One of the little bushes just outside the window of my office rustled, so much so that they caught my eye. A black furry tail poked out of the bush; one of the fat black squirrels 1 that lives on the church grounds was in the bush. I was surprised that it bore its weight.
Five minutes went by. The bushes started rustling again. This time, it was a gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis). I realized that a couple of Oregon Juncos (Junco hyenalis oreganus) were chirping at the squirrel; maybe the juncos were nesting in the bush and the squirrel was going after their eggs! I ran outside and scared the squirrel away. I looked quickly in the bush for a nest, didn’t see one, then retreated into my office because if there is a nest I don’t want to drive the birds away from it.
The juncos are still noisily chirping away. The squirrels have returned to stealing food from the trash cans. I still don’t know if there’s a nest out there or not.
A gray squirrel came back (perhaps the same one again), and nosed around beneath the bushes outside my window. A junco harassed it constantly, chirping, flying at the squirrel’s head, causing the squirrel to duck and twitch. At last the squirrel gave up, and scampered off with the junco chasing it.
1 Melanistic form of the Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), an invasive species which has been introduced into the San Francisco Bay region.
Looking out from our back stairs at the fig tree in our yard (you can see the gray trunk of the palm tree beyond the fig tree). There are still a few tiny little green figs on the tree, but I think the resident squirrel has been eating them before they get ripe.
Yesterday I wound up walking past the fast food joint at the corner of Elm and County. No, I didn’t go in to the fast food joint — even though I crave fatty food with the onset of cold weather, I’ve sworn off fast food for a while because of what it does to my digestive system (you don’t want to know). I walked under the old beech tree that grows along Elm Street across from the fast food joint, a big old tree that somehow survived the decline of the neighborhood. Its branches spread out over the sidewalk, and the sidewalk was almost entirely covered in beech nut shells. A fat Eastern Gray Squirrel idly hopped towards the tree, just out of my reach, keeping a weather on me the whole time. I thought, That’s what I should be doing for fatty food instead of fast food hamburger products, I should be eating nuts.
But then when I was in the supermarket tonight, I forgot to buy a jar of nuts.
Across the street from the fast food joint at County and Elm Streets, there’s a house that has a beautiful copper beech growing in the yard. I was walking down Elm Street when I heard an odd rustling sort of sound coming from the copper beech. I looked over and saw that brown stuff was dropping out of the tree, and I realized what was going on: the beech nuts were ripe, and some squirrels were sitting up in the tree shelling them and eating them as fast as they could. The sound was the squirrels cracking open the beech nuts, and the brown stuff coming down was beech nut shells. Squirrels almost always get to beech nuts before we humans do. I can only remember once when I got to eat any beech nuts:– a warm evening in October, 1999, while sitting outdoors reading theology on the back steps of the library of Andover Newton Theological School. The steps were covered with beech nuts that had fallen from the two big beech trees that grew nearby, and half of the beech nuts I picked still had the kernels in them. I cracked them open and ate the kernels, which tasted very good indeed; and I finally understood why the squirrels rarely leave any for us humans to eat.
Went to park my car in the Elm St. garage at about ten last night, and wound up getting into a long conversation with the evening parking lot attendant about what mammals might live in the downtown neighborhood. He’s in the parking garage five evenings a week until eleven at night, and from his perch in the entrance booth he regularly sees skunks and possums. We have both seen gray squirrels, of course. And he said there’s a feral cat that lives nearby, appropriately named “Downtown” — a woman who lives nearby feeds “Downtown” every night just across Elm St. on North Second St.
We talked about whether coyotes have made it to the downtown neighborhood yet. He has talked to several people who claim to have seen coyotes in other parts of New Bedford. We agreed that one of the sure signs of a coyote living in the neighborhood is a distinct drop in the cat population. I argued that the presence of “Downtown” the cat indicated that there are no coyotes nearby, but he argued that “Downtown” is tough enough to lick most coyotes.
What other mammals in this center-city neighborhood? Well, I’ve seen harbor seals swim right up to the downtown waterfront. He saw a cottontail rabbit in the garage once. There are doubtless rats and mice. I’ve seen a big brown bat in the church. But shouldn’t there also be raccoons? — can we confirm the presence of coyotes downtown? — any other mammals? We decided this topic calls for more investigation. He’s going to talk to the people who come into the garage and pump them for information; I’m going to start watching for road kill along Route 18 to see what turns up.