Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Right under my nose

I walk frequently at a city park in Santa Rosa California. There's a lake and a small amusement park but I usually make haste to get away from the crowds and walk on a series of trails that few people, other than cyclists, use. The past few weeks, though, I've been starting my day at the park early, before the crowds arrive, by sitting in a picnic area by the lake. There I've found several California ground squirrels (Spermophilus beecheyi), including some youngsters, living in dens around the edge of the lake. Although the ground squirrels I encounter when I'm out on the trails are very shy, this group is shamelessly brazen! I've seen them eat peanuts out of people's hands and, if I rustle around in my backpack, one or two will come pretty close to see if I'm handing out food, despite the fact that my canine companion watches their every move with barely contained enthusiasm.

Their comfort around humans has given me the opportunity to study their behavior and physique in a fairly concentrated fashion. I can spend an hour sketching and watching because so little frightens them away. I've been amused to see how much their behavior resembles ours. One day I caught one taking a break from foraging for food to blissfully scratch her back on the concrete base of a picnic table.

The youngsters are in constant motion, exploring their new world with enviable enthusiasm. They rough-house with one another, tease their elders and fearlessly try anything. They climb the coyote brush that grows at the edge of the lake, looking for food and dangle acrobatically before tumbling to the ground, only to begin their constant movement once again. The parents watch closely and call them to the den when they perceive danger. Like human parents, they appear to be a bit weary, but mostly tolerant of these wild young things they're raising. Dust baths are extremely popular among all age groups and while the youngsters prefer to careen around the campground, the adults seem to enjoy more sedate activities such as perching on a warm rock and basking in the sun. Sound familiar?

You can find out more about California ground squirrels at:

The Smithsonian



  1. Lovely, lively sketches Debbie, it doesn't get much better than that, sitting and sketching these interesting subjects, does it?

  2. I love these sketches, Debbie, and the story to go with them!

  3. What a delight, Debbie! Your sketches capture them so beautifully. Lucky you to be able to share in their life! Thank you for sharing with us!


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