First red squirrel documented in Nome
When young Jack James looked out the window of his home at Anvil Mountain on June 7, he saw a red squirrel.
It’s quite remarkable that Jack recognized it as such, as the species doesn’t exactly live here, on Nome’s tundra.
“Mom, there is a squirrel on the deck,” he said to his mother Donna James. She took her phone, snapped a few photos and the family marveled at the unusual sight of the squirrel. “It just sat there,” Donna James said. But after it left the deck, it remained elusive and hasn’t been seen anymore.
The photographs documenting the squirrel, and identifying it without a shadow of a doubt as a red squirrel, give it the distinction as “the first documented occurrence of a red squirrel on the Seward Peninsula and the westernmost record in North America,” according to Link Olson, Curator of Mammals at the University of Alaska Museum in Fairbanks.
Photos of the squirrel made it to his desk and he confirmed that the animal is indeed a red squirrel.
Anecdotal reports exist of red squirrels in Council and of one red squirrel that was seen hiding in the rocks of the Nome seawall years back. But James’ photos put the squirrel literally on the map of documented sightings and proof that it was here.
Olson said red squirrels are mostly associated with subsisting on spruce cones and depending on trees. But they also eat fungi, bird eggs, baby birds and even baby snowshoe hares, Olson said. Asked if the squirrel just got lost or if their range is extending, Olson said that ranges are dynamic and change and that animals are also experimenting with finding new territory. “They do disperse farther than we think,” he said. Asked if this occurrence of a new species can be linked to climate change as warming encourages vigorous shrub growth and the tree line to march west and northward, he said, “I would not jump to the conclusion that this has anything to do with climate change.”