Guest Feature: There’s a What in the Tree? …by Brad Marks

I am definitely not in any condition to provide you a quality post. Although my race last weekend is officially over, my legs and various other body parts (some of which I didn’t even know I had) are in a constant bicker to see who can complain the most. Advil has apparently met its match! “You torture us like that and then try to bribe us with those puny anti-inflammatory pills !?! – we tell nerves to illicit more pain you fool – now crawl into the kitchen and get us some frozen peas!!!” Such a cranky bag of parts. Anyway, I’ll eventually get to a race recap, but for now, let’s just classify it as bittersweet. While I try to get everything calmed down, blisters popped, blood cleaned off and knots pressed out, I’m once again turning wildlife post duties over to Brad. Today’s adventure is a little closer to home and definitely rings the “Intriguing” bell. I’m sure you will enjoy. Note, WordPress was rendering the images a bit too small to really see the details, so I went ahead and added links directly to the photos so you can view the full picture – you can also use the link Brad provided at the end to view the complete gallery.

Take it away Brad…

Brian and I were both fortunate enough to be able to retire at relatively young ages from the same company.  And after 30+ years of running around like a (fill in your own phrase here) it is nice to have a slow day ever now and then. (BTW, Brian still needs to learn this) One afternoon while sitting on our four-season porch reading, Jan asks “is that a raccoon in the tree?”  I grabbed my handy bird binoculars and took a look at the mulberry tree.  It was a very still day so when parts of the tree move all on their own, something larger than a bird is moving in the tree.  The critter was out at the edge of a branch near the tasty leaves, but had no mask or stripey tail.  Coincidentally my camera was nearby so I tried a few photos.  It looks like a . . . no it can’t be one of those . . . in a tree.  I ran upstairs to get my really long lens to see if I can tease out the identity.  At first, I didn’t believe what the camera was telling me.  A quick internet search revealed that yes indeed, these animals do sometimes climb trees.

Groundhog in a Tree by Brad Marks

Hit the jump to read more about this surprisingly nimble creature

Groundhogs, also known as a woodchuck, a groundpig, or a whistlepig, are part of the rodent family.  Whatever you call them their scientific name is Marmota monax.  Various web sites say that groundhogs will usually climb trees to escape predators or simply to have a look around.  Since there were no obvious predators in our area at the time, I have to presume he/she just wanted to look around.  But based on the number of leaves being eaten, there was very little looking happening.  So, I’d have to add a third condition for a groundhog to climb a tree:  tasty leaves.  Or maybe a fourth reason:  an unmolested nap. 

When I realized what was in my viewfinder I headed onto our deck for a better view.  Our property slopes away from the road in front of our house about 40-foot into a ravine in back with a creek at the bottom.  The mulberry tree is about 100 feet from the house, and about 20 feet below the street level.  That’s why it appears I’m looking downhill at the groundhog . . . in a tree!

Groundhog in a Tree by Brad Marks

Yeah, I’m eating your leaves, what are you going to do about it?  Mostly herbivores, groundhogs will occasionally snack on grasshoppers or grubs.   They can eat a pound of vegetation a day.  This one certainly looked like he/she had eaten a pound of leaves from our mulberry tree.  When winter approaches they begin to eat less, but their body ramps up converting any spare calories to stored fat for hibernation.

Oh, those leaves look tasty over there.

Groundhog in a Tree by Brad Marks

Unless you catch them climbing in the first place (Jan did spot it beginning to climb from the ground one other time), my experience is that groundhogs are very hard to spot once in a tree (hiding from potential predators, or photographers no doubt).  Luckily the few times we’ve seen them in our mulberry tree the air was still.   We could track their movements by watching for various parts of the tree to shake.  Once the leaves and smaller branches started to shake, a groundhog usually appeared.  The first time we saw one, he/she was quite busy for about 30 minutes.  Then nothing.  I poked about with my longest lens and finally found him/her napping on a branch.  The camera was never quite able to focus on the groundhog itself, but preferred to focus on the leaves instead.  I think he/she napped for the better part of an hour before continuing to snack on our tree.  I was outside the entire time he/she was in the tree (mostly photographing hummingbirds until the groundhog came back).  I don’t think it felt threatened with me being about 100 feet away and slightly uphill. 

As we mow under the tree, I’ve begun to look for other signs of groundhog intrusion.  One day this summer I spotted evidence of a groundhog in the tree: a pile of poo.  Yes, a pile of poo.  In the tree.   The evidence was neatly placed on a flat part of a branch.  No, I didn’t take a picture of the PoPiaT.

Groundhog in a Tree by Brad Marks

The branch is bending quite a bit under our furry friend.  An adult groundhog can weigh between 4.5 pounds all the way up to 14 pounds.  Males average about 8.5 pounds while females average just under 8 pounds.  They will try to double their body weight before winter.   An adult groundhog can be between 3.5 and 5 feet in length, including their bushy tails.  Groundhogs can live up to six years in the wild, but average only 2-3 years.

Groundhog in a Tree by Brad Marks

This groundhog seemed very sure footed, or pawed, while hopping from limb to limb eating the tastiest morsels.  The whole time, though, he/she never climbed much more than 10 or 15 feet above the ground.

To continue the theme of taunting from a prior posts, this one must have seen the itty bitty bunny, because it starts to “run away!”

Groundhog in a Tree by Brad Marks

This post is similar to Brian’s other posts about something iaT (in a Tree).  There was the Wild Turkey in a Tree (WTiaT link here) and the Greater Roadrunner in a Tree (GRiaT link here) so naturally the Groundhog in a Tree made sense.  There are more GHiaT photos (link here) if you are interested.

Thanks for reading!

Credit goes to my wife Jan and daughter Allyson for proof reading and editing.

Quick Brian commentary -just for the record, I did a lot of “slowing down” after I crossed over the 14 hour mark in the race hehehe.

26 thoughts on “Guest Feature: There’s a What in the Tree? …by Brad Marks”

    1. “screaming for a reason” – yes, because it is weak and whiny and must be punished. Tomorrow I plan to test out the feet again (assuming they can bear weight by then). Clearly I need to get the body stronger for next year’s ultra circuit – or find one more than a week out from the draining trail event.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. This is the first time in over 25 years of living here we had seen a groundhog in a tree. That is, until retirement. Thanks for stopping by.

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  2. Sounds like you beat yourself up pretty well with that race. I didn’t know groundhogs climbed trees. Does it prognosticate a prolonged fall or an onset of winter if you know how to read a treed groundhog?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Actually Tim, I do not know the groundhog answer. We have seen them in the trees in July and September. Maybe if we caught one mid-winter, say February 2?

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      1. Is that like asking, maybe begging,the question “Why did Brian run a 100K race?” “To feel like a chicken crossing an eight lane highway!” As good of a reason as any.

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    1. Hi Ted. We have not seen a fox in a tree . . . yet. We do have them in the area, but they are far more timid than our groundhogs. With my new position at Intrigued as Corporate Staff Writer (prior posting) I’ll ask for some critter cams on my expense account. (see if Brian reads this one)

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  3. Or, perhaps you have discovered a heretofore unknown sub-species, the Treehog? The Leaf-eating Groundhog? The Branch-Sitting Woodchuck? (Sorry. I get carried away by new discoveries in Nature.)

    We don’t have these critters in central Florida (or at least I haven’t seen them yet – I need to check the trees more closely). We did live in upstate New York a few hundred years ago and fondly recall the sensible version of this animal which kept its paws on terra firma.

    Great post!

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    1. Thank you Wally for your kind words. I’m amazed at what I see in our yard if I just take the time to notice it. Retirement has been a great help for that, except we seem to be out and about more than ever before. I think you have other critters climbing trees there that we do not have here (thinking of iguanas).

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  4. In. A. Tree. I never would have guessed. So glad you fetched the long glass and made short work of some photos for documentary evidence. I hope they don’t start going after the bark. Wonderful write-up!

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    1. Thanks Sam. I didn’t believe what I was seeing at first. And most of my serious wildlife friends said it was unlikely and thought I was seeing things. That is until I showed them the photos. As Brian tells me: no photo, didn’t happen.

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        1. It is sort of ironic because even the Big Year people don’t require photographic evidence to count the birds; just your word of honor. Though I think the intra-family competition between Brian and Ron requires photographic evidence.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Definitely required for our family competition – Ron can be sneaky, shifty, devious, conniving, underhanded, yellow-bellied varminting, and this simple rule keeps him in line!

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