Sunday, September 27, 2015

Ground Squirrels

Weather: After light rains Monday and Tuesday nights, plants are coming into full fall bloom.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid tea roses, silver lace vine, trumpet creeper, datura, morning glories, alfalfa, Russian sage, Maximilian sunflowers, Sensation cosmos, African marigolds, coreopsis, zinnias.

Beyond the walls and fences: Bindweed, green-leaf five-eyes, leather leaf globe mallow, green amaranth, pigweed, chamisa, native sunflower, gumweed, goldenrod, áñil del muerto, broom senecio, golden hairy, purple and heath asters.

In my yard: Calamintha, larkspur, winecup mallow, pink evening primrose, sweet pea, Mexican hat, chocolate flower, blanket flower, yellow cosmos.

Bedding plants: Sweet alyssum, snapdragon, marigold.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Goldfinch mining the chocolate flower seeds, chickadee feasting on the horseweed; geckos, sulfur butterfly, bees, grasshoppers, ants.

Weekly update: Ground squirrels are more destructive in my yard than rabbits, grasshoppers or ants. The latter just destroy garden plants. The squirrels attack hoses, retaining walls, and native vegetation.

None of that, of course, appears in their official biographies. It s typical to read "Spermophilus variegatus is sometimes considered a pest because it occasionally damages crops. The effect on crops is usually not significant though." or to be told it has a positive impact on the environment because it "is an important disperser of many plant seeds and fruits."

Some years ago one or several - I don't know how many, I rarely see even one with the white bands around its eyes - started tunneling behind the retaining wall. After all, the area was moist: it trapped water coming off the hill and prevented it from washing against the foundation of the house.

I first realized it was there when I came home and found four roses had been sliced off at their bases. Of course they didn't recover.

Then, when I tried to replace them, my trowel reached a tunnel. If I tried to plant anything, it would likely fall into the black hole. The shaft is still there, and only grass can grow above it.

Inconvenient as that was, though, I was more concerned about it destablizing the compacted dirt being held by the rail timbers.

The animal, or more likely another, since their life span is about 30 months, is back. There s a huge mound at the base of every one of the oriental poppies I spent so much effort getting to grow along the retaining wall. Only one, so far, has put out new leaves.

The problem with the mounds is the squirrels bring up very bad dirt with their sharp claws. When it rains, it spreads through the bed, covering the good garden soil with heavy, impermeable clay.

The squirrels actually became a serious problem two years ago. Perhaps it was the drought.

Whenever I saw a dead cholla cactus, I saw a mound at its base. Last year, when I walked toward the near arroyo where I know they live, I noticed all the cacti were standing in disturbed dirt. Few bloomed this year.

When I walked out on the prairie last spring, I noticed every single prickly pear had been molested.

There's been a mound near the base of one of my cholla that's gotten larger every year. The experts say the animals with brown fur spotted with lighter dots often have a home burrow and "several other foraging burrows." They may be used for several years and enlarged.

This week I was weeding the west side of my garage. A winterfat had taken up residence on the other side of the block path where there's the most runoff. Whenever I put my hand down to pull out grass it had killed, my fingers were stabbed by sharp-pointed satellites.

I finally took a piece of foam and patted the area, hoping to sponge up the darts. In the process, I pulled out a piece of cholla cacti.

The squirrel was taking pieces under the shrub to eat or for the water, then leaving the spines at the perimeter. I don t know if it was deliberately setting booby traps around its hidey hole, or if it was chance.

The rodent apparently went under that winterfat this past winter. When I went to turn on the water this spring, nothing came out of the hose. I tracked it back to a hole in the section that went under the shrub.

I replaced the hose, and two days later no water. It had been eaten again. Apparently, the animal is breaking into them for the water. I'd say half my hoses have been tapped this year.

It seems to be a problem I'm stuck with. The cures are poisons that are more dangerous than the animals they kill.

Notes: For the problems getting the oriental poppies to grow, see the post for 8 June 2008 at right. Winterfat is now Krascheninnikovia lanata; it was Eurotia lanata. Ground squirrels are also called rock squirrels. They're in the Sciuridae family.

Desert USA. "Rock Squirrel," Desert USA website.

Wund, Matthew, Lucas Langstaff, and Phil Myers. "Spermophilus variegatus," Animal Diversity website.

1. Ground squirrel in my front garden, 26 July 2008; taken through the window.

2. Ground squirrel at the base of the reinforced wall of the near arroyo, 2 August 2013; taken from road level.

3. Mound near the rim of the far arroyo, 21 September 2013.

4. Mound near cholla cactus on the prairie, 3 August 2013.

5. Mound around prickly pear near where #3 was taken six months before, 20 March 2014.

6. Cholla cactus thorn cluster taken from under a winterfat in my yard, 26 September 2015.

7. Piece of cholla cactus taken from under a winterfat, 26 September 2015.

8. Thorns still on the cholla in my yard, 26 September 2015.

9. Destroyed hose, 26 September 2015; eaten part at right, weather damage at left.

10. Mound near the cholla cactus in my yard, 4 March 2012.

11. Mound near the same cholla, 25 April 2014; it now exists on both sides with broom snakeweed growing in it.

1 comment:

Vicki said...

I have ground squirrels that have dug homes under large boulders on my lot and adjacent lots. I lost quite a few vegetables last year and I thought it might have been rabbits. This year I watched the ground squirrels gather and eat maple tree seeds. My cat goes out to hunt and she apparently found a nest because she brought home two baby ground squirrels she had hunted (she eats them). So pehaps a cat will take care of your rodent problem?