by Julian Meisler
The truth is, I haven’t been out much on the land lately. Without field observations, writing a stewardship blog can be challenging. Nonetheless, there’s always something to talk about when it comes to the natural world.
Today, I’m thinking back to August of last year when I read an article in The Atlantic magazine about the app called Nextdoor. If you’ve used Nextdoor, you need to read this humorous article.
A couple of things struck me: First was the writer’s conclusion that despite the political polarization in the United States today, people are mostly the same everywhere, be they Democrat, Republican or otherwise. Wherever you go, people are talking about who left the bag of dog poop by the edge of the trail and why, what was the strange noise in the neighborhood last night, or whether anyone can recommend a good plumber. It’s, somehow, reassuring.
But, according to the article, like all other social media, Nextdoor can sometimes be filled with vitriolic back and forth threads on wide-ranging topics. And that made me recall the local Nextdoor thread I read last summer on the California ground squirrel.
The details are there for you to search, but let me paraphrase to say that some love and some despise Spermophilus beecheyi. Some worry about rabies and plague, while others enjoy the company of these wide-ranging social creatures living in bustling colonies.
At Sears Point, it seems that some of our efforts to create habitat for the increasingly rare western burrowing owl by installing artificial burrows have been met with delight by S. beecheyi. They’ve turned a set of five burrows installed behind the Benson Center in 2012 into a small squirrel town. I’m so curious to run a small camera down into one of the burrows and see what is going on — but I can only imagine it.
They are nesting, storing food, sleeping, mating, and the like. Yet, Don Brubaker, manager of the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge, who spends many of his nights there in his nearby trailer, told me that in the fall and early winter, he frequently hears one or more burrowing owls at the site. Are these two species sharing the burrows? Could they occasionally help each other avoid being eaten by a coyote? A red-tailed hawk? Such relationships are not uncommon in nature. I briefly tried to research it but much of what comes up when you google California ground squirrels is about extermination. Suggested topics include, “Can you eat California ground squirrel?,” “Is it illegal to kill ground squirrels in California?” and “Is it illegal to relocate squirrels in California?”
I suppose there is a chance that if I lived in the country and a colony of ground squirrels took over my patio, I might ask such questions. But I’ll bet there is a lot to learn about these social animals. First in my mind is whether they can co-occupy a burrow with a burrowing owl. I hear there are inexpensive scoping cameras at Harbor Freight. It might be worth picking one up and finding out.
Learn more about artificial burrows
Sonoma Land Trust is a local nonprofit based in Santa Rosa, CA, that conserves scenic, natural, agricultural and open lands in Sonoma County for the benefit of the community and future generations. This blog focuses on SLT's stewardship team, whose members do hands-on work to directly protect, restore, and safeguard the land for generations to come.