It's New Year's Day, and predictably, the rabid - or is that avid - listers are feverishly ticking birds. Like racing Greyhounds released from the gate, birder-listers launch into forest and field first thing at the dawn of each new year, darting about notching marks on their checklist.
But why isn't anyone out there racking up a Big Mammal Year? This would be different; out of the box if you will.
If you embark on this furry quest, you will certainly want to add my personal fav, the Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger.
Dashing chap, eh? Those that live in regions that don't have Fox Squirrels are somewhat deprived. These giant orange-tinted mega-climbers are about as good-looking as it is possible to be and still remain a squirrel. Climbers extraordinaire, they nonetheless are rather Woodchuck-like in that they spend loads of time on the ground. Much more than the Eastern Gray Squirrel, our other large tree squirrel in this neck of the woods.
Bold and inquisitive, this shot was taken seconds before the squirrel leapt wildly at me, attaching to my neck and attempting to sever my jugular. Just kidding.
Although, compared to Gray Squirrels, these are quite the burly bruisers. Think Arnold as opposed to Richard Simmons. A whopper fox stuffed on a diet rich in acorns can dent the scale at nearly 2.5 pounds.
I was subjected to a few guffaws for taking this snap. We were on a birding expedition, you see, and there was precious little time to devote to orange-bellied brushtails like this one. Speaking of tails, like at the leaf-sweeper on this thing! Daniel Boone would have been proud to tie that to his cap.
But Daniel probably didn't see nearly as many Fox Squirrels as we do today. They are mammals of open country and scattered woodlots, and have spread eastward and proliferated following the opening up of the original eastern deciduous forest that blanketed much of the Ohio Country.
So, should yet another Big Year of birds bore you, try a MBY (Mammal Big Year). It'll be much more challenging, although adding the "Stump-eared Squirrel" - an abomination of a nickname - shouldn't be too hard.