About a week ago Leonard and I were walking along the Pacific Crest Trail in Warner Valley near Drakesbad (Plumas Cunty CA). The three mammals species we encountered were intently eating and much too preoccupied to be concerned by our presence. It provided an ideal opportunity to observe and photograph.
The chickaree (also called Douglas’ tree squirrel) diet consists mostly of conifer seeds. Chickarees will climb conifers and break off cone-bearing branches or single cones, drop them to the ground and then retrieve their prize. This chickaree (Tamiasciurus douglasii) broke off an entire ponderosa pine branch then removed the immature cone once back on the ground. The chickaree aggressively attacked his meal.
In contrast the golden-mantled ground squirrel (Citellus lateralis) was daintily nibbling the seeds of spreading groundsmoke (Gayophytum diffusum). It is difficult to see this delicate plant in the picture, however, Leonard and I confirmed its identity once the ground squirrel finished his meal. Golden-mantled ground squirrels mainly eat seeds, nuts and fleshy fruits with insects supplementing their diet in the summer.
The Columbia blacktail deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus) was rooting in the ground litter, digging up something and eating it. Although we watched for a long time (the deer was so intent on eating it almost walked into me as I stood immobile), neither Leonard nor I could ascertain what it was eating. Deer are browsers whose diet consists mainly of twigs and brush, although they will eat grasses and other herbaceous plants, fruits, acorns, nuts and mosses. After the deer wandered off we unsuccessfully searched the ground trying to figure out what it was eating. Later I read that deer will eat dry, wilted and decaying vegetation in addition to living plants. Perhaps it was eating some choice bit of decaying material from the forest floor. This is a Columbia blacktail deer rather than a regular mule deer because its tail was entirely black.
I am glad the mammals were preoccupied so as to allow Leonard and I the chance to watch them enjoy their meals.
More information on these animals and plants can be found in my previous posts:
Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel 11-02-2011
Columbia Blacktail Deer 12-24-2011
Ponderosa Pine 09-29-2011