Blossoms and tufts of green leaves are sprouting all over in our garden. I've got spring fever and want to be outside as much as I can be! I've been cleaning out last year's old growth from the front yard flower patch and realized that I needed to be sure that the seedlings I was thinning out were not from the Georgia Asters that I want to encourage. So yesterday I headed to the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, which is just a short trip from home, to take a look at their aster patch for reference. I'm so lucky to live close to one of my favorite places to hike and photograph, as well as a source for gardening and botanical advice!
|I think these are the leaves I was looking for|
I made my way to the garden and found and photographed what I believe to be the aster leaves so I could compare at home. And since I was already there, and it was supposed to rain in the afternoon, I took the opportunity to try to get some photos of birds and wildflowers. The woods are teeming with color and life, brought about by warmer temps and spring rains. I was just heading off toward a nice trail to catch a look at a heron rookery I had discovered last week, when I heard a wild ruckus from a group of people walking up from that area. Weekends at the gardens are very busy, which is both good and not so good. Good for lots of people to be out enjoying a wonderful nature area, and not so good for people (like me) who are hoping to quietly observe the wildlife. But it's a big place and there is room for all of us. I am always happy to see families who allow their children to explore and experience nature. Quiet observers and rowdy explorers can easily compromise and even share some teachable moments. The kids were hollering and having a great time, shouting "hup, two, three, four" at the top of their lungs as they marched. It was pretty clear to me that the birds and wildlife would scatter for a while in their presence, and I didn't want to lose time before the rain. So instead of heron hunting, I turned around a took a walk through the wildflower garden, which I wanted to visit anyway.
|Common Blue Violets (Viola sororia)|
|Eastern Redbud popping out all over (Cercis canadensis)|
|Trillium trio (Trillium maculatum)|
As I entered the garden, something small scurried up a tree up ahead of me. It seemed too big for a chipmunk but too small for a squirrel, so I followed it and found, to my surprise, that it was a squirrel after all, just a very tiny one. A baby squirrel!
|Cute little guy|
I wondered if it had fallen out of a nest, but it seemed fully able to climb and scurry away, however awkwardly. It was young enough that it really didn't know what to do when faced with danger. First it froze. Next it scuttled maniacally around in the leaves at the base of a tree, like it had no idea where to go. Then it climbed just a little higher up on the trunk and stared at me. I looked around for upset parent squirrels and didn't hear or see anything. Usually, when I startle squirrels, they scamper to a high branch and screech and bark at me. But this baby was new to the whole stranger thing. He moved to the back of the tree trunk and peeked at me from first one side and then the other. It was adorable. I was having so much fun with this tender baby animal encounter.
Right then, the loud kids arrived at the garden gate and were soon rumbling up the path toward me and the baby squirrel. Surely the quiet, tender moment was doomed. But thinking quickly, I stepped back and caught the attention of the three chattering teenage girls. I waved at them and made the "shhhh" sign while gesturing to come closer. They heeded my warning and quietly hurried over to me, intrigued. When I whispered, "baby squirrel" and they saw where I pointed, we became a nature observation team. The young humans and the young squirrel studied each other carefully for a long while. The little squirrel stayed on its tree, about 2 feet off the ground, peering from side to side as before. The encounter generated lots of "awwws" from the girls and parents. Definitely a good nature moment. As they were leaving, the parents and I discussed that it was unusual to see such a young squirrel out on its own and that it had better watch out for hawks. Indeed, there are plenty of hawks in the garden, and a pair of red-shouldered hawks have built a nest a short way up the path in this very section.
|Red-shouldered Hawk with a freshly caught vole that I saw in the garden last week|
I felt happy to have shared a sweet nature moment with the family, and to have salvaged my own photo op! Everyone was happy. Win! And the baby squirrel stuck around for me to take more pictures. He seemed wary but did not scamper away. I kept waiting for him to climb up high to his nest (wherever that was), but he seemed interested in me and would climb up a bit but then would come back down. Then up again, then down.
|Then back up|
|Then back down again|
After a few minutes curiosity got the best of him and he began inching closer and closer to me. And before I knew it, the little rascal was at my feet, and then climbing my leg! As cute as it was, I realized that this was not good for either of us, and I shouted. The baby squirrel scurried back to his tree, and I knew it was time to walk away. For 1 or 2 seconds afterwards, I entertained the idea of taking him home and rescuing him. But I quickly came to my senses and remembered: 1) wild animal, 2) illegal, 3) pets at home, and 4) squirrel. What was I thinking? So I finished off my afternoon with lots of fun photos and no new mouths at home to feed. Thank goodness reason prevailed. I hope my little furry friend gets a bit more wary of humans and that he doesn't climb the legs of any other people. I also hope that he quickly learns some hawk smarts. He'll need it--it's a wild world out there. But he sure was cute.
|Ready to jump on me!|