While wildlife sightings are not uncommon in the Arnold area, a Lakemont Pines resident recently had a run-in with an especially elusive critter.
On the evening of May 31, Peggy Rourke-Nichols’ cat walked through the door of her home covered in dirt and making a squeaking noise.
“I thought, ‘That’s not normal cat sounds,’” she said. “I went, ‘Oh my gosh, what do you have now?’”
Rourke-Nichols’ cat immediately dropped the small animal, which appeared to be a mole or a vole.
“That thing just went everywhere as fast as possible,” she said. “Thankfully, it went in the bathroom, and I was able to close the door and keep it in there.”
Rourke-Nichols didn’t think that she could capture the creature on her own, due to limited mobility in her right arm. Since it was too late at night to call for assistance, she decided to leave the animal in the bathroom and try to get some sleep. All night long, she heard loud noises coming from the bathroom.
“Each time I heard it, I thought, ‘Oh Lord, what is going on in there and what am I going to face in the morning?’” she said. “Needless to say, I didn’t have much sleep that night.”
In the morning, Rourke-Nichols poked her head inside the bathroom door.
“He had been destroying the bathroom all night long,” she said. “There were boxes and clothes and just everything not where it was supposed to be.”
When Rourke-Nichols saw claw marks on the top of her armoire, she suspected that she might be dealing with a flying squirrel. Over the past 33 years of living in Arnold, the creatures had twice made it into her home. The critter was nowhere in sight, and still unsure of what she was facing, Rourke-Nichols called a pest control company. An employee came over, set up some traps in the bathroom, and told her that she would likely hear a noise in the next few hours.
“Sure enough, in a few hours I heard something,” she said. “I very carefully walked into the bathroom, and closed the door behind me.”
Suddenly, Rourke-Nichols came face-to-face with her uninvited house guest, which had avoided the traps and was crouching in the sink.
“He jumped from the sink, went over my head, and landed on my (hanging) robe,” she said. “I said, ‘You’re not a mole; you’re not a vole; you really are a flying squirrel!’”
California is home to three species of flying squirrel – northern flying squirrel, San Bernardino flying squirrel and Humboldt’s flying squirrel. Both northern flying squirrel and Humboldt’s flying squirrel can be found in Calaveras County. The squirrels don’t technically fly, but glide from tree to tree using a thin membrane that stretches between their wrists and ankles. Because they are nocturnal, small in size and tend to shy away from people, catching a glimpse of one is somewhat rare. Due to its close similarity in appearance to northern flying squirrel, Humboldt’s flying squirrel was only identified as a distinct species in 2017.
A 2016 study on the local flying squirrel population conducted on a 120-hectare section of the Stanislaus National Forest near Pinecrest over several years found that the density of the population ranged from 0.168 to 0.808 individuals per hectare. A hectare is about 2.5 acres.
When Rourke-Nichols realized that the unknown creature was a flying squirrel, she decided that she could handle it on her own. In the bathroom, she had noticed a large amount of droppings around a pitcher of dried sunflowers. She thought that if she waited quietly in the room, the flying squirrel might return to the pitcher, and she could cover it with a bag and transport it safely outside. She sat on the edge of the bathtub, grocery bag in hand, and waited.
“Within 20 minutes, he was zooming around the room, and he ended up back in the pitcher with the sunflowers,” Rourke-Nichols said. “I threw the bag with both arms over the top of the sunflowers, grabbed the handle of the pitcher, and ran outside with them.”
Rourke-Nichols’ cat watched from inside the house, yowling behind a screen door.
“After about 30 minutes, he felt safe enough to explore a little bit, and he went down the stairs and
climbed up the tree, then went back down the tree and into his hole, where his den is,” she said.
Rourke-Nichols said that she sometimes sees flying squirrels “gliding from the trees, down onto the fence, down onto the deck” while sitting outside at night.
“They’re a treat,” she said. “Except when they come in the house.”
Being close to nature is one of the joys of living in Arnold, Rourke-Nichols said.
“In the midst of all of this chaos, with COVID-19 and all of these things that are happening, it’s really nice to just have nature,” she said.