I seem to be doing a lot of mammal posts lately, but as birders, we are interested in the entire web of nature. I find that the more birding I do, the more interested I become in all other animals, and in plants as well.
Last Saturday, Dan Arndt and I, plus assorted wives and girlfriends, took a hike at dusk in the Weaselhead with the intention of finding and photographing Northern Flying Squirrels. These rodents are strictly nocturnal, so many people aren’t even aware that they exist here. But in fact they range across the entire northern boreal forest of Canada and Alaska, and down into the continental United States as well.
I first saw these animals in March of 2008 when I attended a Nature Calgary “Owl Prowl”, led by Gus Yaki, to listen for Northern Saw-whet Owls. We didn’t hear any owls that night (according to Gus, it was Christmas – “the First No-owl”), but as we walked back through the woods in the dark I saw a shape streak through the trees against the dim sky. I assumed it was a bird going to one of the nearby feeders, but what bird goes to a feeder in the dark? Then someone shone a flashlight on the trees, and we saw that it was a small squirrel with very large reflective eyes!
Since then Nature Calgary has had annual outings to this spot to see these amazing animals, and we did see them again in 2009 and 2010. This spring they didn’t show, so I wondered if they were still around.
On Saturday we arrived a little early, so we walked around the forest on the south side of the Elbow River bridge for a while, hoping to see an owl. Again there was no luck spotting any owls, but we did see one Pine Grosbeak and one Common Redpoll, plus dozens of Canada Geese overhead. At dusk we headed back across the bridge to the feeders to set up our cameras. It was only then that we noticed this sign…
…and we all agreed that it could have been put in a more prominent spot, for example facing our line of travel, instead of sideways to it, or on one of the many trail signs. We hadn’t noticed it when we first crossed the bridge to walk the trails in the deep woods in the fading light. Oh well, I’ve encountered quite a few bears before and never had a problem, so I have an irrational lack of fear of bears. I was prepared to stand still in the dark for an hour or so, bear or no bear.
Sunset was at 5:05 pm and two Northern Flying Squirrels glided in at 6:05 pm, right on schedule, as it seems that they make this feeder their first stop of the night, a half-hour or so after it gets dark. The squirrels seemed reluctant to go right to the feeder – they hid in the trees somewhere for ten minutes or so before we saw them again. We saw a few more gliding shapes and some squirrel silhouettes on tree trunks, and heard them scrabbling up and down the bark, but never got a good look at them. Finally, my wife snapped a few shots with a flash when she heard one on the tree in front of her, resulting in a couple of fuzzy images as the squirrel tentatively climbed down toward the feeder. (Click on pictures to enlarge them.)
We will certainly be heading out again in search of the Northern Flying Squirrel. Maybe someday we’ll get a photo as clear as the one below.
Posted by Bob Lefebvre