We have always had squirrels in our yard. Until recently, they have been the big all gray Eastern Gray Squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) that love to tease the dog by running along the top of the fence and scolding while sitting safely high on the top of a fence post. I think they get food from the neighbor’s bird feeders to bury and occasionally now I pull up a non-native vine to find a peanut with shell partly intact as part of the roots. I admit it is a bit alarming to see another viable alien plant happily surviving through the winter here. Since I battle ivy, bittersweet and morning glory for many of my Forest Steward volunteer hours, a concern about another potentially invasive vine easily leaps into my mind.
Earlier this last summer, around early July, I had a jaw dropping moment when I saw a trio of young squirrels that looked very different than the usual baby squirrels that show up around that time of year. This trio made their debut by tumbling and scrambling around with each other for several minutes at the base of three large Western Red-cedars. They were smaller, browner and had a highly contrasting white underside. They were more agile and appeared quite different from the usual big grays. I thought they were the native squirrel, Douglas Squirrel….(Tamiasciurus douglasii) , which is smaller, with a rust or rust & gray underside (venter), white eye rings and, just when I thought they couldn’t get cuter, tufted ears. Wikipedia has a couple good pictures.
I ruled out the Douglas then thought maybe these are the American Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) or the Mearn’s Squirrel (Tamiasciurus mearnsi), but no, the details don’t match. Whoever they are, they are lovely and fun to watch when they are scrambling around the tips of the beaked hazel nut shrubs (Corylus cornuta – WA native) collecting green nuts, when they scold Cody (the dog), when they play “run the dog” along the top of the fence and when they execute their agile sideways jumps.
A brief discussion on a group email indicated that the native Douglas Squirrel appears to be making a comeback in the past 2 -3 years so what I thought was impossible …(nerdy excitement building here) … native squirrels in an urban setting, might just be real. Alas, not these particular little acrobats. These three little squirrels are definitely not the native ones and I thought they had too much brown to be the Eastern Gray Squirrel. However, I now think I got all excited over a natural color variation in this year’s Eastern Gray Squirrel babies and all that brown was deceiving me. I would like to say that identification was pending; but, dang, probably an Eastern Gray Squirrel with a lot more brown than usual. I got all excited for naught, like Cody’s dash along the fence chasing after the squirrels; I got pulled into a game of “run the dog”, woof.