Posted tagged ‘fox squirrels’

The Endangered Delmarva Fox Squirrel

June 4, 2012

Endangered Delmarva Fox Squirrel. Photo: Mary Shultz.

My friend Mary had a thrilling experience earlier this month when she spotted this Delmarva fox squirrel on her property on the eastern shore of Maryland.

Beautiful. Photo: Mary Shultz

You don’t know what a Delmarva fox squirrel is? Well, I didn’t either. In fact, not only had I never heard of Delmarva Fox squirrels, I had never heard of Delmarva until Mary called with her big news. The word incorporates the shorthand  for Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, and refers to a large peninsula that runs along the eastern shore of the three states.

Delmarva Peninsula. Image: Worldatlas.com

The Delmarva Fox squirrel (Sciurus niger cinereus) is an endangered subspecies of fox squirrels (Sciurus niger). Its range once included southern portions of the border states of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, but it is now confined to Delmarva. So perhaps it’s not surprising that even though Mary grew up on the eastern shore of Maryland, she had never seen one. She described it as unmistakeable: huge (well, for a squirrel) and slower moving than Eastern gray squirrels, a pale silver in color with a lovely white belly, small ears and an enormous fluffy tail.  In fact, at three pounds and 30 inches long, Delmarva fox squirrels are easily twice the size of an average Eastern gray squirrel and a third larger than the Eastern fox squirrels I used to watch in Texas.

Delmarva Fox squirrel with an Eastern Gray squirrel. Photo: Mary Shultz.

Three pounds may not sound like much, but it makes for one hefty rodent.

The Delmarva Fox Squirrel is the biggest tree squirrel in North America.  Here’s the squirrel climbing up a large tree, its long tail pouring down behind.

Jumbo squirrel. Photo: Mary Shultz.

The Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge on Maryland’s Eastern shore has the largest native population of Delmarva fox squirrels. Here’s a video from Blackwater NWR of a gorgeous gray Delmarva Fox squirrel foraging for food. While it’s hard to get a sense of the size without another animal for comparison, you can clearly see the shape of the head, the stumpy ears and the long tail.  The squirrel also seems less twitchy than its smaller cousins, flowing quite gracefully over the ground.

Loss of habitat due to logging and development is the primary cause of population decline for the Delmarva squirrel, as it is for so many animals.

Nibbling. Photo: Mary Shultz.

Mary’s squirrel returned to the yard every day, sometimes twice a day, for a couple of weeks before disappearing. Mary and her husband also saw the squirrel feeding with a smaller Delmarva fox squirrel, leading them to suspect that she had been raising young nearby and that her companion was one of her babies.

Delmarva Fox Squirrel on the alert. Photo: Mary Shultz.

On a rainy day, the squirrel seemed to be using its tail as an umbrella, something I’ve read about but never seen.

Multi-purpose tail. Photo: Mary Shultz.

The squirrel hasn’t been spotted for some time now, and has probably moved on to a new foraging site. Hope she returns soon.

So long, pretty squirrel. Photo: Mary Shultz.

A Visit to Dallas

July 10, 2010

NYC’s recent heat spell has awakened sweat-enhanced memories of 17 summers in North Texas. To a transplanted New Yorker, life in Dallas is mostly summer. It stretches easily for eight months, from April to November, during which the air never cools. Even in the middle of the night, the city is like a warming oven; the sidewalk, streets, buildings and cars are perpetually warm to the touch.

Texans call the early unstable days of summer “spring;” these days are characterized by an apocalyptic enthusiasm of weather: thunder storms, flash flooding, hail that ranges in size from marbles to baseballs – baseballs, people – and has given rise to an entire sub-industry of car and roof repair,  and regular tornado alerts.

Once the Texas so-called spring has roared itself out, the long, hot days of summer lay themselves down over the city like a heavy quilt on a winter sickbed. Days of 100 degree temperatures pile up like dealt cards and when it’s not 100 degrees, it’s 99 or 96, so what, really, is the difference?  From inside an air-conditioned house or car, it looks beautiful out there.

But, oh my friends, it’s hot.

Texans who run or garden or bike tend to get up and out early. Which is what I did on a quick visit to Dallas last month.

My friend Ellen was excited to show me a turkey vulture nest she had spotted a few days earlier, near the bike path around White Rock Lake.  So at 7:30 one morning, we headed out to bicycle the nine or ten mile loop around the lake.

The sun had already begun its relentless shine and the temperature was in the 80s when we stopped at a swampy area to admire a pretty little coot.

It swam placidly about, enjoying the company of two lively juvenile wood ducks.

Further on, a mixed group of water fowl relaxed and foraged

while on the other side of the path, a charming fox squirrel found something tasty to munch on.

In NYC, I miss fox squirrels, just as I missed Eastern gray squirrels when living in Dallas. Bigger than grays, fox squirrels have a lovely reddish tinge to their undersides.

Snow appeared to cover the ground beneath a nearby cottonwood tree.

Hot and thirsty, we took a water break out on a dock

and watched two peaceful fishermen.

Back in the saddle, we neared the turkey vulture nest.

“There,” Ellen whispered. “In that tree hole.”

A turkey vulture nesting in a tree hole? Really? I moved closer.

“Ellen,” I said, “That’s a duck.” 

And it was. A strange-looking, carbuncle-adorned duck.

A Muscovy duck, we determined, after consulting the Audubon Guide on my iPhone. If it is wild, rather than an escaped captive, it is an unusual find. Either way, we were thrilled with the sighting.

After the bike ride, no matter how much I drank, I was thirsty. So another friend pulled the car up to Sonic where, in addition to selling burgers,they sell drinks “as big as your head.”  In Texas, a person needs a drink as big as her head. We bought two.

Summer in North Texas will eventually be followed by four stunningly beautiful months of autumn. Texans call these months “winter,” but people from the Northeast know better.  A person doesn’t really need a winter coat in Dallas, just a jacket.  That’s not winter. That’s fall.

It’s true that every couple of years, a thin winter-like layer of snow dusts the ground, and a crop of undersized snowmen springs up on the lawns like mushrooms after a rainfall.  These snowmen tend to be brownish in color, due to the amount of dirt scraped up by their Creators along with the snow.  And once in a very great while, a winter ice storm turns tree branches and grass blades to crystal.

But the main game in Dallas is summer. And right now, whether in NYC or Dallas, it’s all about the heat. Time to find some shade.


%d bloggers like this: