City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

September 21, 2016

September 19th

Filed under: Deer Mouse, Mammals, Squirrel, Unita Chipmunk, Water Treatment Plant — canopus56 @ 3:06 am

Samurai Squirrel

4:00 pm Today, I decide to jog further to mile 4.0.  At mile 3.1, a squirrel runs parallel to the road ahead of me, stops, turns around, and stands on its hind legs. Its arms are outstretched and the wide stance of its legs is suggestive of a samurai warrior. The squirrel stares at me as I jog by, but is relaxed and curious, and does not run away. Like other squirrels of the Wasatch Front canyons, this squirrel is docile and does not make aggressive displays towards people. Their behavior contrasts greatly with their direct relatives and their cousins, the Unita chipmunk, that live in the Unita Mountains about 80 miles east of City Creek Canyon. In the Unitas, both squirrels and chipmunks start barking loudly whenever a hiker approaches within 100 meters of their tree, and they continue to bark until one has passed and is another 100 meters away.  When their tree is close to a trail, I have known squirrels to crawl out to the edge of a branch a couple of feet over a hiker’s head, and they bark frenetically as the branch sways back and forth. They act as if they are about to jump off in an attack. Why there is this difference in behavior is unclear. Perhaps the squirrels in City Creek and the Wasatch Front canyons have, historically, been shot at so many times by humans, that they have internalized to not become aggressive around people. While squirrels and Unita chipmunks have suffered less hunting. But in recent times neither have been actively hunted by humans.

At the water plant at mile 3.4, is the first Rocky mountain deer mouse that I have seen since spring. They are called deer mice because of their relatively large ears. In the winter, the live under the snowpack, safe from the eyes of humans and predators. In the spring after the snow melts and grasses have not yet returned, four or five deer mice can be found leaving or entering their underground burrows along the canyon road. After the grasses regrow, they are again invisible during the summer. The mouse seen today has sunning at the road’s edge where the grasses have thinned, but when startled, he or she disappeared into the undergrowth.

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