New Trip Report: Great Squirrel Safari, USA, 2022

And a second report from Coke Smith, of a mammoth 12,000 mile road trip across 14 states. His daughter almost certainly now holds the world mammal list record among pre-schoolers. Great images too.

Great Plains and the West, 2022: Coke Smith, 6 weeks, 14 states & 126 mammal species and sub-species including Island Fox, Long-tailed Weasel, Hooded Skunk and a heap of squirrels!


  • Bud Lensing

    What a great trip!

    Where do you find resources on the subspecies?

  • John Fox

    Coke, that sure brought back a lot of good memories. Crawling through campgrounds all over the country looking for Chipmunks, an utterly Pikaless Craters of the Moon, hooking up with Matt Miller in Idaho, driving 1400 miles in two weeks, lots of miles on US 395 between Canada and Mexico, driving clear across Montana on Rt. 2…..

    What struck me was how free we are in this country. Every other weekend I’d fly into some city, rent a car, and go wherever I wanted. Not another soul on earth knew what I was doing.

  • Coke Smith

    Yah it was great. Love road trips! Next year South America!

  • vnsankar

    Nice report! You covered an impressive set of places in that time. Reminds me that I need to get out and explore more of the states…

    It’s also great to have updates on many of these sites as some of that info was getting a little old. For the benefit of future sciurid watchers visiting the states, I thought I’d add a few updates regarding the CA sites here and clear up errors/confusion present in my old (pre-2017) reports. More broadly, I wish there were a way on this site to make errors in old reports easier to correct, besides commenting like this.
    – Sonoma Chipmunk: Muir Woods is way too crowded these days and I’d recommend trying other places. For example there are great sites for this species in Pt. Reyes e.g. Five Brooks and Bear Valley trails. The catch is you’d best to go in May-Oct, when Bobcats are harder to see in the park.
    – Yellow-cheeked Chipmunk: this is a narrow endemic found roughly between Jenner (Sonoma Co.) and Ferndale (Humboldt Co.). Endemic to the coastal zone, and often associated with redwoods. Per comments from Karen Reiss (who studies chipmunks of NW CA at College of the Redwoods) to have this species 100%, you want to look well to the west of the S Fork Eel River. The best places are immediately along the coast e.g. Albion/Little River/Russian Gulch, Gualala, Petrolia, etc. It starts to get hazier as you go inland toward the Eel but to me at least, chipmunks of Bull Creek Flats area of Humboldt Redwoods SP should still be ochrogenys. E of the S Fork Eel out to Alderpoint & N along the main stem to Rio Dell you get into an intergrade zone between ochrogenys & senex. This would include Cal Federation of Women’s Clubs grove, Hidden Springs, etc. so my earlier post ought to be corrected on this basis.
    – Siskiyou Chipmunk: another narrow endemic, this time far NW CA/SW OR. The best field sites for this species are in the Oregon Caves area of the Siskiyou Mtns. But chipmunks in Jedediah Smith SP & Church Tree Rd are very likely this species as well (I say very likely as this population hasn’t been sampled RECENTLY, only in the 70s I think). A different subspecies from those in Oregon Caves though – here you have the low-contrast, brown coastal ssp. humboldti. BTW I wouldn’t ID townsendii group chipmunks of coastal NW CA on basis of pelage as ochrogenys, coastal Allen’s (N. senex pacifica), and coastal Siskiyou (N. siskiyou humboldti) are externally identical. Pelage converges as they occupy really similar habitats, despite being different species (based on bacula). So no ochrogenys in Del Norte.
    – California Chipmunk: this species is really struggling in CA with the impacts of climate change. It needs permanent water and pinyons, which are both contracting in the desert. Barker Dam in JTNP was the traditional site, but it’s much harder there now. The stronghold these days is probably pinyon-juniper woodland on the desert slope of the San Bernardinos e.g. Cactus Flat/Baldwin Lake and Pioneertown. That’s probably the last area in CA where N. obscurus is BOTH common & the sole chipmunk present. Idyllwild is much more complicated than I’d realized back in 2017 – sorry to lead you astray there. Long story short, both merriami and obscurus are in that area (confirmed by studies on bacular morphology & vocalizations at Black Mtn back in the 70s when the species were split). Apparently they separate somewhat on habitat, with Merriam’s in the dense chaparral and California in the more open, rocky pine-oak woodland. Which is the habitat around the nature center. But, in retrospect given that these are cryptic species I was probably naive to oversimplify things like that. I wouldn’t ID a chipmunk seen there to species either way now. As a side note, be careful with iNat as there are a lot of incorrect/optimistic chipmunk IDs floating around.
    – Alpine Chipmunk: I can confirm that Saddlebag Lake remains a good site for this species, as of 2020 at least. The problem is, as you point out, there are Lodgepole Chipmunks there too. N. alpinus is basically restricted to above tree line; speciosus out-competes it below. So chipmunks on the S, N, and E side of the lake will almost always be speciosus. To see Alpine Chipmunks, you have to search carefully on the W side of the lake ONLY, where it’s all just bare talus with no conifers. The chipmunks are shy and hard to photograph (typical of this species), but with patience you get decent views. Gaylor Lakes/Gaylor Peak is another good area to try.

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