In the wake of last year’s mast crop of zilch proportions, it was almost
a given that when Mother Nature tilted her cornucopia again a goodly supply
of nuts, acorns and other seeds would come rolling out in good numbers.
It has to happen before the celebration can begin, but a good mast crop
seems likely as the dog days of summer set in.
Squirrels already are cutting (feeding on) black walnut, and early-maturing
hickories will be next on the bill of fare for bushytails. I have not yet
observed cutting action on poplar seedpods, but this will happen before
the squirrel season opens less than a month hence (August 15).
I have recently observed some interesting behavior involving the feeding
habits of fox squirrels, and my findings seem germane in this discussion
of the mast crop, feeding habits of squirrels, and sundry other topics
that creep into this column.
For many years when I have been asked if fox and gray squirrels use
the cones of conifers as food, I have said: “certainly not.” Piney (red
squirrels) will cut the cones of conifers (a k a “pine cones”), as well
as most of the nuts and seeds that gray/fox squirrels depend upon for food.
But that gray/fox squirrels would not be caught eating whatever the so-called
pine cones have to offer.
This, of course, is similar to my theory of many years that morel mushrooms
do not occur around patches of May apple.
In any event, when I awakened one day last week, my view through the
double-glass doors revealed a fat fox squirrel sitting on the railing of
the deck outside eating what appeared to be a twig.
“Why” I asked myself, “would a fox squirrel be eating a twig when I
keep a steady stream of shelled corn and sunflower seed available?”
The mystery was only heightened when I sneaked closer to see that his
squirrel had removed (and apparently eaten) the little seeds of the cone.
This occurred before the recent round of rains, so I theorized that
this was a case of a squirrel seeking water, and dismissed it as a one-time
There are times when would-be wildlife experts have to be beaten over
the head to be convinced that strange behavioral occurrences are not always
exceptions to rules or characteristics.
And so it was, that a day or two later I walked out the front door to
be bombed by a partially-eaten pine cone as a fat fox squirrel scampered
off through the tops of redbud trees that shield my house.
Now, back to the mast crop.
Bob Hawkins, supervisor of the Indiana Division of forestry nursery
at Vallonia, says there is a big crop of black walnuts developing in that
area and Hickory will be much better than last year. Hawkins adds that
bur oak, red oak, and white oak are developing a good crop of acorns and
that numerous other oaks could do well.
We have not yet had reports from the northern tier counties, but oaks
seem to be doing well there. Reports from observers in the north would
be much appreciated.
Our own observations in the central part of the state show good hickory
and black walnut crops, but we have not found great production in the oaks.
Little old jam, jelly and winemakers will be pleased at reports of very
good blackberry crops in both southern and central precincts. First ripening
came last week in the south and berries are turning now in central parts
of the state.