Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the August 14, 2005 Newsletter issued from the Sierra Nevada foothills somewhat east of Placerville, California, USA

On the list of mammals potentially seen in this area one impressive feature is the presence of six species of chipmunk. There's only one chipmunk species in the East, except for a small portion of the north-central states. Appropriately enough the East's main chipmunk is known as the Eastern Chipmunk.

I've not seen a single chipmunk at our 2600-ft elevation but whenever I backpack to over 4000 feet I hear a variety of whistles and barks I suspect to be chipmunk in origin. The whistlers and barkers habitually escape into the underbrush before I spot them but finally this week at about 4300 feet I got to see where one went. He disappeared into an old tree stump, into a crack between the bark and the shriveling wood. I took a seat about 30 feet away, focused my binoculars on the stump, and in about ten minutes the little critter popped onto the stump's platform and afforded me a full side view.

The Eastern Chipmunk with its small size, short ears, short snout, rounded head and pudgy body looks like it was designed to be cute. My stump chipmunk's long snout and long ears gave it a foxy look. It bore both a very well delineated white eyebrow streak and a white cheek streak, plus the cheek streak expanded into a conspicuous zone of white fur behind its perked-up ears. This chipmunk with racing stripes was streamlined and rangy, a no-nonsense chipmunk clearly not interested in cuddling.

It was the Long-eared Chipmunk, TAMIAS QUADRIMACULATUS, a species endemic to California's Sierra Nevadas and a sliver of western Nevada. What a treat to see this creature. You can read about it, see a map showing its limited area of distribution, and see a drawing that makes it look not quite as lean and foxy as the one I saw at http://www.sibr.com/mammals/M062.html

I think of chipmunks as favoring rocky places, but this Long-eared species specializes in brushy areas, where logs lie on the ground, and open forest. They seldom climb high into trees as some species do. The long ears and the large white patches behind the ears are distinguishing features.

Last weekend Fred and Diana attended a church meeting in a big tent in the high sierras near Tahoe and during the service chipmunk-like critters scurried around the speaker's platform. Diana got a picture of one, and it turned out to be the Golden-mantled Squirrel, CITELLUS LATERALIS, which my mammal book calls "a chipmunk-like ground squirrel." Ground squirrels are yet another rodent type we have here, and we may have three species of them. This place is heaven for rodents! You can see Diana's picture of their Golden-mantled Squirrel at http://www.backyardnature.net/pix/gr-squrl.jpg.

Fred tells the story of what happened at a previous tent service at the same location a while back. During church several "chipmunks," probably Golden-mantled Squirrels, were hanging around the speaker's platform. One of them suddenly broke away and ran right at a pious old lady who promptly screamed, threw her Bible at it, and became so hysterical she had to be taken outside. I told Fred he should send that story to Garrison Koehler as a skit for Lake Woebegone, but he showed me that the skit has already been incorporated into the world of art.

If you have fast broadband Internet connection and want a good laugh, listen to "Mississippi Squirrel Revival" at http://susie1114.com/MississippiSquirrelRevival.html.