Up here on the mountain we have two very common small critters darting through the trees, grasses and even our visitor's feet. There is sometimes confusion over which is which, so I thought I'd devote this blog entry to talking about each species so you will have a better idea of which one is running under foot the next time you are up visiting!
The Douglas Squirrel, Tamiasciurus douglasii,
loves coniferous forests. It inhabits the coastal sub-alpine forests from the Sierra Nevada range in California, through British Columbia and up into Alaska. You can hear it's sharp alarm call quite often as you hike through the woods around the Vancouver mountains. In fact, some local First Nations refer to this squirrel as "Pillillooeet" in reference to its call. This shrill chattering cry is often mistaken for a bird call.
Douglas Squirrels are a solid chocolate brown on their back and have a lighter brown/yellowish underbelly. They also have a pronounced eye ring of lighter coloured fur - and of course the large bushy tail! Their favourite food is the seeds found in the cones of our large firs and pines - they will spend a lot of the summer caching this food for the cold winters. Unlike other squirrels and small rodents, Douglas Squirrels do not have cheek pouches to carry their food and must make more trips to establish a good cache. A good way to detect the presence of a Douglas Squirrel nest or cache is to look for a large pile of cone parts underneath a tree!
Our second subject today is the much smaller Townsend's Chipmunk, Tamias townsendii.
These guys have a body that is about 5-6" long and a tail that is about the same length as their body. They are solitary individuals and, like the Douglas Squirrel, spend most of their late summer caching food for the winter. Unlike the squirrel, the Townsend's Chipmunk does have large cheek pouches to help with the gathering and caching process. Chipmunks have been observed travelling up to a kilometre from their den to a good foragaing site. Their favourite foods are small seeds and berries.
The chipmunks tend to be more shy and reclusive than the squirrels but can often be seen scurrying around our pathways gathering grass seeds and storing them for later. They are also much more quiet than the squirrels and are rarely heard vocalizing.
Watch for both of these amazing little critters the next time you are up here at Grouse Mountain! Please remember that there is ample food up here for them and no human food is needed. We want them to remain wild. Thanks!