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Old 05-05-2017, 09:19 AM   #1
Trail Boss
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Unidentifed Ball of Leaping Gray Fur.

While sitting on the summit of Whiteface yesterday (Thursday, May 4), a small animal emerged from under the observation deck, scurried across an open area to a pile of rocks and proceeded to leap from one to another before disappearing out of view.

In the few short seconds I had to observe it, I noticed the following:
  1. It was gray. I didn't notice any contrasting colors.
  2. It seemed at least as big as a chipmunk but much smaller than a gray squirrel.
  3. Its hairy tail was about a quarter the length of its body (no longer than a third). The tail-hair was flattened (horizontally).
  4. When jumping from one boulder to another, it leaped into the air with its front limbs outstretched.

It's the fourth trait, the leaping, that both fascinated and amused me. You could imagine hearing a sound like "BOING!" each time it comically leaped into the air, limbs outstretched like it was sky diving. It didn't just drop from one rock to another, it sprang up into an arc.

I've consulted the following information and voles, shrews, and mice don't fit the description because they all have hairless tails. The Woodland Jumping Mouse has the jumping trait but is disqualified by its long hairless tail.

Adirondack Mammals

Mouse, Mole or Vole? Learning Your Adirondack Small Mammals

The Woodland Jumping Mouse

I'm stumped. Does anyone have any idea what kind of animal I may have seen?


PS
The single photo I took is unusable for identifying the animal.
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Last edited by Trail Boss; 05-05-2017 at 11:06 AM.. Reason: Typo. More details.
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Old 05-05-2017, 11:18 AM   #2
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Flying squirrel?
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Old 05-05-2017, 11:20 AM   #3
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Flying squirrel?

https://www.google.com/search?q=imag...HXi-M:&spf=198
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Old 05-05-2017, 11:44 AM   #4
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I posted the same question on ADKhighpeaks and the leading contender is the Southern Flying Squirrel.

The main sticking point is it has two prominent visual markings I didn't see:
  1. White underbody.
  2. Dark stripe where gray top fur meets white bottom fur.
In fairness, I may have simply failed to notice them because I saw the animal from 10-25 feet away and 6 feet above it (and for ~10-15 seconds max).

I also failed to notice the flying squirrel's characteristic "wing suit" but that might be because the animal wasn't in full flight and its loose folds didn't inflate. Or it simply wasn't a flying squirrel.

I can't stress how amusing it was to see this thing bound into the air with its front limbs outstretched. Very comical.
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Old 05-05-2017, 04:05 PM   #5
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Flying squirrels are mainly nocturnal.
Rarely seen during daylight hours.
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Old 05-05-2017, 04:56 PM   #6
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I've seen flying squirrels during the daytime/evening....fun little critters to watch!

I had a similar experience with an unidentified critter encounter in the Piseco area last weekend... Setting up camp not far from a stream and out of the corner of my eye I saw something white(ish) in color dart very quickly about 60-80 feet from left to right on the far bank just through the tree line. It happened so quickly I couldn't tell what it was exactly, and whatever it was wasn't tall enough to see the rest of its body, but I'm guessing maybe it was an ermine, which would be my first, but not sure if they still have a white coat in late April. I don't think it was a hare.
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Old 05-05-2017, 05:19 PM   #7
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A very rare sighting of the illusive Adirondack Pika.... eaten to near extinction by Adirondack Murray's disciples and once thought lost there are occasional recent Adirondack sightings....Sightings are less frequent than mountain lion sightings and treated with equal skepticism by the DEC. Unlike the Pika found in Western states these have a distinctive short tail.
They are most often spotted during Labor Day weekend when food dropped by herds of college outing clubs satisfy their ravenous appetite for dropped peanuts, M&M's and dried cranberries.

Very likely to have been a jumping mouse, the leaping is strongly characteristic.
If you were able to see this much detail:
Its hairy tail was about a quarter the length of its body (no longer than a third). The tail-hair was flattened
it seems unlikely that you would have missed a flying squirrels flaps...
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Old 05-05-2017, 07:35 PM   #8
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Quote:
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...Very likely to have been a jumping mouse, the leaping is strongly characteristic....
Except the Woodland Jumping Mouse has a long hairless tail. The animal I saw had a flattened hairy tale.
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Old 05-05-2017, 07:41 PM   #9
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Quote:
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Except the Woodland Jumping Mouse has a long hairless tail. The animal I saw had a flattened hairy tale.
I had a bad experience with one of those. It was about 2am, and I got up out of the tent to relieve myself. I was standing there minding my own business and watering a tree, when suddenly one of those jumped at me and bounced off my thigh. Hilarity ensued.
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Old 05-05-2017, 09:25 PM   #10
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A little vacation tour by the Nye Wolf?
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Old 05-05-2017, 10:31 PM   #11
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Except the Woodland Jumping Mouse has a long hairless tail. The animal I saw had a flattened hairy tale.
As prominent as a wood rats?
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Old 05-06-2017, 08:52 AM   #12
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Quote:
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As prominent as a wood rats?
A woodrat is described as being substantially larger than what I saw.
http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/6975.html

Quote:
... weighs up to a pound, roughly the size of a grey squirrel. Allegheny woodrats measure approximately 16 inches long, half of which is tail.
Plus a woodrat's tail is covered by 1/3" long hairs while what I saw was more like a chipmunk's tail in terms of hair length. There was nothing rat or mouse-like about its tail. That characteristic alone excludes mice, shrews, and voles.
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Old 05-09-2017, 12:24 AM   #13
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My money is on the flying squirrel also. Far too much experience with them in my attic and others. Got a good close up look at a couple last year when my outdoor cat discovered how good they taste. The flat tail is a dead giveaway for me. Did it have overly large eyes? You really don't notice the extra skin unless it is flying, otherwise it's kindof like a fold and could easily hide the white underside. Sounds like it was trying to figure out how to fly without a tree to launch from.
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Old 05-09-2017, 12:51 AM   #14
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I'd go with flying squirrel too -- unless maybe an immature red or gray? Any of them would be strange to see on a summit above treeline, but you saw something. Jumping mice tails actually aren't hairless, but they much skinnier, not fluffy like the squirrels; & they are indeed MICE (much smaller than a chipmunk). The flying squirrel tail is shorter & smaller than the other two squirrels. And the stretched-out limbs while jumping fits, even if you didn't see membranes.
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Old 05-09-2017, 08:40 AM   #15
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It's path of travel briefly moved across my field of view and then away from me. As a result, I didn't have enough time to take note of its eyes.

Nevertheless, flying squirrel is the best contender so far mostly because it fits the description for overall size, fur color, and tail appearance. I'll try to find a local wildlife expert on the subject because, despite this useful process of elimination, I still have a few questions arising from doubts. For example, is it normal for flying squirrels to be seen in an Adirondack alpine zone (4600')? Do flying squirrels typically leap upward when hopping from one boulder to another? Does the time of the year or the presence of the structures atop Whiteface explain its appearance?
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Old 05-09-2017, 01:23 PM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Trail Boss View Post
It's path of travel briefly moved across my field of view and then away from me. As a result, I didn't have enough time to take note of its eyes.

Nevertheless, flying squirrel is the best contender so far mostly because it fits the description for overall size, fur color, and tail appearance. I'll try to find a local wildlife expert on the subject because, despite this useful process of elimination, I still have a few questions arising from doubts. For example, is it normal for flying squirrels to be seen in an Adirondack alpine zone (4600')? Do flying squirrels typically leap upward when hopping from one boulder to another? Does the time of the year or the presence of the structures atop Whiteface explain its appearance?
I've seen them while camping in the Adirondaks before. Alpine zone... my first thought was maybe a Raptor grabbed one down at tree line and dropped it while gliding. I've actually seen birds drop prey from altitude to kill them by smashing them on the rocks. Maybe got closed up inside while raiding someone's backpack down below tree line and escaped while they were having lunch at the summit. The leaping upward, hopping from boulder to boulder may have been an instinctual escape mode, trying to glide. Possibly a juvenile out of the nest too soon. They typically glide from tree to tree and don't spend much time on the ground so unlikely it lives up there in any of the structures.
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Old 05-09-2017, 04:03 PM   #17
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I've seen them while camping in the Adirondaks before. Alpine zone... my first thought was maybe a Raptor grabbed one down at tree line and dropped it while gliding. I've actually seen birds drop prey from altitude to kill them by smashing them on the rocks. Maybe got closed up inside while raiding someone's backpack down below tree line and escaped while they were having lunch at the summit. The leaping upward, hopping from boulder to boulder may have been an instinctual escape mode, trying to glide. Possibly a juvenile out of the nest too soon. They typically glide from tree to tree and don't spend much time on the ground so unlikely it lives up there in any of the structures.
I feel like I've just watched a Disney nature pic! Does Sigourney Weaver narrate it and does the l'il fella have a name?
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Old 05-09-2017, 06:30 PM   #18
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does the l'il fella have a name?
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Old 05-10-2017, 11:02 PM   #19
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I feel like I've just watched a Disney nature pic! Does Sigourney Weaver narrate it and does the l'il fella have a name?
If anybody makes a movie, I get royalties.
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Old 05-11-2017, 08:51 AM   #20
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I received a reply from a local expert on Adirondack wildlife and he also believes what I described is a flying squirrel. The specific type (Northern or Southern) is difficult to pin down based on my description. He asked if it was an overcast day (it was; heavily overcast) because it is "most unusual" to see a flying squirrel during the day (I saw it shortly after 3:00 PM).

He explained they breed in late March and the young leave the nest in May and June. He speculated the milder winter this year may have produced earlier offspring. I may have seen an immature animal, possibly on its own for the first time, in search of territory to establish a new home (in the spruce-fir forest). Given the daylight sighting, it may have been forced to travel.

Being a wildlife expert and not a screenwriter (hello JerseyHighlander!), he didn't mention anything about falling out of a raptor's jaws and gliding to a safe descent onto Whiteface's boardwalk.

He said the large eyes are usually what most people notice first. The "wing folds" are normally difficult to see and would've been unnoticeable for the short hops it had made. He said the bounding I saw would not be out of the ordinary for a maturing flying squirrel.

This flying squirrel is now part of my favorite animal sightings.
  1. Female moose and offspring at Meacham Lake State Campground (New York).
  2. Fisher clinging to tree along the Van Hoevenberg Trail near Mount Marcy (New York).
  3. Black bear foraging above treeline on Hamlin Peak (Maine).
  4. Wolverine in Guanella Pass near Square Top Mountain (Colorado).
  5. Flying Squirrel atop Whiteface Mountain (New York).


Thank you all for your assistance!


PS

Here's that very poor photo of the animal. It was approximately 35 feet away at the time I recorded it. The image has been cropped, magnified (3X), and the area of interest has been circled.
Attached Images
File Type: jpg IMG_6706_cr.jpg (116.0 KB, 113 views)
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