Saturday, December 17, 2011

Boundless Energy!

Douglas' Squirrel (tamiasciurus douglasii)
These little buggers are hard not to see and impossible not to hear around High Camp. Just this morning as I was laying in bed in the staff cabin I could hear their scolding calls.  It's hard for me not to think that they are chiding me for entering their territory, but in reality their call is a warning for other squirrels that there is a potential predator in the area. 

If you hear scratching inside the walls of your cabin it is probably a Douglas squirrel.  In the lodge we have a frequent visitor we call George.  Several summers ago, Jirka, a long-time host from the Czech Republic, was helping to build the Foxfire cabin when George's scolding got to his head.  There was a BB gun laying around and Jirka picked it up and hardly aimed at the squirrel that was about 40 feet away. To his surprise and dismay when he shot at it, George keeled over dead. Now when there is a squirrel in the lodge we call them George Jr.

Douglas' squirrels survive by collecting caches of conifer cones in the summer and fall that they pick the seeds out of and eat all winter long.  In the winter you can often see them in trees dropping cone bits down as they tear apart the cones to get to the seeds.   I've never seen it but I've read reports that Douglas' squirrels will collect mushrooms in the fall, dry them in the notches of twigs and then collect them later to store in their caches. I've never seen a Douglas' squirrel steal human food but I don't doubt that it happens, albeit rarely. So why are there so many of them around High Camp if they aren't after our food?

Douglas' squirrels are much less shy than their predators: pine martins, owls and hawks.  The area around High Camp, which sees lots of human activity, is a safe-haven for them.  They also like our insulation to make their nests out of and they probably enjoy the warmth of our cabins. While I think their abundance at High Camp might be slightly higher than undisturbed wilderness, they are abundant everywhere in the forests around here. They used to be abundant all over Western Washington as well but in urban areas they are out competed by the larger more aggressive Eastern Grey Squirrel native to the east coast. Douglas' squirrels often appear more abundant than they actually are because instead of hiding they actually draw attention to themselves. This is contrasted with the snowshoe hare which probably has a similar population density but are experts at staying hidden. Additionally, there are two other species similar to the Douglas' squirrel that live in large numbers around High Camp but are not seen all winter long, the golden mantled ground squirrel and the yellow pine chipmunk. Stay tuned to learn about these critters as I will be writing about them in the coming months.

As I write this from the lodge I'm watching two Douglas' squirrels play an eternal game of tag. One of them leaped off a tree trunk landing 7'3" away, an impressive jump for a little fellow. It left a perfect imprint in the snow with all it's limbs splayed out. Douglas' squirrels boundless energy and playful nature remind me to live fully and seize the day.
High Camp Over and Out

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