The Black Squirrels of North Parkersburg, that is. Now I realize that the black squirrel is nothing but the melanistic form of the eastern gray squirrel, which is perhaps the most common wildlife in our neighborhood, but there's something about creatures a little out of the ordinary that sparks interest. When I lived across the river, we all got excited about the White Squirrels of Oak Grove Cemetery, though I fear that those particular rodents are too visible for their own good.
The black squirrels, though, are another matter. I've read speculation that back in the days of the Great Eastern Forest (that is, before extensive European settlement), the black squirrels may have been more common than the lighter gray ones because their dark coloring would have been an advantage in the dense forests of those days. With the clearing of the forests, however, came more light, so the lighter-colored squirrels got the upper hand and have kept it all these years. In our neck of the woods, though, the black squirrels are expanding their (extremely local) range.
Two years ago, I saw them for the first time about a mile from here. Then, last year, I saw that one had gotten as far as Broad Street. Given how busy that street is, I didn't feel good about the squirrel's chances, but evidently, our furry-tailed rodents are doing just fine. This morning, I saw a young black squirrel just a block from our Little Ranch on the (Eventual) Prairie. Stay tuned for further developments.