Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

From Columbia to Columbian

with 31 comments

Okay, so I graduated from college at Columbia University in 1967. That didn’t prepare me for my first encounter, fifty years later, with a Columbian ground squirrel (Urocitellus or Spermophilus columbianus) outside the Logan Pass visitor center in Glacier National Park, Montana, on August 31st. I’d kept hearing a clucking noise that I couldn’t identify. A nearby person said “it” was on the other side of some trees from where we were standing. When I walked around I found out what the “it” was: this squirrel chattering away and coincidentally lording it over a little colony of flowering fireweed (Chamaenerion or Chamerion or Epilobium angustifolium). This is the second appearance recently of fireweed in a supporting role with an animal; the prolific plant will eventually appear in its own right. In the meantime, if you want a much closer look at the ground squirrel, click below on the excerpt from a different frame. You’ll be glad you did.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 13, 2017 at 4:37 AM

31 Responses

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  1. He’s gorgeous! “It” appears to be winter ready with that thick, woolly coat!


    October 13, 2017 at 6:36 AM

    • The thickness of the fur on its legs struck me. If that was its winter coat, it must have felt pretty hot, as the weather up there at the end of August was still summery.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 13, 2017 at 7:46 AM

      • I wonder the same thing about the deer in our area. Their winter coats come in while we still have some very intense heat in late August. It must be hot, but they seem to manage well, finding shady, breezy spots to keep cool.


        October 13, 2017 at 10:41 AM

        • True enough. I’ve never heard reports of deer dying from heat stroke. In contrast, some deer in Austin have died in winter cold spells.

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 13, 2017 at 2:14 PM

  2. What a cutie! It certainly was worthwhile clicking on that second image, where the correspondence between the color of its fur and the rocks is especially noticeable, and his stance is priceless. At first, I thought he might have been scolding someone, or, as you say, lording it over his world. Then it occurred to me: could he have been singing, “Hail, Columbia”?


    October 13, 2017 at 8:20 AM

    • As one who was there, I can assure you the chirping/clucking did not follow “Hail, Columbia,” but no one can stop you from hearing that song. I’ve read that this kind of squirrel is called Columbian after the Columbia River that flows through the animal’s range. I’ll add that the noise went on for a good while; it was still happening when we left.

      These critters sure are cuties. I tried to synchronize some of my pictures with the moment when the squirrel’s mouth was open. In the two views shown here, I succeeded.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 13, 2017 at 8:55 AM

  3. like an old-time cowboy wearing fleece chaps! He’s great 🙂

    Robert Parker

    October 13, 2017 at 8:36 AM

  4. You were right, I was glad I clicked on the squirrel. He looks like he’s pretty substantial as squirrels go. I imagine that thick coat on his legs acts just as chaps would, you clever chaps.


    October 13, 2017 at 10:31 AM

    • I wish I could be as right about so much else in life. One thing I do know about is the origin of the cowboy-type chaps. It comes from the Spanish word chaparral, which refers to the low brush that chaps were designed to protect people’s legs against.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 13, 2017 at 1:50 PM

  5. That is one big pair of hairy trousers he’s wearing.


    October 13, 2017 at 3:52 PM

  6. It looks as though it has found a very good soap box for its oratory.


    October 14, 2017 at 7:38 AM

    • I listened but understood not a word.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 14, 2017 at 8:08 AM

      • That would be a common experience with many of the listeners who attend soap box orations.


        October 14, 2017 at 8:19 AM

        • Your comment about orations got me thinking that “oratory” could be heard as “or a tory.”

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 14, 2017 at 8:37 AM

          • Bring out Theresa May, or a Tory, whose oratory is not going well “The EU is refusing even to begin to talk about post-Brexit trade arrangements with the UK because other issues, such as the divorce bill for leaving, are still deadlocked. In the House of Commons on Monday, May confirmed that negotiations, rather than progressing, had stalled and reality was dawning” She may as well be the Columbian on the soap box as far as the EU is concerned. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/oct/15/grim-reality-of-bad-tempered-brexit The origin of the word Tory is one I didn’t know. Most interesting; a tory was originally an outlaw (according to Wiki).


            October 14, 2017 at 6:21 PM

            • I’d had the same idea as you and looked up the origin of Tory. Like you, I was surprised by the original sense of ‘outlaw.’

              The article you linked to makes it seem as if things aren’t going well for Brexit, but I noticed there’s more than a year left to go. Much can still change.

              Steve Schwartzman

              October 14, 2017 at 10:06 PM

              • Yes, that length of time is an eternity in politics. Of things which change…. the Air NZ route to Houston is so popular the service will be daily next winter (our winter). http://www.airnztravelagent.com/air-new-zealand-boosts-houston-services


                October 14, 2017 at 11:49 PM

                • I’m glad to hear the route has proven successful. We also drove to Houston two months ago when we flew to Calgary. Based on our February trip to NZ, we knew exactly where to go and where to park.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  October 15, 2017 at 9:31 AM

              • Perhaps you could offer NZ photographers wildflower photography tours. 🙂


                October 14, 2017 at 11:49 PM

                • It’s a good idea, but at this point in life I’m looking to optimize my time. That accounts for the fact that we’ve taken five trips in the last year and a half.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  October 15, 2017 at 9:33 AM

                • Very wise; optimize your time and do whatever gives you the most joy.


                  October 15, 2017 at 5:44 PM

  7. I thought I had a clever comment, but Robert Parker beat me to it. I immediately saw the resemblance to fluffy chaps and then couldn’t see him without them. Well spotted–both you and Robert!


    October 14, 2017 at 7:51 PM

    • It was a good chance for me to use my new 100–400mm lens to zoom in close enough for a clear look at those fancy duds. I’d never seen a squirrel like that before. This squirrel also obliged me by staying on its perch, unlike a few other I saw on this trip that scampered along the ground and were hard to photograph.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 14, 2017 at 10:11 PM

  8. I think this fellow looks well-prepared for winter! 🙂


    October 18, 2017 at 11:21 PM

  9. […] look as good—assuming you’re close enough. After one view of wilted flowers and another of fresh ones from a bit of a distance, you’re finally getting a proper look at some fireweed […]

  10. What a handsome, roly-poly little character! He looks like he is giving a speech. 🙂

    Fireweed nectar is said to make good honey.

    Lavinia Ross

    October 26, 2017 at 11:18 AM

    • Roly-poly strikes me as a good description of this little guy. He was giving a sort of speech, if only we onlookers had been able to speak squirrel.

      Since you the advantage over me of living in the land of fireweed, perhaps you can sample some of that honey.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 26, 2017 at 11:42 AM

  11. […] showed you fireweed flowers and animals. In one case it was with a bumblebee, in another with a ground squirrel, and the third with a caterpillar. What impressed me about the plant in its own right was its […]

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