[Tweeters] Bellevue Eastgate flying squirrel...., but which species????

Pterodroma pterodroma at aol.com
Mon Jun 12 00:57:39 PDT 2017

With that subject line, I can imagine all you smarties out there, eyes a rolling, moron, of course, what else around here but Northern flying squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus). But wait, not so fast, ...and don't call me moron. Maybe, but, maybe not. Turns out and just published hot off the press ("Journal of Mammalogy", May 30, 2017), there is a "new" west coast species of flying squirrel and North America's newest mammal called Humboldt's flying squirrel (Glaucomys oregonensis) to join the roster of North American mammalian wildlife. Over most of it's range from the Central California Sierra, Northern California, through Western Oregon and Western Washington, it replaces the previously presumed G. sabrinus. However, only in the Puget Sound area and the inland Northwest, the two species apparently overlap but since G. oregonensis is something scientist's describe as a "cryptic species" (a species hiding in plain sight but virtually indistinguishable other than DNA), it begs the question as to which one I currently hold in my possession.

Yes, good news but also and simultaneously bad news/sad news. Living at this residence in Bellevue Eastgate (1 mi south of I-90 off 150th Ave SE) for nearly 25 years now, I recorded my first ever yard record for a flying squirrel this past Saturday morning. That's the good news part! The bad news / sad news is that I found it dead in a snap rat trap I had set for Norway Rats (Rattus norvegicus) which have taken to infesting this neighborhood only in recent years. I have been exercising rat control for years, every summer, and until now without unplanned incident, I usually get two or three of those uglies especially when the salal berries are ripe later in the summer. Last year however between just mid August and mid September, there was an unprecedented rat outbreak around here during which time I trapped out an astonishing 24 in just that one month period using the same snap trap over and over and over and hardly ever having to even rebait it!! After that things settled down until now as the rattery seems to be ramping up again. I am always very careful and meticulous with this in that the trap is set ONLY at dusk after the birds and Douglas Squirrels have all gone to bed and picked up at first light so as to NOT risk accidentally catching something unintended. So, Saturday morning in the dim twilight of dawn (4:30am), at first I wasn't sure what I had, certainly not a targeted rat, and I feared the worst, a bird or a Douglas Squirrel. Turns out it was even worse than that, a flying squirrel!! OH NO!!! I felt utterly sick! I had no idea that there were even any flying squirrels in this neighborhood or anywhere in the Seattle metro region anywhere or any more. No one ever seems to mention them. As this region grows and habitats become increasingly fragmented and compromised, even in these suburban areas, mammal life that was once regular around here are long gone and I figured flying squirrels were likely long gone with it along with the Bigfeet and Wooly Mammoth. The last chipmunk I had in the yard was way back in the summer of 1993 and I have no expectations of ever seeing another one here. The steady degradation extends to songbirds too, and perhaps you have noticed that in your neighborhood as well, but that's another story for another time.

The fact that this flying squirrel was captured in a trap on the GROUND in an area of considerable but managed English Ivy, in addition to rhododendrens, and other shrubbery at the base of a large mature Douglas Fir where my suet cake feeder is attached to the trunk 10 feet up was indeed a surprise. What's a flying squirrel doing on the GROUND, especially in that spot?!? Otherwise, the immediate adjacent habitat consists of a deep ravine with year round running stream in a narrow greenbelt consisting of a mix of mature Douglas Fir, Big Leaf Maple, and some hemlock. Regardless of species, flying squirrels are absolutely gorgeous animals. Fur is thick and soft unlike any other mammal save maybe a mole. Tiny tiny delicate feet, how they can even scamper around on the trees is pretty remarkable. Strictly nocturnal, flying squirrels are not usually ground dwellers at all and are most at home in the tree tops and forest canopy gliding from tree to tree. In old growth forests, they make up a significant part of the diet of the Spotted Owl. Back in the early 1990's, you could sometimes find them high in the Okanogan (only G. sabrinus occurs there) by tapping on the boreal owl nest boxes placed by Andy Stepniewski along the forest road between Tiffany Spring and Long Swamp way back then so many years ago.

Way back some 45+ years ago while still young and dumb and full of spunk when living in the Washington DC area and working with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's Mammal Division at the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History, I had the occasion to possess a Southern flying squirrel (Glaucomys volans) captured in the woods around DC which I kept for a short while as a rather unique "pet" of sorts. Wow, what a fun "pet" that was! I kept him in a box and for fun, turned him loose to "fly" about the living room. From atop a piece of piece of furniture or lamp fixture, he would glide clear across the room landing on my head or shoulder or those of a friend who might be visiting for a little morsel of reward. Gosh, totally adorable!

So anyway, I have this specimen now of an unidentified flying squirrel, excellent condition, skull intact, tagged and double bagged in the freezer, and given what we know now, plus a 2017 Seattle metro area record I would think should be a very desirable contribution to science, most likely I suppose, the Burke especially since judging from what I read in link #2 below, Humboldt's flying squirrel is no stranger there and both that and the Northern flying squirrel do overlap here.

For some interesting reads regarding Humbolt's flying squirrel, please see:
(1) http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/05/flying-squirrel-new-species-north-america/
(2) http://www.washington.edu/news/2017/06/06/hiding-in-plain-sight-new-species-of-flying-squirrel-discovered/

Richard Rowlett
Bellevue (Eastgate), WA
Pterodroma AT aol.com

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