In England, if a black cat crosses your path it's considered a sign of impending good luck. Today being Friday the thirteenth, if a black cat crossed my path I would think it negates the bad-luck emanations of the date, and bring everything back to center. As we were leaving earlier this morning, the neighbor's pure-white cat walked across the driveway before we set out - definitely our path. So what does a white cat crossing your path mean? In England? On a Friday the thirteenth?
* * *
A year or two ago I gave myself a reward for reaching some goal or another, the reward being a bird feeder.
I got one of those 'shepherd's crooks,' in this case one with two 'arms,' and a (supposedly) squirrel-proof feeding station to go with it. It's squirrel-proof, but nothing to do with the design.
Originally I thought the wrought-iron post would be relatively squirrel-proof: I mean, there's nothing for them to dig into, so how well could they climb it? They aren't monkeys, so it's not like they can go hand-over-hand. Or paw-over-paw, as it were.
I also made sure the pole was planted well away from any bushes or trees from where squirrels could leap onto it. That was relatively easy to do, as I wanted it outside my office window and there's a large open flower-bed that's ideal.
Well, squirrel-proof is relative, ain't?
It wasn't long before the squirrels discovered they could shimmy up the pole. Hrmph. I'll be darned. Still, the squirrel-proof feeding station (a canister sort of thing with an open 'grid' outside and heavy acrylic inside that closes if any animal heavier than a bird tries to access the area where the seed comes out at the bottom) seemed to defeat them.
Until one enterprising rodent found he could leap onto the top of it, tilting it a good bit, which in turn caused some of the birdfeed to spill out onto the ground, whereupon he (and his fellow squirrels) would dine on it, stuffing his squirrelly little face.
When I twigged to how the feeder was emptying so fast (!) I went 'net-surfing. Someone reported they'd had success with using Vaseline to coat areas that squirrels were using on her birdfeeders and that kept them from getting a purchase.
Good idea, thought me. I got some generic petroleum jelly and generously slathered it not only along the pole itself, but also on the tops of the crooks, so the squirrels wouldn't be able to get onto the top to leap onto the feeder itself, even if they managed to climb the pole.
You with me so far?
It didn't look particularly attractive (I mean, it wasn't exactly a thin layer) but it did the trick. And, as a little side-benefit, the wrought iron doesn't rust, if it was prone to, so I guess it adds an element of protection.
Squirrels are fast learners, so after a few attempts (presumably by different squirrels, as I can't imagine the same one would take too long to get the idea) they seemed to give up. During their experiments, though, it was amusing to watch them try to scramble up the pole, only to slide helplessly back down - sort of like unwilling firemen.
Now, the thing is, within a week or two the Vaseline kind of weathers away - understandable. When I'd see a squirrel from my line of sight (which is about two-thirds of the way to the feeder's level) I'd know it was time to renew the petroleum jelly.
This November when I put the feeder out for the season, I decided to put a 'suet ball' on the other arm of the crook: it's just a little net bag with a relatively hard ball of suet embedded with seeds, but the birds go crazy for it, and it's relatively cheap, so what the hey.
Every few weeks I went out to (you should pardon the expression) grease the pole and everything was hunky dory. For a while.
One of the squirrels (I don't know which one; funny thing is, all squirrels look alike to me, at least if they're gray squirrels) worked out a way to get up onto the pole just enough to grab the suet ball, swing from it - all the while chewing madly - until the net gave way and the ball fell out, whereupon he would drop to the ground, snatch the suet ball, and run off with it.
Back to 'net-surfing. The solution is interesting, and one I wouldn't have thought of: cayenne pepper. Like all mammals, squirrels can taste it all right, and its fiery nature doesn't, ah, appeal to them. But even if the birds get hold of it, it doesn't seem to affect them at all.
Great. I love natural, green solutions to these kinds of problems.
So I got a good-sized canister of generic red pepper and refreshed the layer of Vaseline on the crook, this time rubbing in a good handful* of cayenne. I also encircled the base of the pole with quite a sprinkling, figuring that it might stick to their little paws if they even approach the pole.
*You know the plastic gloves that are used behind meat counters or in sandwich shops or in hair salons? The little thin cheapie disposables? Okay, it's not such a green way to go, but works a treat. No way am I getting red pepper all over my hands.
The first time a squirrel tried to shimmy up the pole really was hilarious. First there's the fireman's slide down the pole, as he'd tried to leap up as high as possible from the ground. Then the red pepper must've hit him.
He went airborne.
After some very acrobatic somersaults and a lot of squirrel-equivalent whooping and hollering, he clambered up onto the nearest shrub where he sat chittering and complaining while undoubtedly madder'n a wet hen.
Now, don't start thinking I'm cruel to animals. I haven't seen any dead squirrels around (!) and I'm pretty confident it wouldn't take long for the Vaseline / cayenne mix to wear off their feet. It seems to work to keep them from stealing birdfeed and suet balls, and it surely can be entertaining, so I see it as a (relatively) harmless method of pest control.
Fast forward to yesterday afternoon: we've had a long (TOO long) spate of wind-and-rain, and I'd already made a mental note that the next nice day I should renew the pepper-Vaseline. And it was due, all right.
Around 3 pm I see movement out of the corner of my eye and sure enough, there's a squirrel on top of the crook holding the suet ball. Even as I watch he does a little jump, grabbing hold of it.
I rapped on the window, driving him off, then went through to the kitchen to get my squirrel-fighting weapons.
While I was at it, I filled the seed station and put out a fresh suet ball. (Old ones go on a thin twig on the magnolia outside my kitchen window - the squirrels have difficulty getting out far enough to get hold of it, and if they should, well, I don't worry about it too much as there's very little left by the time I take suet balls off the crook and put them on the tree.)
There's been no sign of squirrels between then and now. They might've been on the ground below my line of sight, but I think I would've heard 'em, at least once they got into the cayenne.
I don't know how long red pepper lasts before it loses its potency, and of course a good rain will wash much of it away, but in the meantime, at least the birdfeed and suet ball are secure.
Meanwhile, although there are several different birds that visit the feeder, this little fellow is my favorite:
English robins make me think of wrens - small, inquisitive birds, who are exceedingly tolerant of humans. They will gripe if the feeder gets too empty to release seed. I guess that makes them feathered bird-feeder reminders.
* * *
Crocuses are budded and might bloom with the next mild spell. Daffodil shoots are everywhere. And you know the 400 / 600 / 800 / I-forget-how-many bluebells we planted last fall? Oh, they're promising to put on a heckuva show - there's green showing everywhere.
That's it. I'm off to go and do. Have a good 'un, Sparklers - carpe diem!