Thief

Bones and skulls are a good source of calcium and minerals for rodents. A close look at this deer antler reveals their tiny teeth marks.

On my trips through the bush I sometimes pick up these castoffs and remains. I currently had two old coyote skulls on the deck that I intended to add to a big pot of flowers.

But I hadn’t counted on the new neighbour.

This summer a changing of the guard occurred on one of the nearby middens (aka squirrel homes).

The young male squirrel must have assumed our house was part of his territory as he often appeared on the deck. On warm days he’d visit the bird bath for a drink. (Yuck. Bird poo and feathers.)

One day I heard a kafuffle outside. As I glanced out I saw my neighbour making off with one of the coyote skulls. It was slow going. The darn thing was nearly as big as him.

By the time I got outside the skull had landed on the grass and the black eyes that turned my way had a What?-Not-me! look. I retrieved the skull.

The next day when I went to plant the flowers the other skull was missing. I searched the deck, the grass, the gravel. Nope. Gone.

A few days later I visited my neighbour. Yup. There was the skull, perched on the pile of cone scales.

I paced out the distance: 50 metres (more than 50 yards). He’d dragged that skull through grass, across gravel and into a tangle of forest understory.

At that point I decided the flower arrangement didn’t need two skulls. He’d earned his.

Stumped

Over the years numerous red squirrels have staked their claim to this large stump and the midden that surrounds it. Middens and squirrels are common in our woods but this arrangement is different from most.

I spotted the cone pile first, right on top. An odd choice as cones are usually stored underground.

Alongside the cones was another surprise — a nest of dried grass and moss. And sitting in the nest, the current owner, with a great view of the neighbourhood.

On rainy days, the owner is absent so perhaps he (or she) is tucked down in the midden, safe and dry.


Red squirrel   Tamiasciuris hudsonicus
White spruce   Picea glauca

Unearthed

I found this odd object growing in a midden at the base of a spruce tree.

A midden? It’s a tree squirrel’s go-to spot for just about everything: winter den, pantry, kitchen, garbage dump.

Middens pass down to successive generations, so as years go by the detritus piles up — old cones, new cones, twigs, spruce needles, small bones.

At times stuff begins to grow in the rubble.

That’s where I found them: Two white “things” lying on the midden. It took me a minute to puzzle them out.

Of course! I was looking at the remains of dried puffballs. Fungi. Mushrooms.

The grey wrinkled “head” was the actual puffball — the spongy little thing that squirts out a cloud of mushroom “seeds” (spores) when you touch a ripe one.

The white part — the “shoulder pads” on these little guys — is the part you never see. It develops from a spore. Microscopic at first these tiny threads grow and accumulate until finally the mass is large enough to see.

If you know where to look. Until now I never have.

Looking more carefully I spotted a single puffball, still embedded in the midden. A slight tug and up the whole thing came: head, neck and shoulders.

Nature always has something up her sleeve. Some times I’m smart enough to notice.