After listening all day to relentless warnings of “severe winter weather” and poring over equipment manuals to determine the lowest operating temperature for various pieces of photographic gear, I decided to stick with the plan.
A few hours and several miles of snowshoeing later, I was hard at work in the diminishing February twilight, setting up lines of strobes and high-speed cameras along gaps in the tree canopy that framed a forest lake at the edge of Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness. I knew this lakeshore to be a primary movement corridor for a resident female northern flying squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus), and based on observations from previous nights, I expected my nocturnal subject to launch herself across the lake sometime between 2:20 and 2:50 a.m.
By that time, the temperature was expected to be in the neighborhood of minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit, greatly increasing the chances of camera failure. But it was a risk I was willing to take, since I knew how spectacular that night’s acrobatics were likely to be. February marks the start of the northern flying squirrel’s mating season in Montana. On a typical night during this period, each female will be escorted through the forest by a squabbling squadron of ardent males. It was those energetic males and their dizzying aerial mating chases that I sought to film.
During mating season, flying squirrels engage in dizzying aerial acrobatics far exceeding the routine glides typically observed in the laboratory settings.
These photos originally appeared in bioGraphic, an online magazine featuring beautiful and surprising stories about nature and sustainability. To learn more about how flamingos adapted to this unique environment, read Rachel Becker's full story, "Moonlight Gliders."