weeks or so, I’ve studied the situation and rarely do the squirrels stay on the ground – instead, they zoom up the tree and eat the peanut there, then return to the ground for another peanut. Occasionally, they head off to bury one … I can’t control that. I refuse to think about them crossing the large expanse of grass in the middle of the walking loop, clearly exposed to the Cooper’s Hawk.
Here are a few of my furry friends noshing nuts.
Of course the display of nuts is not lost on the Jays …
… and I’ve had a few cardinals swooping down, but no pictures of them yet.
Lastly, the Red-Bellied woodpecker is “all in” for goodies as well.
Buoyed that I had achieved the desired outcome, I decided to take this feeding concept to the next step and bought a small suet feeder and a wooden platform feeder to hang on the tree branch for when snow covers the ground. I hung the small blue suet feeder last Sunday and filled it with some cashews and dried fruit, but knew I would not make it back for a few days due to the impending snowstorm. I secured the feeder to a branch with a chain used for hanging feeders and clipped it to the feeder. When I returned to the Park after the snow and ice had cleared, the chain had been removed and the suet feeder was on the ground away from the tree. The critters didn’t unhook the chain, so I’m not bringing the second feeder. For now, we have a Plan “B” – when the flurries fly in earnest and snow settles in, we’ll put Plan “C” into place – likely me stomping down the snow around under the tree and laying the peanuts there. Stay tuned!