by Pat Jaquith
Squirrels are so well-known for their seemingly constant attention to food gathering and caching that a list of synonyms for that activity is pages long. Indeed, nearly every time I see them, they are involved in hunting, storing, defending, or cleaning up from food-related activities.
This squirrel caught my attention as it bounded across the trail in front of me holding this mushroom close to its body with one paw. It bolted up the tree to perch on a lichen-encrusted branch and commenced to eat hungrily. Squirrels collect mushrooms, stash them to dry in various places, and move them into one of their winter food pantries.
As soon as Douglas fir cones are mature, squirrels head to the tree tops to cut them off and drop them no matter who or what may be right underneath! Watch out for falling cones – they are still oozing pitch! Hollow logs, flat tops of stumps, hollowed out cavities under uprooted tree stumps…scales of cones are piled throughout the woods
The noisy scolding of a squirrel attracted me to this scene! Two Dusky Grouse were raiding one of the squirrel’s caches. They were crouched in the middle of the bounty as if nesting when I first came upon them. No wonder squirrels have to work so hard and store so much!
One winter, we had a cold snap that seemed to go on and on without reprieve. Finally, we had a sunny day and the temperature got above freezing! I donned snowshoes to check out the neighborhood. I came upon a squirrel exiting a snow tunnel under a fallen tree; it was piling debris on top of the snow as if cleaning house. It is likely there were several squirrels sharing that den. There were several exit holes, packed trails between them, and fresh middens near each.