...Notes from the Field


Montana! Ground Squirrels!

by | Aug 28, 2011

Recently I travelled through Montana and as on any road trip, rest stops are a much needed and necessary facility when going cross-country on the Interstate system. This particular stop in Saltese, Montana will be one to remember. As I was walking to the building – I noticed a flurry of activity on the edge of the property which had a sudden rise in elevation behind it continuing up into the forest. At the base of this hill, there were about a dozen furry little rodents darting back and forth. As a native Floridian who had never been in Montana before, I thought these were groundhogs. Cute, reddish-brown with grey, and obviously part of a bigger colony, they began warning each other of danger as I approached.

 (Rich Leighton)

~ click on images to enlarge ~

I went back to the truck to my camera bag, got what I needed and went to see if I could get some shots. No problem. A simple wait and the curiosity got the better of these furry little critters. Then I saw how sneaky and devious these little rodents were. One would pose for me while the others would sneak up behind me to see if I had any food. Some were close enough to touch my shoe while 110% of my attention was through the lens. I started to feel like I was getting played! Each one had such a remarkably different personality that I lost my usual “detached biological study” and was talking to them and playing with them.  After a while (without feeding the wildlife) I almost managed to pet one, but suddenly they all scattered. It was time to go, and I got the shots that I needed.

 (Rich Leighton)

I had my North American field guides in my backpack in the truck, and after a short comparison to my shots and physical and behavioral attributes., I came up with the proper identification of Columbian ground squirrels – native to Western Montana, North and Central Idaho, Eastern Washington, Northeastern Oregon, Southern British Columbia, and Western Alberta.

Sometimes drinking too much coffee on a road trip can have its benefits!

Sharing and commenting via the social media links below will help me greatly, and is much appreciated.

Thank you in advance!



  1. gina

    Hey have you noticed how much larger the Sea Gulls and Squirrels are in Washington, compared to Florida?

    • RichLeighton

      I have! HUGE! Just like when you go up the East Coast into Nova Scotia in Canada. Very cool – especially for me as they are all new species I haven’t seen or photographed before. 🙂

  2. Geoff

    you had me a squirrels, Mr. Leighton!

    Great photos, great words!!

    (as usual!!)


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