Photographing the Elusive Ground Squirrel
Squirrels are, without question, one of my favorite photo subjects. The advantages are many: Squirrels are extraordinarily common in North America, they are often relatively accustomed to human presence and cuteness potential is very high.
Ground squirrels, as it turns out, are a far trickier breed.
Let’s start with the basics: Ground squirrel is a broad class of animals of the family Scuridae which includes the chipmunk, prairie dog and marmot. They vary greatly in size and coloration but all have a body type and diet that are very similar to the familiar tree squirrel. The difference is inherent in the name: Ground squirrels stay on the ground and will rarely take to the trees. They live in burrows in the dirt, in rock piles or — rarely — in dug-out areas next to buildings.
The dwelling presents the problem. Tree squirrels, when frightened, will retreat to the nearest tree. In many cases, a treed squirrel can still be photographed, and if anything it can be easier — if the squirrel feels safe, it will be less likely to keep running. Ground squirrels, on the other hand, will hide out underground when frightened, and that’s not conducive to photography.
Depending on where you live, ground squirrels can be tricky to find, as well. The gray squirrel — dominant species in North America — is generally quite easy to spot amid the greenery of a park or lawn. But ground squirrels favor rough terrain, the rocks and scrub brush of the mountains. Spotting a small, dull-colored animal in that is not so easy. The trick is to look for movement, specifically movement very low to the ground. It takes no shortage of time and patience.
For most people, the chipmunk will be the most familiar of the ground squirrels. These tiny animals — the smallest of the family Scuridae — have a wide range and can be easily spotted by their distinctive stripes.