It was roadkill, north of Sunset, between the 101 and the 405.
Sharing observations of the natural world is a powerful antitode to the feeling of helplessness brought on by current events. Yesterday, colleagues released a massive study showing that bird populations in North America have declined 29 percent since 1970. Not a surprise if you lived through this period and were paying attention to birds, but sobering nonetheless. Naturalists, professional and amateur alike, see the erosion of nature every single day. For the canyons of the Santa Monica Mountains, one of those lost bits of diversity is the disappearance of Western Gray Squirrel and its replacement by the Eastern Fox Squirrel.
A population of gray squirrels holds on in Griffith Park at the eastern end of the Santa Monica Mountains on the other side of the 101 and the species has been observed west of the 405. This freeway, the infamous 405, presents a major barrier to most wildlife and indeed was the site of the recent death of a mountain lion that lost a fight with another male and was trying to escape back to the western Santa Monica Mountains when it was killed by a vehicle.
The loss of the native gray squirrel in the eastern Santa Monica Mountains (specifically between the 101 and the 405) happened decades ago — they were gone when I moved to this area for graduate school and local residents said they had died out in the 1970s. For all I knew, they were gone, and would not be coming back.
So imagine my surprise today when I caught a glimpse of a dead squirrel on Beverly Glen Boulevard that was definitely not a fox squirrel. I had to stop and get a quick photo in between the cars and it was the native gray squirrel. I cannot promise it was not an escaped pet – wierder things have happened – but the most likely explanation is that Gray Squirrels persist in this neighborhood. Maybe the Skirball fire to the west a couple of years back resulted in a shifting of their range into this canyon where as far as I can tell they have not been seen for half a century.
Years ago I might have grabbed some gloves and put the squirrel in the back of the truck to drop off at the Natural History Museum. Actually, maybe not, it was in grim shape. But the community science tools that are now available allow this observation to quickly become part of scientific investigation through taking a picture and uploading it to iNaturalist to be come part of the Southern California Squirrel Survey. Road-kill observations can also be uploaded to the California Roadkill Observation System where it will be used in analyses to help reduce wildlife-vehicle conflicts so I sent it in there as well.
I’m happy to know that the native squirrel still climbs the trees of Beverly Glen. Things have to be a bit dire to take hope from a roadkilled squirrel, but today, that’s where I found it, north of Sunset, between the 405 and the 101.