Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Nature comes to me for a change

with 67 comments

Squirrel in Ashe Juniper 6748

Like many of us, I spend a lot of time at the computer doing research, processing photographs, writing articles, sending and answering e-mail, etc. To provide a bit of balance, I’ve arranged things so that if I turn my head 45° to the right of my monitor, I find myself looking out through a second-story window. Just five feet beyond the glass is the trunk of a good-sized Ashe juniper tree, Juniperus ashei, with its characteristic bark that peels loose and hangs down in strips. I often see squirrels bounding around on the trunk and branches of the juniper, and sometimes one of the squirrels catches sight of me and peers intently back through the window at me. And then we sit eying each other for a while; I think I have the advantage in those encounters, because I know I’m a man seeing a squirrel in a tree, but I don’t think the squirrel knows what I am, or that I’m sitting at a computer monitor with a phone, a keyboard, a cordless mouse, and a slew of external hard drives spread out before me on the desk, or even that it’s a squirrel. But then it has secrets in its life that I can only marvel at, like the way it runs down a branch so fast that I can hardly see the motion, and jumps to one neighboring branch after another without ever falling out of the tree.

But we were talking about stare-downs, and yesterday afternoon was the occasion for another one of those. It went on a lot longer than usual, starting when the squirrel was in the notch created by a large branch diverging from the juniper’s trunk. That was the usual scenario, but yesterday, after that phase, the squirrel moved off down the branch till it was twice as far away, turned around, and kept staring back for another interval that was even longer than the first. Today’s photograph comes from that second interlude. The sky was overcast (though it couldn’t manage to deliver a drop of rain), and the scene was backlit, but I put my longest lens on the camera and did what I could with the dim light and the brighter opportunity.

I’d planned to post the next picture from the Elisabet Ney Museum show today, but the squirrel intervened. Back to the other pictures soon enough.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 30, 2011 at 5:43 AM

67 Responses

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  1. I had an ongoing war with the squirrels for a long time but we have an agreement now: they stay out of the bird feeder and I throw them a few scraps now and then. So far, so good. This is an excellent photo.


    September 30, 2011 at 7:54 AM

    • Thanks for your comment. Sounds like you’ve reached a reasonable accommodation with your former foes; let’s hope the truce holds.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 30, 2011 at 8:02 AM

  2. I never lived near squirrels before I moved. Now they are everywhere. We often watch them perform on the oak trunk outside our dining room window.

    Their favorite game is tease the Claus. Claus sees them and runs to the trunk to catch them. They quickly race around to the other side of the trunk in an upward spiral. Claus runs at the base to follow and the squirrel then chitters at him from behind. Claus can only play this game for a little while because he has a bum knee (hence he can’t climb up to get the tease). This has been going on for three years and he hasn’t caught one yet. Love my kitty and the squirrels!

    (new gravatar is my goose Polly)


    September 30, 2011 at 8:47 AM

    • That’s a lot more squirrel action than I’ve seen our my window. Glad you’re having fun with them.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 30, 2011 at 12:35 PM

      • Thanks, I am actually. I should have said before how much I love this little guy’s eyes! They are so bright and shiny. Great catch! ~ L


        September 30, 2011 at 3:04 PM

      • I did my best to get the squirrel’s eyes in focus while keeping its nose sharp too. That wasn’t easy, given the overcast sky and backlighting, so I ended up throwing away some of the pictures I took.

        Steve Schwartzman

        September 30, 2011 at 3:37 PM

  3. Awesome shot!


    September 30, 2011 at 11:34 AM

  4. Nice to be there with a camera in hand to get a shot like that, isn’t it? and your close-up details of flowers are stupendous.

    Susan Scheid

    September 30, 2011 at 3:50 PM

    • As one S.S. to another: thanks. One good thing about wildflowers is that you can get as close to them as you want and they don’t run away.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 30, 2011 at 3:55 PM

  5. that is one awesome stare down!


    September 30, 2011 at 6:55 PM

  6. Great capture, shows the curiosity of the squirrel to perfection.


    September 30, 2011 at 7:44 PM

    • Yes, the squirrel really was curious about me, and that curiosity kept it still enough for me to make portraits of it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 30, 2011 at 8:34 PM

      • The squirrel makes me curious about what you looked like on that day? A particularly vibrant shirt? A new hairstyle?


        July 25, 2014 at 6:35 AM

        • That was three years ago, so I don’t remember what I was wearing. It could well have been a T-shirt, but I have colorful ones and plain ones. I know that a new hairstyle couldn’t have been the center of attention because I never change my hair.

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 25, 2014 at 6:45 AM

          • Ah well, then, it was probably getting a fix on the hairstyle for later identification purposes.


            July 25, 2014 at 8:16 AM

            • Children are sometimes fascinated by my beard, and maybe this squirrel was too.

              Steve Schwartzman

              July 25, 2014 at 11:11 AM

              • A beard! A bushy beard? If so, no wonder the squirrel was curious. It was trying to understand how a tail could be so close to the eyes? What manner of squirrel was this?


                July 25, 2014 at 9:02 PM

  7. The rear paw looks like a human hand.

    Eve Diaz

    September 30, 2011 at 8:43 PM

  8. Nice shot! We used to have fox squirrels here, but the grey tree squirrels have taken over. I have them to thank for my 3 oaks and 1 hickory.


    September 30, 2011 at 11:55 PM

    • Thanks, Melissa. I’m glad your squirrels gave you three oaks and a hickory. Maybe more are on their way.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 1, 2011 at 7:50 AM

  9. Cute.


    October 1, 2011 at 6:26 AM

  10. I think the squirrel wonders at you, and us all! Brilliantly timed capture.


    October 1, 2011 at 2:43 PM

  11. You’re right, Steven! I’ll go right now and fire mine up. I’ll let you know what I come up with. 😉


    October 1, 2011 at 4:53 PM

  12. Incredible to get that close and capture all that detail. I had that happen at Williamsburg recently. I couldn’t find a squirrel in my own backyard to get close to, but travel an hour away from home and I can!




    October 1, 2011 at 6:33 PM

    • I’m glad you got to play with one too, even if you had to travel an hour away from home. My squirrel wasn’t as close as the picture makes it seem, because I used a telephoto lens; the actual distance was 10–15 ft.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 1, 2011 at 7:38 PM

  13. I have tried to take photos from a squirrel, but with bad success. Your photo is one of the best I have seen ever.


    October 2, 2011 at 3:29 AM

    • Thanks, gracias, et merci. The squirrel deserves some of the credit for holding still so long.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 2, 2011 at 7:40 AM

  14. I was browsing Montucky’s site and found you mentioning your squirrel. It’s a wonderful photo that just warms my heart. Pure essence of squirrel.

    I raised a fox squirrel from babyhood and had him for eight years – he was a terrifying pet, but only because he was smart, creative and determined. Well, and he was a mean drunk. Those fermented mesquite beans will do it every time. I did write about it here.

    I need to get your blog in my daily rotation – your images are just splendid!


    October 2, 2011 at 11:05 PM

    • I’m glad you find my images splendid; I feel the same about your writing, and I know how much work that takes.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 3, 2011 at 3:34 AM

  15. That is an awesome squirrel shot, wow! I find them terribly cute. We don’t have them in the Phoenix area…at least I’ve never come across one…but I’m from the midwest where they run rampant.


    October 4, 2011 at 1:27 AM

    • Thanks, Candace. I grew up on Long Island, where there are also plenty of squirrels. It never occurred to me that there wouldn’t be any in a place like Phoenix. Maybe you can make your next vacation a squirrel vacation.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 4, 2011 at 7:06 AM

  16. That’s really cute! I’ll trade a couple of chipmunks for a squirrel!


    October 4, 2011 at 8:15 PM

  17. S/he’s a real cutie 🙂


    October 5, 2011 at 12:08 PM

  18. Steve, I have a corner desk between two big windows, and I have bird feeders outside each and a bird bath outside one. Squirrels are always conniving to get into the feeders, which slide closed with the weight of a squirrel, then they’ll stand on the windowsill and berate me. It’s so funny, but I probably make them even more angry with my laughter.


    October 6, 2011 at 10:29 PM

    • Thanks for your story. Have you tried taking pictures of a squirrel standing on your windowsill berating you?

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 7, 2011 at 5:44 AM

  19. Maybe they, The Squirrel Clan, have figured out what they are looking at! And, now, it is them studying us!


    November 4, 2011 at 1:53 PM

    • Another one stood and stared through the window at me a short while ago, but then, unlike the one shown above, it quickly went on its way.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 4, 2011 at 2:12 PM

  20. […] the view from my computer room and offered up a picture I’d taken during a stare-down with an inquisitive squirrel on a branch of the Ashe juniper tree just outside my window. This past Sunday morning, as I sat at […]

  21. I love this picture! This is the first year I’ve seen one like this with the red underbelly in our area. I got to your blog via dogear6.


    December 8, 2011 at 12:19 AM

    • Thanks, Patti. I didn’t realize that the reddish underbelly is unusual in some areas. Live and learn, right? I’ll try to pay attention to see how common it is here in Austin.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 8, 2011 at 7:09 AM

  22. […] one from the end of September about a squirrel in the Ashe juniper outside my window; […]

  23. About the best squirrel portrait I ever saw. His back foot is humanoid looking. My chinchilla has the same feet, and he behaves in much the same way that squirrels behave. He is nocturnal like me, though. 🙂

    George Weaver

    April 19, 2012 at 2:54 PM

  24. You write so very well too. Your little stories and explanations following the photographs are insightful and factual and very helpful. I also admire your generosity in sharing your photographic skills and techniques.

    George Weaver

    April 19, 2012 at 2:56 PM

    • Judging from the responses, I seem to have struck a chord with this squirrel portrait. As for writing, I’ve been doing that since I was a teenager, years before I delved into photography in a serious way. I was also a teacher on and off for decades, so it seemed natural to compile a list of photographic techniques that might be useful to people.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 19, 2012 at 3:15 PM

      • Your squirrel is not the usual cutesy, storybook one. His is a strong presence. You couldn’t have presented him better if you’d been two feet from him. I know that’s why he evokes such a response.

        George Weaver

        April 19, 2012 at 3:47 PM

  25. […] isn’t only squirrels that stare me down from time to time: white-tailed deer do too. That’s hardly surprising, because the Great […]

  26. A nice change from staring at screens all the time. I hope you are still enjoying stare-downs through that window.


    September 6, 2022 at 6:22 PM

    • It’s still common for me to see a squirrel on that tree, the most recent time being yesterday. When it comes to stare-downs, though, a squirrel and I haven’t had one for quite a while, and I don’t know why.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 6, 2022 at 8:05 PM

      • This blog was only about four months old at the time of this post. Hard to believe it’s been more than eleven years already. Tempus fugit.

        Steve Schwartzman

        September 6, 2022 at 8:09 PM

      • Maybe it knows you by now and doesn’t have to take such a close look any longer.


        September 6, 2022 at 10:26 PM

        • I’m pretty sure the squirrel shown here in 2011 has long since passed on to the happy nut-hunting grounds, as a website reports that “squirrels live an average of 2 to 6 years.”

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 7, 2022 at 8:39 AM

          • True. But maybe she passed on her knowledge of your harmlessness to her offspring, similar to crows who can pass on grudges against certain people who have wronged them.


            September 7, 2022 at 4:56 PM

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