Cheryl Kimball's Nature Talks: Why don't we keep a mammal checklist?

By CHERYL KIMBALL March 03. 2017 7:04PM
Nature Talks columnist Cheryl Kimball suspects she has seen different generations of the same white tailed deer family, including little fawns like this one. (Cheryl Kimball)

WE BIRDERS are well known for our propensity to keep lists. Life lists, one-year lists, lists of all the places we’ve seen a certain species. You name it, we make lists of the birds we see. But how many of us keep lists of the mammals we have seen? I don’t, but I may start now.

Gray squirrels should probably head up my list. I have mentioned in the past that as a kid my best friend and I used to give gray squirrels formal burials. But it is safe to say that I have seen more live gray squirrels than any other mammal in my lifetime.

I have also seen a fair number of red squirrels and chipmunks. I’ve seen black squirrels but I cannot remember where. Only two flying squirrels have ever graced me with their presence, and those were not “in the wild” but peering down from the rafter in my dining room.

Sightings of skunks started early in my life. My mother and I still talk about how delighted and horrified we were when we witnessed a mother skunk and her babies march through our open breezeway just a few feet from the door of our kitchen. The breezeway now has doors. I’ve seen just a couple of skunks here at my current home. A small one and I once did a little dance in front of the barn door until I reminded him or her that this barn is mine and I needed to get in. The skunk indulged me and took off across the lawn.

Raccoons used to raid our trash when I was a kid until my father found a way to raccoon-proof the trash can lid. Coming home late one night six raccoon kits were tumbling around in the middle of the road by our pond. They scampered to safety.

A story I have told dozens of times is our crazy attempts to rid our barn of bats — mammals lest we forget — when we first moved here. After realizing that they were not leaving and worrying that our neighbors were going to alert the police about the slightly off-kilter couple who had moved into the neighborhood, we gave up and learned to love not only the adult bats and their mosquito-eating capabilities, but their cute little babies as well.

White-tailed deer could be checked off my list hundreds of times. Here at the farm I see what I am certain has been the same doe and her offspring (and perhaps their offspring) for several years. They are in the field, near the horse pen, in the backyard, by the stone wall about to cross the road. Our dog and I have come across them grazing on the access road.

Moose, check. The first moose I ever saw was at Chimney Pond in Maine’s Baxter State Park when I was a teenager. One year I went to Orono with a friend and saw “Caution, Moose Crossing” signs once we got farther north. I kept hoping to see a moose but didn’t — and came home to Kittery that evening to read reports that a moose had been running around town all day.

Other people have seen moose cross the road from our property and we have seen moose tracks in the woods and field, but I have never seen a moose here. But I have seen several, including a cow and calf, in other parts of town and off Route 16 and in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.

Foxes are one of my favorite mammals to see and I have spotted many on our property. One morning several years ago I went to the run-in underneath the barn to feed one of the horses at the far end and was surprised to find a young fox curled up in the corner as I walked through the gate. We both were surprised. He stayed put while I went in, and then he ran out the door to the far end of the paddock and watched me for a while before wandering off.

Coyotes are on my checked list in our field and crossing a back road in Dover. As are black bears (West Virginia). Elk (Estes Park, Colo.). An armadillo in Texas. Weasels many times here at the farm as well as porcupines, many many porcupines, which have become one of my favorite animals. Whales not at the farm but on whale watches — right, humpback, pilot whales — and harbor seals in harbors as we sailed to a mooring. Groundhogs, muskrats, rats, and voles, moles, and mice (definitely here at the farm) galore. A opossum in the grain room.

Beavers have been in my sights both in a “beaver pond” on the neighboring property and one here right in our little pond who must have thought he had come across the New York City loft apartment of the beaver pond world. He didn’t stay.

I ran across the book “Peterson’s Field Guide to Finding Mammals” in a used bookstore recently which precipitated my thoughts on why we check off birds but not mammals. But I have now started. Three mammals I would really like to see in their natural habitat are bobcat, mountain goat and polar bear.

What is your life list of mammals — and what ones would you like to see and add to your list?

Cheryl Kimball is a freelance writer who lives north of Rochester. You can email her at

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