Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Western Gray Squirrel

The Woods Behind the Cabin

While at the cabin, I had the welcome opportunity to try out a sit spot in snow country. As a naturalist, the snow gets me over-excited, because animal tracks are so visible and follow-able in the snow! I snuck out one morning, attempting to move quietly in my nylon snow outfit, while breaking through the crunchy crust underfoot. Needless to say, I made a racket audible for a long distance, while making my way toward a sitting place.

I decided to choose a spot underneath a large black oak tree on a little rise, overlooking a snowy meadow. There were tracks leading through the meadow, and I had a feeling if I sat still long enough, I would see some sort of wildlife. So I sat down and got quiet, letting my mind wander and listening for critters.

I wasn’t there long before I heard a little skittering behind and above me. I sat still for a moment, but my curiosity got the best of me, and I slowly turned around, craning my neck to see who was there. Ah ha! A Western Gray Squirrel (Sciurus griseus), frozen in fear, staring right at me mid-movement. I averted my gaze in an attempt to help it feel a little more comfortable. It then protested at a medium volume, “chuck chuck chuck!”, which caused a small bird in a thicket to my left side to complain and alarm a little bit too: “Someone is in our home! Who is it?! What is their business?!”

After a few moments, however, the squirrel decided I wasn’t much of a threat, and proceeded to climb up the tree it was on and work on its project. I wasn’t sure what it was doing until it scampered down the trunk, holding a wad of bark, pine needles, and leaves in its mouth. I’ve never seen a squirrel do this before! It paused mid way down to readjust the bundle, to consolidate it and get a better grip, before running back up the tree and disappearing on the other side of the trunk. It was then I noticed a nest-looking object a little ways above where the squirrel had collected its treasure. Ah, I think I see, a nest in process, getting ready to bear the young of the year.

I’m guessing at this, anyway. We have a squirrel nest in the forest by the yurt, and it is MUCH larger than this bundle of twigs, leaves, moss, and bark I saw. I guess I will have to visit it again, and see if I can learn more about it.

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