I have decided to learn the different tracks made by animals as well as other traces of their movement. My approach is to learn all I can about one species at a time. Currently Sciurus carolinensis, Eastern Gray Squirrel, is the focus. With a blog called Squirrel’s View and a nickname of Squirrel, there should be no surprise on that score.
Monday Trillium and I were exploring at Cacapon State Park when we stopped to talk with a couple of people who were looking for letterboxes. They asked if we were also looking for boxes and I replied, “No, we are learning to track.” “What are you tracking?” was their next question. My reply of “squirrel’s” brought laughter and the comment that we could find them in their yard anytime we wanted. Indeed I’m sure we could because they are very common in the Mid-Atlantic Region. My goal is not to find squirrels but to find evidence of their presence so I will not confuse their tracks with those of a flying or red squirrel. Beside they are interesting in their own right.
Many of us have seen spherical squirrel’s nests or dreys in tree tops and I’ve often heard the question, “Is that a squirrel’s nest or the nest of a large bird?” Gray Squirrel nests are spherical for the most part and contain a lot, I mean a lot of leaves. Birds mostly use twigs and other stringy things. So if it looks like a round ball of leaves with a few twigs thrown in then it is a squirrel’s drey. They enter the nest from a branch on the side and not the top like a bird would do.
At Cacapon we didn’t see too many dreys because there are plenty of tree cavities which is the preferred winter nest.
Another sign is bark biting. They bite the bark along frequently traveled routes. I found this vertical strip of bites that I believe was made by gray squirrels over a long period of time. They bit off a little of the bark and rub their cheeks on to area to leave a scent mark. I could not find the true purpose of such a large strip in my research. They are not very territorial but it must be some sort of sign to the other squirrels in the area. Scat can be often found at the base of such a strip.
Another interesting thing I learned is that when they dig up acorns that they find by smell they prefer to sit and eat it right there on the spot. They also like to tear the acorn shells and other nut shells into smaller pieces.
A couple weeks ago while we still had snow I took some photos of these tracks near my bird feeder. At first they looked like rabbit’s tracks to me but then they led to a tree and disappeared, well then it was a no brainer. Now I know they are the bounding tracks of a gray squirrel. Think of yourself walking with crutches. The crutches are the front legs and when you place them in from of you to move forward and then swing your legs forward and plant your feet on the ground you would leave a track that looks like two round holes from the crutches and two foot prints ahead of that. The pattern would be similar to two exclamation marks - !!. This is what the gray squirrel tracks are like. They leap with their front legs out, those hit the ground first then the back legs swing forward ahead of the front legs as they straighten their body up to prepare for another leap. I’ll stop here before I confuse even myself with further information.
When they are hesitant they walk along slowly placing each foot separately. I think they do this when they are trying to sneak up on the bird feeder without me noticing.
Look for other our door adventures are Outdoor Wednesdays.