Sunday, June 29, 2014

Red Squirrels and Hazelnuts



And marshal me to knavery. Let it work;
For 'tis the sport to have the enginer
Hoist with his own petard, an't shall go hard
But I will delve one yard below their mines
And blow them at the moon.  -Hamlet, Act III

Petard, mines:  devices for they laying of explosive devices with the goal of breaking down the defenses of a besieged castle or city.  

Every culture seems to honor the anti-hero, the one who harvests the sinews of war from the land, the monk/master of jujitsu who exploits the hubris and momentum of the great adversary to defeat them.  For a good example of an American anti-hero one would be well served to read Scattergood Baines.

I aspire to be such an anti-hero.

Red Squirrels


Red Squirrels are master thieves.  They are stealthy, nimble, brave and they get around.

A typical nut grower might shrug off the losses.  They might plant a couple of extra trees to pay the squirrel tax.

Tom Molnar is not a typical nut grower.  He is the lead Filbert breeder at Rutgers.  One of his "enablers" is to collect samples of the wild, American Hazelnut (Corylus americana) from a wide swath of its native range.  Earlier breeding efforts built on a very narrow genetic base and, consequently, are intrinsically vulnerable to disease and insect challenges

These wild samples are the fair devil to collect because the squirrels get them first. They steal the  viable nuts and leave the "blanks".  Of particular interest are bushes that bear crops during "off" years or after a test winter.  Obviously, the few nuts that are borne during those off years are the most hotly contested.  2014 appears to be one of the "off" years due to the test winter we just endured.

Hoarding


Red Squirrels are the species of squirrels most documented as "hoarding".  They tend to cache pure-by-species.  Some of their larders are "bunkers".  Some are scattered.  Other hoards are in cavities such as dulcimers, shoe boxes and the cavities in stud walls.

I recall reading the old timers, guys like Earnest Thompson Seton and Daniel Carter Beard writing about harvesting those squirrel hoards.  Their discussions are a little bit vague on the details.

Variables that are not clear are hole size, height above the ground, ground cover, associated vegetation, preferred cavity dimensions.  Those variables should not be that difficult to dial into.

A very small stud wall.  Cavities are 9" tall, about 6.5" wide and about 3.5" thick.
 
The original plan was to test 2", 2.5" and 3" diameter holes.  My wood working friends were not able to help me with hole saws, so I called an audible and went to square holes.  Face plate attached with screws so multiple iterations of hole sizes can be evaluated.

First iteration.  Elevation: Ground level.  Under mature White Pine in an area known to harbor Red Squirrels.  "Porch" stick included.  Peanuts, in-shell, scattered on the ground.  Three peanuts placed in each cavity to ensure squirrels checked them out.
Science does not need to be fancy to be effective.

2 comments:

  1. Interesting experiment, but we learned several years ago, verified through later testing, that "country squirrels" may have never seen a peanut and have no idea what it is. The squirrels in my brother-in-law's backyard regularly shun peanuts.

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  2. John Steinbeck once wrote that "You can be proud of anything, when it is all you have got." He was talking about the Salinas river...which is not much of a river.

    Not only do Northern Red Squirrels eat peanuts, they watch Big Ten football and enjoy it.

    Thank-you for reading and, especially, thanks for commenting.

    -Joe

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