I feed squirrels in the back yard. This is a constant source of amusement for Weezy, the fluffy feral cat that has adopted me. It is not an uncommon sight to see them both, less than four feet apart, playing their roles for my comedic relief, at the foot of the large tree where I place the seeds.
At first, I thought it was only one old wizened female squirrel named Stump (for her half tail) that had Weezy’s number. Stump is content to work away at the seed shells while Weezy lays just feet away in the grass, tense and posing in wait, tail twitching. Later, I saw a different squirrel assume the same disposition. They seem to know that they have the reflexes to deal with whichever blitz that Weezy may bring. Stump sometimes even feints at the cat to try to bluff it away, getting within inches!
Even when Weezy gets close enough, in her dash, to make the squirrel abort its usual exit path up the tree trunk, the resulting scramble is usually over in a blink, and the squirrel is again safe up the tree. In these situations, Weezy seems exultant in having come close and then assumes a position to wait for another chance. What surprised me at first was how soon the squirrel would again appear at the seeds, but having watched these little rodents often, I realize these charges and retreats are a common occurrence in squirrel life. Usually, they play out between squirrels, but I guess in their mind, there is not much difference between a competitor squirrel and a somewhat larger grey cat. Stump’s feints are likely an attempt at chasing the cat from her pile of seeds.
What struck me was Weezy’s patience. The cat will wait long periods between attacks, holding out for that perfect instance when her chances are best. The squirrel, meanwhile, works merrily through the pile of seeds, almost relaxed, but vigilant, and never, ever taking an eye off the cat. Should the squirrel have to duck its head down between the roots to get a seed, its head is quick to reappear, with that big black watchful eye always directed right at the cat. When this begins to happen, Weezy’s tail becomes more animated and her body tensed. It won’t happen on the first occurrence, but if the squirrel keeps ducking it won’t be long before the sprints begin.
Now, Weezy is not the perfect example of a real world predator, being well fed and driven by a desire for play, or so I believe. But, after a while, the relationship between the predator and the visual clue of the eye of the prey began to pique my interest.
I’ve watched snook, my personal favorite predator fish to play with, as they stalked baitfish in a large aquarium setting. The snook would circle the tank, which took a while, to find themselves behind the small school of bait, time and time again. Each time around they would begin to slowly stalk the baitfish from below. As long as the bait did nothing in response, the stalk would continue, but as soon as the bait reacted in any way to the advancing snook, the stalk was off, and the predators would return to their circuitous route around the tank.
That observation completely changed my fly manipulation technique when sight casting to snook. My previous technique was to present the fly within the fish’s sight window I imagined, then try to simultaneously emulate a retreating baitfish while conversely trying to keep the fly close to the fish for as long as possible. Sometimes it works, but the number of frustrating rejections (especially in cooler water temperatures) far outnumbers the strikes.
Now, I place the fly further ahead of the snook, outside their sight window I imagine, and hope to have the fly stationary in the water where the snook will overtake it on their anticipated path. I don‘t move it until I’m sure the snook will see it, and when I do I only move it enough to get their attention. Instead of trying to emulate fleeing bait, I try to make the fly look like it is completely unaware of the predator.
Now is where Weezy and the squirrel’s eye come into this rambling text. Eyes are commonly added to flies. A stick-on eye can change a finger shaped lump of wool into a satisfying mullet fly quicker than the glue can dry. But do they elicit more strikes, or hold the predator at bay? Snook, especially cold ones, do not seem willing to expend any of their precious energy on chasing a baitfish that is on to them, and what is a better sign of that than when the prey is staring right at them?
I’m pretty sure how Weezy feels about eyes on squirrels.