Fawn Crossing

My new motto: Never get in a kayak without the camcorder.

Last weekend, when Bert and I took one of our kayaks out,  I left all things electronic in the house. That turned out to be a mistake. We did an hour of uneventful pedaling. (That’s not a typo; this two-person kayak is foot-powered.) Hugging the south shore of Lake Allegan, we enjoyed the usual flora and fauna, the latter limited to a few turtles warming themselves in the afternoon sun. Then fauna became fawna, as a young deer hopped out of the woods and into the water. He (or she? I could not tell) was not more than twenty yards in front of our boat.

I thought the fawn might reverse course on seeing us. Instead, he put his skinny legs in gear and swam.

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Serenity-Seeking Squirrels

What’s your favorite squirrel nickname?

Tree Rat? Seed snitch? Bane of the backyard birder?

Squirrels get a really bad rap. Not at my house, though. I harbor no ill will toward the bushy tails—no resentment for wasted seed, no anger at stolen suet. That’s because we do not feed the birds, who seem to dine just fine on our woods’ native food. Not to mention that when I film, I prefer catching the creatures in trees instead of hanging on feeders. So, aside from the racket our dog Remy makes when he spots a squirrel in a scurry, what’s not to love? Indeed, I’m grateful to the squirrels. They’re entertaining, and they eat tons of acorns. If you happen to have a lawn surrounded by oaks, you know why I think it’s wonderful when acorns do not have a chance to become seedlings.

But back to that bad rap. Apparently, it gives the little cuties a complex. Which could explain why I see them practicing tai chi in the trees.
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Stuck

Now, there’s a face that begs for anthropomorphizing.

Eyebrows raised, with a calm, resigned-to-her-fate demeanor, she must be thinking, ‘hrumph.’ A more excitable species might be musing in swear words. Not the unflappable painted turtle.

The lady had plenty to gripe about. She had meandered onto our walkway, the one lined with landscape timbers and punctuated with steps. And she was stuck.
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Bon Appetit!

What’s on the Menu?

This past spring, I watched Hairy Woodpecker parents feed their nestlings. They would fly to the door of the tree cavity, poke their heads and torsos inside, and shake. All I could see was tail feathers bobbing rapidly as the parents pushed and the babies pulled to swallow the regurgitated food. After a couple of weeks, though, the tail movement stopped, even though the parents were still flying to the tree cavity every hour or so.

I worried: Had mom and dad stopped feeding the kids?
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Mama Raccoon’s High Wire Act

Circus acrobats have nothing on Mama Raccoon

When a raccoon nested in one of our snags, I was surprised to see how often she left her kits alone in their tree cavity. Mama departed five or six times daily during daylight hours, and she probably made a few nighttime trips. She was surely hungry and thirsty from nursing her babes.

Mama was cautious, too. Well, cautious like a high-wire walker.
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Drum Beat of the Northern Flicker

We hear a lot of woodpecker drumming in our woods, and it’s not always clear who is doing the percussion work. But when I hear a deep, resonant drumroll, I immediately look to what I’ve come to call the timpani tree. It’s a magnet for northern flickers. Or, perhaps this instrument serves the same flicker over and again. My reading tells me that flickers are territorial, and they may drum to send a warning to interlopers.

For at least three years, flicker drumming has led me to this tree. Well, ‘tree’ may be a bit of a misstatement, because it’s really a remnant of a long-dead tree; one of the many snags that grace our property.

This snag is well suited to its percussive task. You don’t have to look very closely to see that it’s hollow, and the tree wall is quite thin. The result is a particularly resonant sound under the staccato strike of the flicker’s bill.

Speaking of staccato strikes, there’s something peculiar about the flickers’ drum beats on this tree.

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Father’s Day in the Forest

Some of the neighborhood birds are pretty impressive fathers.

Some of our neighborhood creature-dads play an important role in child-rearing. Others, not so much. It’s Father’s Day, so I thought I would pay tribute to the feathered fathers whose parenting roles I’ve been privileged to observe.

Which treetop dads help out with the parenting? And which forest fellows leave the child-rearing to mom?

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Not Ready to Leave the Nest

Mama squirrel says: It’s really time to go.

What we’ve long called our ‘squirrel tree’ gave us a special treat this spring. A mama squirrel nested in a corner of a craggy snag that’s easy to see from the house. Most of her kit-rearing took place out of view, deeper in the tree. But when it was time for Mama to nudge the kids from the nest, we got a front-row seat to her parenting.

I’m glad I had the video cam ready. You will really want to see Mama’s get-them-out-of-the-house technique.

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From Creature Tales to Children’s Books

I can write 500 words in my sleep.

Or, so I thought.

I write about business finance, and I’ve produced thousands of pages of course material, journal articles, and books. Naturally, I assumed writing a 32-page, 500-word picture book would be both fun and easy. The stories unfolding out my window practically tell themselves, like the bad-boy nestling story in this post’s video clip.

Turning these stories into children’s literature should have been a walk in the park. Or in my case, a walk in the woods.

I could not have been more mistaken.

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A Nestling Discovers Raindrops

Prepare to say awwwwww.

Not the doctor-looking-at-your-tonsils aww, but the one you bring out when you see something impossibly cute. Or the aww that means something has tickled your sense of wonder. I was struck by a little of both on a day of nonstop gloom, cold, and drizzle. It was a June day masquerading as early April.

But as you’ll see, what I saw in the trees made me grateful for the day’s miserable weather.

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