The Pine Ridge Association at Henry W. Coe State Park

Coe Park's Nature Corner


Interesting and Important

by Marlene Testaguzza

They're always out there.  I can't think of a time during my years of travel through the park that I haven't seen, even if only out of the corner of my eye, the California Ground Squirrel.

If it's early in the day, I might spot a huddle of squirrels, newly emerged from their burrows and perched atop an arrangement of boulders, surveying their surroundings.

Through the day, I might see one on the ground, bending a plant stem to reach a seed or perhaps a tiny insect. Another might be at the top of a newly leafing-out tree, sampling the delicate young leaves. And yet another might be taking the sun, perched on the branch of a tree. Several may be scurrying to reach their own burrows.  They know that if they tried to enter another's burrow, the rightful occupant would probably bar the way.

There have been special times too. While hiking through a meadow one spring day, I noticed a dead gopher snake, its mouth stuffed with dirt.  Not far away sat a matriarchial-looking, heavy-set squirrel munching on a buckeye nut.  Nearby, several young squirrels relaxed by a burrow mound.

I reasoned that the snake had tried for a squirrel meal.  The female may have kicked enough dirt at the invading reptile to incapacitate it.  Also, it may have entered the burrow and the fleeing youngsters might have tried to plug up a tunnel by kicking dirt behind them.  If it had been a rattlesnake and it had had time to bite the mother, a protein in her blood would have neutralized the snake's venom.  Chances are she would have lived.  The youngsters would not have fared as well.

One sunny day in summer, I visited a hillside squirrel "village."  Three baby squirrels were rolling and tumbling about.  They didn't realize that they were gradually slipping toward the lake below.  Two caught themselves in time, but the third plopped in!

In total amazement, she dragged herself out of the water and sat down.  Her playmates took one look at the very wet rag with two huge eyes and fled.

"Shake yourself," I thought.  No.  Instead she groomed. "Shake, shake!" I advised.  No, she rolled in the dirt. Now she resembled a soil-encrusted wet rag. I felt so helpless!  Mercifully, she ran down a burrow.  Family members probably went into shock.

Today, I sit by another squirrel enclave.  They're all very busy.  It's autumn and the leaves are falling from the deciduous oaks.  The squirrels are scooping up the leaves and carrying them in their mouths down into their burrows.  I imagine the coziness.  There's a nip in the air.  Winter will soon be here.

I was poetic.

Oh "Beechy" Ground Squirrel
treasured by snakes
eagles, hawks, and herons,
coyotes, foxes, and bobcats.
You contribute mightily
to this park's richness.

It's always a pleasure
and a privilege
getting to know you.