Autumn is a perfect time for a stroll or ride on the Bob Jones Pathway. There are plenty of active critters to observe. The path from Ontario Road to See Canyon Creek bridge is heavily populated with furry tree squirrels, Western Gray Squirrels to be exact. Their favorite habitats are oak and walnut woodlands, both of which are found on the Bob Jones Trail.
During the fall, the tree squirrels are particularly active, zipping to and from using rather spastic moves. They almost brush your shoes as you walk or run by, often causing you to put on your brakes to an abrupt halt as the squirrel figures out his route. These tree squirrels will dart out with no fear or hesitation, oblivious to trail travelers. Their mission is to gather as many acorns and nuts as possible along with tree buds, fungi, insects, and fruit. Often you can hear their chirping-like sound as they navigate through the trees. Tree squirrels are masterful climbers.
The trees along the Bob Jones Trail are first-rate jungle gyms. Squirrels jump from branch to branch and often cross from one side of the trail to the opposite without ever touching the ground. No, they are not flying squirrels, like Rocky the flying squirrel, but their swift moves make it seem like they glide. They use tree branches like trampolines, boing, boing, then up and away.
Let us not confuse ground squirrels with tree squirrels. Ground squirrels burrow in the ground, and therefore, cause erosion problems. Tree squirrels live in the trees, no ground tunnel digging. They build their nests, which are called dreys, high in the trees. There is also a difference in appearance between the two. Tree squirrels have fluffy bushy tails, whereas ground squirrels have narrow straight tails. The bushy tail helps the tree squirrel camouflage its body against creatures of prey, such as raptors, coyotes, raccoons, and mountain lions. They simply spread their tail, creating an umbrella shield that covers them from predators.
Another busy resident that finds the tree-lined trail a prime real estate zone is the acorn woodpecker. The acorn woodpecker has a brownish-black head, back, wings and tail. Bright white adorns the woodpecker’s forehead, throat, belly, and rump. The adult male has a red cap starting at the forehead; females have a black area between the forehead and the cap. The bird’s distinctive markings, along with their rapid tree pecking, make it easy to identify.
Woodpeckers can peck a tree up to 20 times per second! Amazingly, a woodpecker’s anatomy is designed to absorb the force and prevent the avian from injury. Their distinctive, loud, repeated, laugh-like voice can be clearly heard throughout the footpath. The call sounds just like the classic cartoon character Woody Woodpecker, which is believed to have been patterned after the acorn woodpecker’s call.
Acorn woodpeckers depend heavily on acorns for food and are well known for their habit of stockpiling acorns, but they also eat nuts, insects, sap, and fruit. Why do they store acorns? They harvest acorns in the fall and stow them in drilled holes to be eaten in the winter. During the fall, acorns are abundant, and the woodpeckers wisely take advantage of this time. In California, woodpeckers bore holes in trees or branches to create acorn granaries; surprisingly, these holes do not harm the trees. Granaries can have as many as 50,000 nuts stored in them. Holes are used year after year, and new ones are always added. Sometimes they can be seen puncturing holes in the utility poles along the Bob Jones Pathway. Are they trying to gain free power access? No, they are creating holes to store their food source. Unfortunately, woodpeckers often select other types of structures to house acorns, which causes conflicts with humans, but this article’s focus is on the environment along the Bob Jones Trail. After the woodpeckers drill holes, they collect acorns to place inside. However, they do not randomly select a hole. They find a hole that is a perfect size for the acorn. The acorns are tightly wedged so that it is difficult for other creatures to remove them. As time passes, acorns in the holes dry out and shrink in size, so the woodpecker must remove the acorn and locate a smaller hole to house the acorn. Acorn warehouses require lots of work for the red-headed bird to maintain. Woodpeckers do not take kindly to other species that try to rob their stores. They fiercely defend their pantry.
Not all the active autumn creatures on the trail are swift movers or easily seen. A slow-moving arachnid can occasionally be seen crawling on the Bob Jones Trail. During the early fall, a hairy, brown, 8-legged, fang-spouting spider is out looking for a mate. You guessed it, tarantulas. It is best not to mess with these spiders, they are not poisonous to humans, but they can bite!
Its powerful jaw can be quite an unpleasant experience; if you leave them alone, they will leave you alone. The spider’s venom, which is in their fangs, is used to paralyze prey. Tarantulas are interesting to watch, that is, if you can tolerate their eerie appearance. Their body is about 2 inches; however, their leg spread is around 6 inches. The tarantula’s legs can be used to flick barbed abdomen hairs when disturbed, causing discomfort and irritation to predators. Tarantulas, like most creatures, are designed for survival and are well equipped with resourceful tools. Capturing and feasting on insects and arthropods such as centipedes and millipedes relatively causes no problems for the eight-eyed, ground burrowing character.
The anatomical structure of the tarantula makes it appropriately featured in many scary movie scenes, but they are not considered aggressive. In fact, California tarantulas are considered docile. Be on the lookout for these large not so attractive creepy crawlers on the Bob Jones Pathway. You might see one just in time to put you in the Halloween spirit.