Most encouraging of all, of course, was that we occasionally laid a hand on the kitten(s), even though we couldn’t catch it/them. The chamber which appeared at first to be simply circular actually had many side cavities, big enough for a kitten to hide in but not reachable from the hole. My forearm accumulated a large number of wounds as I groped in the splintery bowels of the tree. We began to refer to it as Kitty Fortress.
(Even as we visited the tree, we continued to work the porch as well, trapping one more adult cat, another female, with the same markings. This cat, eventually named “TM,” turned out to be the last one coming to the feeding station under the porch.)
"TM" shortly after capture
At 12:30am on Day 25, we heard skittering as I reached in the tree. I grabbed everywhere I could, coming up empty handed, then made a second pass through the space. At the highest point of the sweep, my fingers closed around something soft, and the tree yielded a small, furry bundle of noise with a strong resemblance to all three adults. We stashed Willow in a pillow case and brought him home to the waiting carrier, then took him to join Miss Fluffy. Their reunion was everything we hoped it would be.
WillowAt 9:15am on Day 25, we touched another kitten in the tree. We had been advised that Miss Fluffy’s two active nursing sites “probably” meant two kittens, but this was the first time we could know for sure that there were at least two kittens. We kept trying all day, but Kitten #2 was simply too fast for us. At 11:30pm, we finally got lucky and grabbed a kitten scruff, and out came Acorn, a spunky dilute calico who turned out to be generally more adventurous than her brother. It had been just over 24 days since we first met Miss Fluffy.
Acorn & Willow, brother and sister
Epilogue: We continued search-and-grab operations, along with food monitoring, at the tree for several more days to confirm that no more kittens remained. Willow and Acorn were judged to be about six weeks old when captured on Day 25. This would mean that they would have been no more than three weeks old when they survived without their mother for two days and three nights in early April, when light snow was still coming down some days. It’s clear that Miss Fluffy made a good choice when she picked Kitty Fortress to raise her family. Mom and both kittens passed their initial vet checkups with no major issues noted, and they are now in the Feline Rescue foster system. Now that we know that he’s a boy, Willow is trying to decide whether he’d prefer to be called Willy. Tom and Mary have declared their retirement from cat rescue—at least for now—and are happily cleaning litter boxes once again.
Acknowledgments: Thanks to our many Feline Rescue advisers and coaches (including Nancy, Claudia, Vickie, Cathy, and Janet) and cheerleaders (Kate, Deb, Mona, Sue, and others) in this effort; to our newly met neighbors, including Brian, Cody, Connor, and Tim; and to Pouncer, for putting up with all this nonsense and coming and going in the middle of the night. (If we omitted anyone, it’s probably just because we were too sleepy at the time to remember.)