The Arboreal Gourmet

Getting ready for the winter.

A grey squirrel, poised on a rugged sassafras tree branch, flicks its fluffy white tail like a feather in the cool morning air. Surveying the backyard, it grasps a black walnut, a prize from its morning foraging.

Grey squirrels, or Sciurus carolinensis, know how to make themselves home in cities and towns. You'll spot them all over in North American parks and gardens, always up to something – darting around, jumping from tree to tree, scampering randomly across neighbourhood streets, busy hunting for their next snack. Whenever I see a squirrel, I'm reminded of the character Scrat from the Ice Age movies.

These little guys are pretty smart, too. I've watched them trying to crack the code of my 'squirrel-proof' bird feeder. It's got a two-layer cage. Birds can fit through the bigger holes of the outer cage, but it's a no-go zone for chunkier squirrel bodies. They haven't realised that their arms are too short to swipe the food from the inside. It doesn't stop them from trying, though!

They're fun to watch.

Backyard Ruckus

The simple joys of observing wildlife in my backyard are always refreshing.

On two mid-November mornings, I had the satisfying experience of watching dozens of birds in the wooded area of my backyard. The scene was lively, with the birds busily engaging with their surroundings. It was a spectacle that truly caught my attention.

As I watched, I noticed many of these birds were mainly drawn to the juniper berries. It was fascinating to see how they fed on them with eagerness. I enjoyed how they interacted with the berries and moved around the branches.

Some birds were quick and agile, darting in and out of the foliage. In contrast, others seemed more methodical and deliberate in their movements. Observing and photographing them gave me a deeper appreciation for the diversity of bird species that visit my backyard.

American Robin (Turdus migratorius)
American Robin (Turdus migratorius) · November 16, 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR

I couldn't resist the opportunity to photograph these moments. With my XT-3 camera and XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR lens, I tried to capture the essence of this lively scene. The challenge was photographing the birds in a way that conveyed the liveliness and energy of their feeding activity. I focused on getting shots that showed their interactions with the berries and each other, hoping to freeze these fleeting moments in time.

This is the first time I have seen a Cedar waxwing. Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) are medium-sized birds with a blend of brown, grey, and yellow plumage, noted for their bright yellow tail tips and red, waxy wingtips. They are considered highly social and often seen in flocks, especially in berry-rich locations. They display unusual behaviours like passing berries among flock members.

Cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum)
Cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) · November 16, 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR

Their diet mainly consists of fruit and insects, adapting to habitats with abundant fruit-bearing trees and shrubs, such as gardens, orchards, and riverbanks. While Cedar Waxwings are somewhat migratory, moving in response to fruit availability, their migratory patterns vary; in some regions, they are year-round residents, while in others, they appear more seasonally. This adaptability in feeding and migration underscores their reliance on healthy, fruit-rich environments.

Cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum)
Cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) · November 16, 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR

The simple joys of watching wildlife in my backyard are always refreshing.

White-tailed buck

White-tailed deer are a common sight in the backyards and roadways of Montgomery Township.

White-tailed deer are a common sight in the backyards and roadways of Montgomery Township. It's common to see deer grazing peacefully on lawns, nibbling on shrubs and plants, or cautiously exploring their surroundings. Montgomery Township also has woodlands, open spaces, and proximity to water sources, which provide a habitat for these deer.

White-tailed deer have adapted remarkably well to the suburban landscapes of this region. However, as deer populations grow, the deer frequently overbrowse, destroying gardens and native vegetation. Efforts to balance preserving the deer's habitat and protecting homeowners' landscapes and the native flora have led to strategies for deer management, which include year deer hunting from September to February.

I saw this young buck through the kitchen window. This individual was grazing on the grass, moving north. I grabbed my super telephoto and stepped onto the backyard deck for a photo. He heard me, stopped to check me out, decided I was not a threat, and then moved on.

White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus)
White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) · October 27, 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR

In Montgomery Township, most residents don't appreciate the presence of white-tailed deer. They tend to cross roadways at random, leading to many car accidents. Even a tiny deer can lead to hundreds of dollars of damage to a car, sometimes destroying the car beyond repair. I've had many deer accidents in my 20 years of driving in New Jersey.

Black-legged ticks (aka deer ticks) are often found on deer due to the animals' frequent trips into wooded areas and tall grasses where ticks reside. Lyme disease is a significant health concern because deer ticks carry the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. When I am out and about in the woods hiking or for photography, especially in areas where ticks are prevalent, I wear appropriate clothing sprayed with repellents to reduce the risk of tick bites. I also do tick checks and showers after spending time outdoors.