Field Notes

A ‘Tail’ of Two Critters

With apologies to Dickens, a couple of neighborhood creatures find themselves in print this week. The irony is that if you put both animals together, they still couldn’t make one good tail.

First up is the bobcat in our neighborhood. With pointed ears and a stubby tail it appears to inhabit the small pine tract down the road. This pine patch was cut over a few years, exposing the forest floor and allowing seeds and seed-lings to spring up into a thick, impenetrable jungle. This is perfect cover for squirrels, rabbits, birds and deer even though it may not be more than 10 acres. It also serves as the kitchen pantry and dining room for our wildcat.

Several people have seen it, and in fact it had been rumored to be staying under the neighbor’s pontoon boat which has parked in their back yard this winter. It has been seen scoping out the local chicken coops and chasing neighbors’ cats, but nothing seems to be missing.

One warm evening last week after completing some yard work, this writer took a break on the back porch with a cool drink. Across 200 yards of brush-hogged meadow I saw some movement near the pine patch. A quick look with binoculars revealed our cat patrolling the edge of the pines, looking for his next meal. Not particularly big, it is probably just a yearling.

A white spot suddenly appeared and disappeared into the brush as a rabbit, another nearly tailless creature, dived into the bush. The bobcat gave a couple of half-hearted bounces in that direction but came up empty.

Bobcats are usually solitary and do not put up with people or noise, but this one seems to have adapted well. Surely from the pine patch, it can always hear traffic, dogs, or kids playing nearby. As long as he stays away from the chickens and cats, he will be tolerated as a good neighbor.

Another “old friend” showed up last week for a short visit.

An ancient old Fox Squirrel with only the tiniest stub of a tail has been visiting for years. We can recall seeing him at least six years ago, and nobody knows how old he might have been then. Sometimes he may disappear for two or three months and then re-appear like a bad habit.

He used to raid the bird feeder. Since we hadn’t seen him for a while, maybe he just returned from Florida.

He has adapted to the loss of his tail, but that is bound to be a hardship for a squirrel. The furry tail acts as insulation on cold winter nights and helps with balance during tree climbing and jumping from limb-to-limb.

Squirrels have lived in captivity for as much as 18 years. “No Tail” may not be near that age, but he has also not been a captive. He must go out every day and find enough food to sustain himself. He must avoid the hawks, owls, dogs, coyotes, snakes, hunters and all the other things that would prefer to eat him. He must avoid the speeding cars and trucks as I often see him crossing roads.

He has lived through his tailless handicap without a monthly disability check and has shouldered on through the probable indignities hurled by the better endowed squirrels.

He is a true survivor and welcome in our yard any time.

Dave is a telescope operator at the NRAO and can be contacted at dave

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