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Unwelcome guests sure to make a mess

Robert Stanger

Recently, we have had to evict the talented actors who staged the ” floorshows” that we have enjoyed while seated next to the evening campfires that we occasionally light next to our cabin on the Allegheny River south of Warren.

The spotlights we put on these entertainers were the beams from flashlights, which allowed us to easily follow the flying squirrels as they raced along the cabin’s cedar planking with the aid of their sharp claws, and often arced themselves into the linden tree that soars above the river scant feet from the cabin. Startled, or attracted, by the bright lights, the squirrels would occasionally stop and look down at us.

My wife, Judith, and I tolerated the quaint squirrels for many years, as they stayed in their own quarters, a very low-ceilinged attic area that runs above the one-half of our two-story cabin that is closest to the river. The animals never entered the human-occupied portion of the cabin, but the nightly overhead scampering of these nocturnal animals above the front upstairs bedroom was a little disconcerting. The squirrels used a gap in the cabin’s siding below an eave to enter and leave the attic.

The cute rodents (who are listed as endangered) were not in danger of being ousted so long as my wife and I were the cabin’s main users. It was a “live and let live” situation.

I was even quite irritated one evening years ago when one of the cats that used to travel with us to the cabin caught a squirrel that had ventured down onto terra firma to feed on seeds that had fallen from our bird feeder. The cat proudly brought the little corpse into our kitchen which I examined before burying it in a tiny grave below the linden.

A flying squirrel is pictured.

The animals are truly small miracles of nature with their protruding night-vision equipped eyes, limbs webbed for gliding with what are called “patagia” and long tails flattened for the same purpose which also serve as rudders.

Family tolerance for the squirrels declined when my son, Jamie, got married and he and his new wife, Harmony, started coming up to the cabin from Youngstown with some regularity. They were less tolerant of the nightly squirrel activity than were my wife and me.

When Jamie climbed a stepladder to remove one of the acoustic tiles that formed the ceiling of the bedroom to investigate the source of the nightly noise and peered into the attic, the scene the beam of his flashlight revealed was disconcerting.

Numerous squirrels scampered in all directions, and their floor, the tops of the ceiling tiles, were covered with their droppings. They had torn out Insulation from the attic’s very low peaked ceiling to use for bedding, and portions of this insulation now hung down loose.

This was obviously a situation that required the labor of someone younger than I am, so I let Jamie take charge.

But first I ordered, and Jamie installed an acoustic device that emits a sound that drives animals away. This seemed to work to some extent but did not seem to be the solution for the entire situation.

Since the squirrels are classified as endangered, I did not think that any local exterminating company could be of help. But I had heard of an organization that will send people out to solve problems poised by endangered species. I called their number … 1-800-CRITTERS … but was told that they did not serve the Tidioute area.

Jamie and Harmony then embarked on an ambitious plan to get rid of the squirrels and clean up the mess they had created.

They took all the furniture out of the bedroom and removed the ceiling tiles. The unhappy squirrels dropped down into the bedroom where, with no little difficulty, five were captured, one by one.

“They don’t bite, and like to be petted,” says Jamie. People have been known to adopt the docile 10-inch-long, 5-ounce squirrels, turning them into “pocket pets.”

There are three species of flying squirrels in North America, but 90 percent of their numbers worldwide live in Asia, where some are as large as raccoons. The Laotian Flying Squirrel is a meter long (39.3 inches) and weighs up to four pounds.

Jamie and his diligent helper put the captured squirrels into boxes containing bedding in which they could hide and transported them some miles upriver to a Game Commission parking lot located where Deerfield and Brokenstraw townships meet. There they released the squirrels into the heavily forested area where they could find homes free of human persecutors.

(This parking lot, located at the mouth of a small stream, was recently improved by the Game Commission by bulldozing its perimeter. Unfortunately, this bulldozing ruined the parking lot as a minor river access point.)

With the ceiling tiles removed, Jamie, with help from Harmony, was able to put thin plywood paneling over the attic insulation. They then replaced the ceiling tiles (now cleaned with bleach) and moved the furniture back into the room.

A small clan of unique rodents had necessitated a good deal of hard work, but we now have a cleaner cabin, and one that is free of the too-frequent nightly sound of scampering rodents. (However, this new silence can make any noise created by an occasional prowling black bear, or other nocturnal visitors, more noticeable.) It is a mixed blessing that we will no longer be able to witness the antics of flying squirrels while enjoying an evening campfire. They are gone but not forgotten.

Also gone now (unfortunately) for several years are the small brown bats that used to find refuge in niches in the cabin’s cedar planking and flit about nearby over the river in the evening as they fed on insects.

They have apparently fallen victim to the “white nose” disease which has decimated bat populations throughout northeastern U.S.

Robert Stanger has lived seasonally for over 40 years along the Allegheny River and has the stories to tell about it.

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