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Squirrels, catbirds are among autumn visitors

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By Sylvia Brockner

There has been very little new at the feeder this week. This is because it is empty most of the time. The maintenance man here at Elk Run is very kind and he tries to keep it up and filled. However, some critter or critters seem to knock it down as fast as he can put it up. Since I hope to be going home in about 10 days, it is not worth the expense of an elaborate pulley system, so I must give up even though the birds bring me much joy.
The two new birds seen this week were one mountain chickadee and three pygmy nuthatches. These are birds that should be coming to any feeders in this area for they are both birds of the ponderosa pine forest, which extends for acres of open space behind this home.
From the first time I put out seed, the eastern fox squirrel has come to dine. At first, I had one. Now there are five of these big bushy-tailed, partially orange squirrels. Actually, they are mostly gray with a rusty orange belly and on the ends of their long guard hair on their sides, legs, forearms, feet and about the face. Actually they are the only squirrel we have that has this fox coloring.
They are the squirrels that most people refer to as city squirrels because they do well in city parks and are not native to Colorado. Or so the story goes. Like most old-time stories, this one cannot be proven or disproven, so it is mostly accepted.
Originally, the story goes that there were no squirrels in Denver City Park. Some unknown resident of the area missed them and tried to talk the Colorado Department of Wildlife into establishing them in City Park. This they did not do because in general it is a mistake to introduce animals into areas they have not lived in previously.
Whether the squirrel-loving gentleman just went about getting some fox squirrels from the East or not, no one knows, but they soon appeared in City Park. The Colorado Department of Wildlife believes they moved west along the river valleys when there were trees, but no one can prove where they came from for sure.
When we moved here in 1965, there were no fox squirrels in the foothills. They were only in the flatland parks. They soon became noticed in the mountain area, and we also noticed that they were replacing the lovely, native, tassel-eared squirrels in the area. Now, we see very few tassel-eared squirrels and far too many fox squirrels.
Fox squirrels are territorial to some extent and usually drive away other squirrels from their nesting area. These five have seemed to break up into two pairs who are tolerant of each other but not of the other pair, and both pairs give the lone fifth squirrel a hard time. Thus he is small, runty-looking, probably just because he never gets much food.
The smallest of our tree squirrels is the red squirrel, which is only about seven to eight inches long plus a four- to six-inch tail. The tassel-eared squirrel is next in size being about 11 to 12 inches plus an eight- to nine-inch tail that is usually well furred and fluffy. Next is the fox squirrel, which is the largest at 10 to 15 inches plus a nine- to 14-inch tail. We also have many ground squirrels from the least chipmunk to the much bigger prairie dogs.
Fox squirrels are found throughout the eastern states and all across America to the mountains. They can weigh between 1-1/2 pounds to 3 pounds, and many people consider them good eating.
This past week brought several good birds to Evergreen Lake. A female hooded merganser was seen for a few days, and a catbird was also seen for a few days as it hung out in the same thickety place.
Catbirds are all gray bids with a black cap and rust undertail coverts. It could be mistaken for a dipper but for shape and size. A dipper looks like a fat short-tailed wren. A catbird looks like a thin, long-tailed mocking bird or a thrush. They are entirely different in shape, actions and habitat. I think this is the first record of a catbird for Evergreen Lake, but they occur in small numbers usually in the thickets of thorn apple trees, etc., at the mouth of the mountain canyons.
I have seen them at the mouth of North Turkey Creek several times, and I believe they nest there. The grey catbird is in the same family as mockingbirds and thrushes, and it often mimics other birds, but not as proficiently as those other songsters do. They have a mewing call, which gives them their name.
It looks like winter will soon be here, and we will be looking for the rare wonders that show up most winters at some feeders.