Mary Rabadan thinks she knows what was going through the mind of the chipmunk she photographed during 2010’s Snowmageddon: “I’m out!”

Mary had been gazing out a back window in her Annandale, Va., home at the nearly three feet of snow that had fallen that February.

“I said to my husband, ‘There’s something out there moving,’ ” Mary told me. “It just popped its head up there.”

She grabbed her camera and fired off a few shots. One is the winner in this year’s Squirrel Week Squirrel Photography Contest.

Unlike tree squirrels, ground squirrels such as chipmunks hibernate. It must have been a shock when this one woke up to an avalanche of snow. But rather than go back to sleep, it made its way to the surface.

In this Year of the Pandemic, I find that inspiring. I think we all feel like tunneling out of the dark and into the light.

Mary and her husband, David — both retirees — have been careful to follow guidelines in these covid times. At the start of the pandemic, Mary wasn’t getting out much. That was hard for someone who loves taking photos and is active with the Vienna Photography Club.

At the end of June, she said to herself: “I’m going to bring my camera and go somewhere during the week.” She went to Greenspring Gardens off Little River Turnpike.

As for squirrels, anyone who trains a camera lens on a park, forest or backyard around here is going to encounter the critters.

“I’ve always liked them,” said Mary. “I know some people can’t stand them. I think they’re adorable.”

Thank you to the many readers who entered this year’s contest. The quality was uniformly high. Here is more squirrelly goodness — more than 30 photos I picked as my favorites.

Flying squirrel felons

Americans aren’t the only ones who find squirrels adorable. In Florida last year, that led to the Case of the Smuggled Flying Squirrels.

Early last year, officers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) charged six men with a range of crimes connected to an ongoing effort to capture flying squirrels in the wild and ferry them to South Korea to be sold as exotic pets.

“There’s huge growth in South Korea in interest in small, furry exotic animals: otters, sugar gliders, flying squirrels,” said Dina Fine Maron, an investigative reporter at National Geographic. “They’re valued and thought of as pocket pets.”

They’re sold in other countries, too — and here in the United States — and are a lucrative enough commodity that a ring led by a Bushnell, Fla., man allegedly captured 3,600 flying squirrels over a three-year period, according to the FWC.

“That’s a lot of squirrels we’re talking about,” said Maron.

The squirrel case was set in motion when a concerned citizen called authorities after noticing what looked like bird boxes attached to trees in a central Florida subdivision. They were flying squirrel traps.

FWC officers later estimated that 10,000 traps had been set over the previous five years. While it is legal to breed flying squirrels in Florida, in most cases it’s illegal to take them from the wild.

According to an FWC news release: “Investigators learned buyers from South Korea would travel to the United States and purchase the flying squirrels from the wildlife dealer in Bushnell. The animals were then driven in rental cars to Chicago, where the source of the animals was further concealed, and the animals were exported to Asia by an unwitting international wildlife exporter.”

The Florida buyer was offering $8 per squirrel.

The Southern flying squirrel — Glaucomys volans — is not endangered, but it is vulnerable, especially because the mature forest habitats it depends on are vanishing.

Said Maron: “It’s unfortunately one of the many instances where any creature, there is a market for it.”

As it happens, flying squirrels make awful pets, Maron said. They have sharp teeth. Being nocturnal, they make a lot of noise at night.

“They can also carry a rare bacterial disease that can make humans feel terrible,” she said.

And you can imagine how the squirrels must feel, taken from their homes and sent to a foreign land.

Tomorrow: Squirrel Week comes to an end with a visit to the baby-squirrel-filled home of a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.

Twitter: @johnkelly

For previous columns, visit