Friday, September 2, 2016

NUTS ABOUT SQUIRRELS


This nutty White Squirrel insisted on this pose!
Ochlockonee River State Park
Sopchoppy, FL
The Ochlockonee River State Park
Long leaf Pine Forests
White Squirrels and Red Cockaded Woodpeckers
The time was perfect for a day trip on the Gulf Coast of Florida to Ochlockonee River State Park in Sopchoppy, FL,  especially when we were told about the White Squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) as well as the shy Red Cockaded (Picoides borealis) Woodpecker (RCW)!  A double whammy hoping to capture a photograph to add to our collection of Florida wildlife.  The woodpecker loves the habitat of the old growth pine trees and the RCW is the only woodpecker to make their home in a living tree.  The Ochlockonee River State Park is committed to the preservation of the beautiful longleaf pine forests.

Ochlockonee River State Park - Long Leaf Pine Forest
Ocklockonee River - Sopchoppy, FL
While the Eastern grey squirrel is a more common species, and are sometimes considered pests, white squirrels become prized, even celebrated, i.e., bringing tourism money to the areas that promote their economy.

White Squirrel - Ochlockonee River State Park
White Squirrel - Ochlockonee River State Park
We saw numerous white squirrels along the banks of the Ochlockonee River and captured several  pictures only to find out that many towns actually celebrate these squirrels with annual festivals.

Ochlockonee River - Sopchoppy, FL
A few towns throughout America actually promote white squirrel communities:

Olny, Illinois - "Home Of The White Squirrel"

Exeter, Ontario - The northernmost city of white squirrel fame is just over the border in Canada.  Exeter has an annual White Squirrel Festival.  The squirrels aren't albino - they have dark eyes.  Exeter has a revered mascot named "White Wonder" with a song and a music video.



Marionville, Missouri - "Home Of The White Squirrels"  They say the squirrels came from a traveling circus, maybe a mad scientist - but they have definitely been there since the 1800's.

Brevard, North Carolina - Brevard College's "White Squirrel Research Institute" has charted the geographic distribution of critters in their region.  Brevard holds a White Squirrel Festival annually around Memorial Day Weekend.  We were actually in Brevard for their White Squirrel Festival one year and also witnessed the Annual Squirrel Box Derby.  The trophy, the coveted "Golden Nut", is awarded year to year.

White Squirrel Festival Poster
Brevard, North Carolina
Scary White Squirrel Mascot - White Squirrel Festival
Brevard, North Carolina
We learned from friends and family that white squirrels aren't that uncommon; however,  the squirrels that reside in the area of Sopchoppy and the Ochlockonee River State Park are considered rare because of a color variant - mostly white, but a distinctive head patch and dorsal stripe that broadens in the shoulder region.

White Squirrel - Ochlockonee River State Park - Sopchoppy, FL
White Squirrel - Ochlockonee River State Park - Sopchoppy, FL
White Squirrel - Ochlockonee River State Park  - Sopchoppy, FL
White Squirrel - Ochlockonee River State Park - Sopchoppy, FL
 Those nutty white squirrels in Ochlockonee River State Park are a joy to observe and photograph.  The squirrels aren't as elusive and shy as the Cockaded Woodpecker.  We could hear them in the pine forest and were told about 2 active nests, but apparently they were out foraging.   



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