Camp Cuties or Poop-Varmints?

Merriam’s Chipmunk

Is this wee critter not the cutest little thing ever? OR is this adorable critter a pesky, begging, poop varmint?

Let’s begin with identification. It’s not Alvin of Alvin and the Chipmunks.  Well, maybe it is called Alvin among its own kind. But in my attempt to avoid all sorts of anthropomorphic tendencies, this critter that I photographed on the top of a very tall hill above Lake Tahoe is a Merriam’s chipmunk (Tamias merriami). They prefer to live at high altitudes at 7,000-8,900 feet. They are little guys that weigh just over 2.5 ounces (71.8 g), and are not much longer than 5.30 inches (134.6 mm).

At camp, in the morning and late afternoon, a bastion of Merriam’s chipmunks entertained us with their hopping and foraging antics. Except, most of their foraging was for any food we left open or fell to crumbs. And they were not too bashful. “Watch me be really cute, and sit up and beg!”

I’m the wrong person for that trick. I volunteered as a trained docent for Friends of the Elephant Seal in San Simeon, Ca.  Hordes of squirrels inhabit that site and have grown bold and pushy with humans to get bites of our foods.  Cheetos, Fritos and other fatty snacks have spread their waistlines like ours. Many are obese. Now the area is overpopulated with squirrels that are systematically destroying the landscape with their underground tunnels.

I’m rather passionate about wildlife. So much so that I do what I can to help raise money for a local wildlife rescue and rehabilitation nonprofit. Our human impact rarely benefits nature’s wildlife.  Which is why these adorable chipmunks can sing like Alvin and I will still shoo them away. Hissing works real well. Yep, they are prey for pacific rattlesnakes, and others slithering reptiles.

However, after that substantial upward hike to view Lake Tahoe, I let my guard down. The sun lowered in the sky and chipmunks were in their second foraging phase of the day. I laughed at their amusing behavior as they romped and foraged about the pines. Meanwhile, a stealth clan of clever camp chipmunks checked out Gilda (the EuroVan) whose sliding side door I left open while I sunk into the blue camp chair, nursed my aching feet and sipped a cup of chilled rose’ wine.  The camper-wise chipmunks hopped inside Gilda’s “great room” and dined on tomatoes from my garden,  nectarines and a clump of grapes that I left on a shelf to prepare later for dinner. They also left me their calling card.