Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tracking gray squirrels

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.


Carletta said...

What a wonderful post! I really must go look at my oak tree to see if it is marked. At most any one time we have two gray squirrels and one red one.
I can attest to them eating on the spot. Mine shell their walnuts in one place near the oak that is between the walnut tree and the woods where they live.
I've learned something to day. The squirrels are a pleasure to watch.

Gaelyn said...

I really love the idea of finding evidence of the animal instead of the animal itself. I might use that this summer with the Junior Ranger kids. Great post. I learned a lot today.

~Cheryl said...

Very interesting! I'd say you are an excellent tracker!

SquirrelQueen said...

A great post on the gray squirrels, I really enjoyed it. I spotted a few fox squirrel nests late in the fall. One large one I can see from my front yard. It sits about fifty feet up in a large tree. I was curious to see how it would survive our winter winds. We have had gusts up to 54 mph in the past two weeks and the drey is still in place. Our little squirrels are expert builders indeed!

Wanda said...

That was so appreciated by me, we have an abundance of squirrels on the property. I have seen the tree markings, now I know what they are. Our squirrels chew on the risers of our outdoor steps that are made of cedar and leace horizontal places like this. I just posted some mysterious markings and tracks in a few of my last posts too!

Ellen Rathbone said...

Good description of the tracks. When I explain squirrel tracks to folks, I usually use the game LeapFrog as an analogy, but sadly, many kids today have no idea what that means!

The bark chewing is a new sign for me. I wonder if red squirrels do it, too. Hmmmm... (We mostly have reds here - and flying squirrels, but we never see them.)

squirrel said...

Carletta, I think in the winter they are so eager to eat those dug up acorns that they don't move. But the rest of the time they find a good snacking spot.

Gaelyn,I agree finding the evidence is fun and some animals, well I'm really not sure I want to find a bear but I would like to see evidence that it passed by and kept going.

Cheryl, I'm just learning and having fun in the process.

SQueen, I don't think I have fox squirrels in my yard. I love to see them on your blog.

Wanda, Yes I saw the tracks in your post. Nice. Sometimes they also leave scat along their routes. I bet you have seen some on your steps as well. Good luck finding the tree markings.

Ellen, I haven't started studying the red and flying squirrels yet but I think they don't leave that long vertical strip like the grays do. I think it was mentioned in that big heavy book you suggested. Sorry I don't recall the name right now.

Everyone, thank you all for visiting and your feedback.

chubskulit said...

great shots, I haven't had any luck taking pictures of squirrel.

My Outdoor shots

The Lucy and Dick Show said...

I find the squirrels so much fun to watch. One of my earlier Posts on Almost Retired Handbook was about a squirrel I caught napping on my back fence. I'm hoping he'll sun again this spring now that I have my new camera.

Mary said...

You've got some wonderful pictures here. Thank you for sharing them with us. Have a great Outdoor Wednesday.

Light and Voices said...

Your header is simply marvelous.
Joyce M

Wanderin' Weeta said...

Fascinating information! Now to go check all our tree "highways".

eileeninmd said...

Great post and interesting info on the squirrels. Thanks for sharing.

Self Sagacity said...

Very neat to see the squirrel image on the tree trunk! What great captures. Happy Outdoor Wed.