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Squirrels my photos, my words

When I head out for one of my photo hikes I never know what kind of birds I might see and photograph, if any. Some days I get lucky and there are an abundance of birds. Other days there’s little to photograph.

But there is one constant: Regardless of the season or the weather conditions, I always see squirrels, the subject of my featured gallery for January. These forest rodents are plentiful in any area with trees. They are constantly climbing, chasing, digging and eating. And I’ll stop to get a photo when I find one in a nice setting.

An American red squirrel looks from a knothole, Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.

But it’s a different story when that setting is our backyard, where every winter becomes a battle of wits as we attempt to protect our bird feeders from squirrels.

If the feeders are left unprotected, our neighborhood squirrels will eat all the food. That’s not good for the birds or for my wallet. So we take steps to deter the squirrels.

We’ve tried the variety of devices available in stores — domes, platforms and other obstacles designed to keep squirrels from reaching feeders. These work for a short time, but we watch through the window as the squirrels study the obstacles and, through trial and error (and occasionally a bit of teamwork), eventually defeat them.

A gray squirrel eats a walnut on a log in the forest, Blendon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.

The eastern gray squirrel seems to be the most common in our area. This squirrel has mostly gray fur, but it can have a brownish color. The underside is white and it has a large, bushy tail. Gray squirrels are typically between 16 and 22 inches long, from tip of the nose to the tip of the tail. The body alone is 9 to 12 inches long.

A fox squirrel eats a nut in Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.

The fox squirrel is the largest squirrel found in Central Ohio, measuring anywhere from 25 to 40 inches long, from tip of the nose to tip of the tail. The body alone is between 18 and 28 inches long. Fox squirrels, in most regions, have brown-grey to brown-yellow upper bodies with a typically brownish-orange underside.

An American red squirrel has a mouth full of walnut, Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.

The American red squirrel is the runt of the bunch, measuring about 12 inches from the tip of the nose to the tip of the tail. Their heads often seem large, out of proportion with the body size. The squirrels are rusty, reddish-brown most of the year but they turn slightly grayer in winter. The underside is white. American red squirrels are more territorial than eastern gray or fox squirrels and are extremely vocal, chattering or barking when something (or someone) encroaches on their territory.

I haven’t seen any black squirrels in my area, although I have seen them in northern Ohio, in Washington, D.C., and some other areas. The black squirrel isn’t a separate species. Instead, it’s a somewhat rare mutation that occurs in both gray squirrels and fox squirrels.

I have seen a white squirrel, just once, in our backyard on Christmas Day 2016. We watched it as it attempted to reach our bird feeder a few times that day. We had never seen it before and we haven’t seen it since. I guess it was just visiting relatives for the holiday.

White squirrels, like black squirrels, are genetic mutations. White squirrels are typically gray squirrels with one of two genetic aberrations, according to the UntamedScience website: “The first is albinism, caused by a mutation on a gene that codes for pigmentation. Albinos have red eyes. The other is a white morph, caused by a different gene. It is a naturally occurring trait of eastern grey squirrels that is very, very rare.”

I couldn’t tell if the squirrel in our yard had red eyes, but the white fur really stood out. And that’s a problem for the squirrel, because the white fur makes it easy to spot for hawks and other predators.

I add a new featured gallery the first of each month. The numbers in the gallery title represent the month and year it was featured. Last month’s featured gallery, with photos of sunrises and sunsets, has been moved to my featured gallery archives.

A gray squirrel uses a three-point stance on a tree in Blendon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.
An American red squirrel looks from a knothole, Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.
A fox squirrel clings to the bark on a tree in Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.
An American red squirrel calls from a tree limb in Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.
A fox squirrel eats a nut in Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.
A fox squirrel stretches out on a tree limb on a sunny morning in Prairie Oaks Metro Park near Columbus, Ohio. The squirrel's eyes were closed when I first spotted it. It had opened its eyes by the time I found a position with a clear view of the limb, but it didn't change positions for a while.
A gray squirrel eats a walnut on a log in the forest, Blendon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.
A fox squirrel with muddy claws rests on a rail fence in Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.
An American red squirrel has a mouth full of walnut, Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.
A fox squirrel carries material to pad its nest, Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.
A fox squirrel, backlit by the morning sun, lets its tail hang while eating in a tree, Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.
A gray squirrel hangs off a side of a tree, Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.
A gray squirrel climbs from a hole in a hollow tree, Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.
A gray squirrel is wedged between branches while eating a walnut, Blendon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.
An American red squirrel peers from a knothole in a tree in Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.
An American red squirrel rests on a tree limb in Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.
A gray squirrel pauses on a fence post, Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.
An American red squirrel calls while resting in a hole in a tree, Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.
A gray squirrel rests on a limb on a snowy morning, Blendon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.
An American red squirrel rests beneath a blue sky, Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.
A fox squirrel appears to be laughing while standing on a limb in Prairie Oaks Metro Park, West Jefferson, Ohio.
A gray squirrel squeezes between limbs on a tree, Blendon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.
A fox squirrel nibbles on a nut, Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.
A gray squirrel eats a nut while surrounded by leaves on the forest floor in Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.
A gray squirrel scratches, Blendon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.
A fox squirrel eats while sitting on a post, Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.
A gray squirrel hangs on the side of a tree trunk, Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.
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All photos and text © Copyright - Pat D. Hemlepp. All rights reserved.

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