I had an unexpected natural history moment a few weeks ago when the first group of Mountain School students arrived. They were restlessly waiting in the amphitheater to head out for their first hike when one student yelled, “There’s a squirrel in the tree with a cookie!” I looked over curiously thinking, a cookie? The squirrel did have something in its mouth, but a cookie? I had no time to investigate but made a mental note to check out the willow tree the squirrel was scampering around in later.
That evening I stopped at the willow and found a large piece of a mushroom on a branch. I was now interested, was the squirrel drying the mushroom to harvest later? Do squirrels cache mushrooms? It was almost like learning that Pika gather grasses and store them for the winter. I wasn’t convinced, this was only one mushroom, maybe the squirrel was startled by the noisy 5th graders and decided to abandon his lunch for a more peaceful setting?
A few days later I was headed to the beach when I found another mushroom in a tree! It was nestled in the branches of a Lodgepole pine. And ~6” from the mushroom was a small scat pile.
Evidence! Squirrel scat and mushrooms
This discovery prompted a bit of research. I looked to my favorite guide book, Daniel Mathews’ Cascade-Olympic Natural History guide. My suspicion was confirmed. Douglas Squirrels do dry mushrooms and later cache them for winter!