THUNDER BAY – FEATURE – It soon declared itself. Climbing the bricks and woodwork of the station. Beneath the glow of a night light it began nibbling on bird seed.
We’ve seen them before in our part of the country especially in winter. It was a Northern Flying Squirrel. Perhaps one of the first small creatures (via evolution) to develop an attached membrane connecting its limbs into a parachute like gliding network. Capable of delivering “an airline ticket” while swooping away as long as it was leaving from a higher plateau.
Though my wife would, benignly, instruct anyone, ‘’Those squirrels do not nearly compare with ancient Pterodactyls. Those things climbed canyon walls so they might dip down hunting and fishing on streams below. They were among the first flyers in an era of Dinosaurs.”
Apparently an English traveller named Shaw observed flying squirrels on his trekking along Canada’s Severn River.
He classified them in the classical tradition as ‘glaucomys sabrinus.’ Glaukos from its Greek origin describing grey tones of fur. Sabrinus denoting a river as flying squirrels settle where water is not too distant.
That fits as we reside not far from a rural river.
However our First Nations, Ojibwa and Chippewa, certainly had long before established stories and legends about these flyers of the night well before Shaw categorized them in a British compendium.
It’s recognized these days that flying squirrels exist from Alaska, and B.C., on the Pacific right across Canada to our Maritimes.
Their size varies from 25 to 30 cm in length. Their weight anywhere from 110 to 230 grams.
They settle in landscapes of conifer and mixed hardwoods. They are able to survive on seeds of flowers, wild mushrooms, and the bounty of lichen within a boreal forest. After watching our Northern Flyer over a week I thought he might be, wittingly, described as Freddie after the United Kingdom ski jumper who competed at Thunder Bay’s Nordic Games of 1980. He was known as Eddie the Eagle. A great amateur who loved sailing through space on his parallel skis. So, having given our visitor a nickname it was riveting one evening watching as not one but two Northern Flying Squirrels appeared in a simultaneous air drop.
For these flyers are strictly nocturnal. They possess the most radiant coal black eyes and curious pink ears that must monitor the faintest of sounds as they would easily be prey to a marten, fisher, or any variety of owls in our wintry region.
Well…the next chapter on our flyers came soon after that night. Two flew off. Then, out of nowhere, two others parachuted in.
These two were smaller. Different markings. No sooner had they bounded away than another flying flotilla arrived with two more as a pair. Research indicates Northern Flying Squirrels will huddle with others to keep warm when colder arctic weather is in the long range forecast.
Yet only last week as I watched, with our cats through a thermal glass window, another sighting was quite vibrant. A tiny Flyer climbed the feeding station– from the opposite side all the others had been using– it was timid at first.
Nervous to the point of darting and dashing on the platform of this new stage. Gradually adapting to this environment with haloes of night lights, and, snowflakes sifting down. One ought to have had a camera. It was the beginning of a newborn’s journey into wintertime.
It’s said Northern Squirrels are equipped to fly after three months. Thus, this was it. A wee creature in December. Complete with the traditional ‘’cinnamon fur’’ of its makers. Plus, lovely coal black eyes with sensitive, wispy, whiskers reflected in the moonlight. Think if we played a theme song for our Northern Flying Squirrel contingent, and their regular nocturnal live stage appearances, with their coming- and-going it would be: Come Fly With Me! Plus the chorus line: “Let’s just float down… into the blue…”