Fun with Squirrels: the Big Grays

The Eastern Gray Squirrel, one of the most familiar animals in eastern U.S., is not timid around bird feeders in wooded residential areas. They’ll visit feeders year-round, but arrive en masse when the snow flies!


The prominent bushy tail becomes larger and fuller with age. At maturity, it can be half the total length of a squirrel and is a thing of beauty. A gray squirrel isn’t all that big – about a pound – but the tail gives a much different impression!




Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.


Christmas “Flowers”

Flores de Noche Buena: “Flowers of the Holy Night”


The Poinsettia plant has been associated with Christmas since the early 19th century when Poinsett discovered it in a church in southern Mexico, decorating the nativity scene. He introduced the plant to the U.S. in 1825 and soon began propagating it in his green houses in South Carolina. Nearly 200 years later, Poinsettias are synonymous with the Christmas season around the world.


The vivid red flowers – actually leaves – have been revered since Aztec times. To the Aztecs, the deep red foliage symbolized the blood of sacrifices to the Gods; to Christians, the blood of Jesus on the cross. Christians also associate the star-shaped leaf pattern with the star of Bethlehem.


Of the many legends linking the Poinsettia and Christmas, my favorite tells of Pepita, a poor Mexican child walking to church on Christmas eve with her cousin Pedro.  The little girl was teary-eyed because she had no gift for the nativity at the alter. Pedro consoled her, saying “…even a humble gift, if given with love, will be acceptable in His eyes”. Pepita gathered a handful of weeds from the side of the road and carried them to the chapel. As she approached the alter, a Christmas miracle occurred: the handful of weeds burst into a bouquet of brilliant red flowers.


The five Advent candles……one for each of the four Sundays before Christmas, and one for the Christ child.

Peace, Joy, Hope and Love


Photos by NB Hunter, at the Morrisville Community Church, Morrisville, New York. © All Rights Reserved.




White-tails: December Update

Finding White-tailed Deer feeding in broad daylight is much more challenging now than it was earlier in the fall. The regular (gun) hunting season is winding down, the herd has been reduced, and the remaining deer are very wary. Natural movement and foraging activities are more nocturnal than diurnal.

A small family unit, an adult doe and her button buck fawn, surprised me today in the midday sun. They were drawn out of hiding by the sweet scent of fermenting wild apples on the ground. I also wonder if the mature doe learned something from the long nasty winter of 2014-15: eat now because good food sources will soon be few and far between.

The 6-month-old fawn was reckless, stepping clear of the thicket and feeding on apples out in the open.


Its mother, older and wiser, chose to feed in heavy cover.


Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

December Frost

In this part of the world the typical December landscape is snowy and the default background for everything is white! Bare ground is unusual, and a  contrasting morning frost even more so. Last night started out cold and clear but at some point a heavy fog rolled in and froze, covering everything in huge white crystals.


Japanese Larch cone (about 3/4 inch long) with morning frost

I was a little late to the party and showed up with the wrong lens, but I managed to capture a few memories from this spectacular event.


American Elm on the floodplain of the Chenango River


Farmland in the Chenango River valley


Farmland in the Chenango River valley


Farm homestead

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.





Three young Red Squirrels visit the bird feeders throughout the day, feasting on a mix of cracked corn and sunflower seeds. Two are typical of the species, having prominent bushy tails, big feet and great agility.



However, the third sibling is unlike any Red Squirrel that I have ever seen and has become the center of attention, with rock star status in the arena of backyard wildlife activity. Meet Stubby, a Red Squirrel without a tail … or left hind foot.


I surmise that this young Red Squirrel was attacked from the rear by a predator, quite possibly a free ranging domestic cat. It managed to escape, the bushy tail providing a life-saving buffer and a mouthful of hair for the predator.


When discovered several weeks ago, Stubby appeared to be free of infection or discomfort. At first falling, stumbling and listing sideways when moving and feeding, the squirrel’s balance and motor skills improved rapidly. Soon it was posturing for feeding rights and could run, albeit awkwardly, to the nearest spruce tree for cover.



Like other Red Squirrels, Stubby is again feisty and domineering, his disabilities offset by a heavy dose of attitude.



Perhaps as a show of grit, strength and invincibility to intimidate his siblings, Stubby ran several feet with a large apple before stopping to munch on it (fast enough to blur my photo). Under the circumstances, this was a Herculean feat. Even when running for cover in the absence of a load, Stubby tumbles along like a furry ball rolling erratically across the the lawn.


The adaptability and recuperative powers of wild animals are miraculous. This case study is still unfolding: there is much more to be learned about Stubby the Red Squirrel!


Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.