Filling the Gaps Left by Squirrels

April 29, 2008

Once again I can thank the squirrels for a new project. So far I have replaced the two most western rows in the new field, and an area six rows by four at the northwestern corner. Today I concentrated on the effects of recent raids upon the southwestern corner. All in all, that would be (so far) 97 seedlings transplanted to repair damage from gray and red squirrels since last fall. That’s a lot of work.

Regular squirrel patrols have produced plenty of hawk-bait. Except for one case where I ran out of ammunition in a duel with a feisty red who seemed to know how to duck, the .22 has proven a permanent solution in the case of each individual squirrel. Last fall Rhonda Elliot told me that if I hung the carcasses from fence posts the hawks would take them and come back for more — and take over my patrolling duties, I hoped. So far no hawks have shown an interest.

On the other hand, Queen’s graduate student Susie Crowe showed a brief but intense interest when she came nose-to-nose with one of my trophies as she walked the fencerows locating robin nests.

The lack of success of the .22 calibre solution became evident when I checked my live traps today. The grays have adapted again. I never see them now, but the nuts are still disappearing at a steady rate. They wait for me to leave. Mom told me last week that my truck is no sooner over the hill than the front yard at the house is alive with grays.

So it was time for guile. I distinctly remember orienting the live traps in an east-west direction so that I could check them with a glance from the north. This morning I noticed that one trap had been turned, so I figured at last I had caught a gray squirrel in the new Hav-A-Hart. Alas, it was not to be. Apparently I had placed the baited trap on top of a couple of seed walnuts which the squirrel wanted, so he simply moved the trap out of the way, dug out the three nuts in the hill, ignored the dozen excellent nuts in the trap, and scuttled happily back into the woods. The rodent even left the empty shells on the ground at the scene of the crime.

Grays are too smart for traps. The only time I have used this Hav-A-Hart successfully on a gray was last year when I sewed a walnut onto a string and suspended it above the trip-plate in the trap. A young gray spent so much time standing looking at this mystery that I went and got my gun and shot him.

Anyway, I have now transplanted most of the extra seedlings from other hills in the plantation. The ground has been soft and they came out neatly in a shovel-full of earth, which I then placed in the new hole. Last summer’s seedlings are very easy to dig up and move. The 2nd-year stems have larger root systems and a deep root, but the tap seems to come up largely intact with the shovel, so I hope they will survive. Three-year-old stems are too large to transplant without major root damage.

I’ll monitor the transplants for this season and the next. That should provide some useful information about transplant survivability, with no thanks to the squirrels who made it all possible.

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