What Is That … in the tree!

Waddells

One of the first techniques we learned for watching and photographing wildlife was to identify typical habitats where you are most likely to find certain beasties.  For example, if you are looking for monarch butterfly caterpillars, seek out young leaves on milkweed plants.  While this is a most effective technique, Mother Nature has, in her inimitable fashion, thrown some curve balls at would-be naturalists.  In this article we explore several examples of beasties observed and photographed in trees, the last place you would start looking for them.

The wild turkey belongs to the family of upland game birds.  Typically we see small flocks near our cottage, comprised of one or two adult females and their numerous (3 to 12) chicks foraging along the roadside and on the forest floor for seeds, grains, insects, frogs and nuts.  Their muscular gizzards are capable of grinding up even the toughest of seeds.  Since being introduced to eastern Ontario, the wild turkey has become well established around our cottage, possibly to the detriment of other upland game bird species.  Sibley notes these large birds may roost in trees during the night to evade predators.  Early one morning while kayaking we spotted this individual.  We immediately thought it was practising for a job as a Christmas tree topper, instead of the more traditional role as main course for a festive dinner.

The ruffed grouse is another upland game bird that we occasionally see around the cottage.  We have observed solitary individuals exploding from cover with startling flaps of their wings as they disappear into the underbrush bordering the road. These medium-sized birds feed on a variety of insects, seeds, and berries found on the floor of deciduous forests.  Presumably they also seek shelter from predators by flying up into trees, as this individual did on hearing the noisy approach of a predatory photographer.

The great blue heron is a member of the family of wading birds.  And accordingly, one typically observes individuals standing stationary or walking slowly on their long legs in shallow waters along shorelines and in marshes hunting for fish, frogs, aquatic insects and other aquatic prey.  On one occasion we observed a group of these large, typically solitary birds in a colony where they had constructed nests in trees made of small sticks to lay their eggs.  Only infrequently have we seen individuals perched high up in open conifers along the shores of White Lake, possibly scoping out the next location to go hunting for food.   This individual was observed flying into this white pine and was photographed perched about 40 feet up in the tree.

The eastern chipmunk is the smallest member of the squirrel family that we commonly see throughout the daytime around the cottage.  We often observe these ground-dwelling rodents chasing each other to defend food sources (notably under bird feeders) or their burrows and food caches.  They feed on seeds, nuts, fruit and insects.  We most often see them on the ground with their cheek pouches stuffed with food, prior to carrying it off to store in underground food caches for their consumption during the winter.  We have occasionally observed them in bushes collecting berries and infrequently have seen them high up the trunks of mature trees like the individual shown in this photograph on the trunk of a maple.

The raccoon is nocturnal.  Early in the morning, we most frequently see signs of their activities such as their excavations of turtle eggs buried in nests in the granular materials making up the shoulder of the roads near our cottage or their footprints in our sandy beach.  Occasionally we have observed them in the morning foraging along the banks of streams, the shores of White Lake and along the roadside.  They are omnivores, eating whatever food is available, but seem to prefer delicacies found along the water’s edge including duck and turtle eggs, crayfish, frogs and clams.  While reports indicate raccoons are accomplished tree climbers, we have only seen them in trees on a few occasions, presumably to get away from a potential threat.  In this picture a young raccoon climbed a tree beside the cottage to get away from our friends’ curious dog.  It seemed to peak at the dog and us hoping we would all just go away.

So when you are out scanning your surroundings for wildlife remember to look up, look way up for interesting beasties in unlikely places.

Several sources we found helpful in preparing this article included David Sibley`s The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America; Michael Runtz’s Wild Wings – The Hidden World of Birds; Jeffrey Domm’s Lorimer Field Guide to 225 Ontario Birds, Dave Taylor’s Ontario’s Wildlife; and, Tamara Eder’s Mammals of Ontario.