Toward the end of October 2008 stories about a pair of albino Fox Squirrels on the campus of the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas began appearing on the local and national news outlets.
Some of the stories alluded to a location—the intersection of Eagle Drive and Avenue A—as the best place to find the rare albinos. I knew this intersection, and almost immediately felt a desire to go to Denton and try to see these squirrels for myself.
When I finally made the trip to Denton a couple of weeks later, I was not hopeful that I would be able to find the squirrels. If my memory served me well, there would be literally hundreds of trees at this intersection alone. I would need a good deal of luck for this to be a successful outing.
I arrived in Denton late Sunday afternoon, and quickly made my way to the intersection of Eagle Drive and Avenue A. Just as I had remembered, there were trees everywhere. To make matters worse, this intersection borders commercial and residential areas, as well as the UNT campus.
I had no idea where to begin looking for the squirrels, and I decided to park so that I could search for the albinos on foot. Then, as I was driving around looking for a suitable parking space, I had the good fortune of noticing someone sitting in the middle of a vacant lot across the way from the university.
The man had a camera with a telephoto lens, and was taking pictures of something in the trees behind the vacant lot. Luck was with me! I knew there would only be one thing at that intersection that would inspire someone to sit in the middle of a field to photograph!
I quickly pulled into a parking lot across the way (so not to disturb the photographer), and began watching the scene through by own telephoto lens. I didn’t have to wait long for one of the albinos to crawl down out of a tree and scamper across a chain-link fence.
I took several pictures from across the way, all at the limits of what my telephoto lens could handle. None of the pictures turned out very well.
When the photographer in the vacant lot finished up and was preparing to leave, I drove over and parked in an adjacent apartment complex. I spoke to the photographer briefly, and it turned out that he was a fellow named KT Shiue. His named was mentioned frequently in the news stories about the albino Fox Squirrels, and he is the person probably most familiar with the squirrels at UNT. He has many great photos of these and other albino squirrels that have been found at the UNT campus since 2003. His pictures can be seen at www.flickr.com by searching for KT Shiue. They are excellent and worth a look.
I went back to Denton the following weekend to try again to get some quality pictures of one or both of the albino Fox Squirrels. I arrived early on Saturday morning, and set up in the middle of the vacant lot where I had seen KT taking pictures on my last visit to the area.
It was cold on this morning, near 45 degrees with a brisk wind blowing. And when I arrive there was no sign of the albino squirrels to be seen. There were, however, plenty of other Fox Squirrels in the area, and I passed the time by photographing a number of them.
After over an hour of waiting with no sign of the albino squirrels my legs were beginning to cramp and I was thinking of giving up. I stood up to stretch my legs when I caught a glimpse of white fur poking out of a squirrel nest just above where I had been sitting. The squirrel came out of the nest, briefly, and then went back in. I decide to wait around a little longer.
This time I didn’t have to wait long for the albino squirrel to reemerge. But, the albino squirrel did not linger. Instead, he quickly navigated the tree branches into other yards and away from my ability to follow. I did not get the quality of pictures I wanted on this day, but I was encouraged and decided to come back again the following day for one more try.
I came back to Denton on Sunday morning, and spotted one of the albinos as I was pulling into the parking lot. The albino was just going about its business and seemed in no hurry to leave.
I watched the first albino for almost an hour as he generally stayed too far away from me to photograph. I was alerted to the arrival of the second albino when I heard him barking at me from a branch just above where I was sitting.
The two albino squirrels moved in and out of the area repeated over the next couple of hours. I took as many pictures as I could.
I didn’t have to wait long for one of the albinos to crawl down out of a tree and scamper across the chain-link fence as seen in this picture.
After the photographer in the vacant lot left the area, I moved closer. In this new location I managed to catch a fleeting glimpse of one of the albinos as it disappeared into to the leafy ball nest in this picture. I waited around for over an hour, but unfortunately did not see the albino again that evening.
Even though I did not see the albinos again that afternoon, the area was still an excellent habitat for fox squirrels, as evidenced by the abundance of the ordinary Fox Squirrels I did see.
Another Fox Squirrel in the general vicinity of the rare albinos in Denton, Texas.
I photographed this squirrel on my second trip to Denton. This photograph is notable because of the way the squirrel has his fur puffed up as protection against the cold.
This little fellow was not pleased with my intrusion, and he spend a good deal of the morning barking at me from a branch far above my head.
The albino squirrel came out of the nest, briefly, and then went back in. I decide to wait around a little longer.
This time I didn’t have to wait long for the albino squirrel to reemerge. He came out of his nest and then quickly scampered up the tree to this higher vantage point.
A closer look at the rare albino Fox Squirrel in Denton, Texas.
I managed this photograph of a normal Fox Squirrel just before I left. This fellow is big and fat and healthy looking!
I came back to Denton on Sunday morning, and spotted one of the albinos as I was pulling into the parking lot. The albino was just going about its business and seemed in no hurry to leave. I snapped this picture just as soon as I could get set up.
I watched the first albino for almost an hour as he generally stayed to far away from me to photograph. I was alerted to the arrival of the second albino when I heard him barking at me from a branch just above where I was sitting. This is a picture of the second albino squirrel I had seen that morning.
After tiring of barking at me, the squirrel made its way down to the chain-link fence. From there the squirrel visited a spot at the base of the tree where I had placed a pile of mixed nuts.
The squirrel would select a nut from the pile and then quickly scamper back up the tree. From there he would make his way across several backyards before heading back down to the ground to bury his prize.
Again, I saw a number of normal Fox Squirrels in the vicinity, including the soundly sleeping individual in this photograph.
After some time the original albino squirrel showed up again. This is him. Unfortunately, I was never able to photograph the two squirrels together.
Fox Squirrels were everywhere!
This albino returned to the nut pile frequently, and then would quickly run away to bury the nut for safe keeping.
These squirrels are true albinos. Note the pink eyes, and the absolute lack of pigment in the fur and skin.
The white squirrels are terribly beautiful. Albino Fox Squirrels are extremely rare, and it is thought that their white fur makes them more visible, and therefore more vulnerable to predation. Reportedly, these are not the first albino squirrels in Denton. In 2003 an albino was found closer to the center of the UNT campus where it thrived for nearly 3 years until it was eaten by a hawk sometime in 2006. With luck, the genetics for albinism are now well established in the Denton squirrel population. Hopefully, there will be many more of these charming creatures even if something unfortunate does happen to the current pair.
Sometimes the squirrel would stop for a moment and give the latest retrieved nut a closer look before continuing on to bury it.
After retrieving 8 to 10 nuts the squirrel tired of climbing the tree and running several yards/meters over to bury his prize. The trip away from the nut pile grew shorter and shorter with each additional nut. After some time, the squirrel would simply turn away from the pile and then shove the nut through the chain-link fence behind him. That is what he is doing in this photograph.
The squirrel hid several nuts by simply shoving through the nearby chain-link fence.
At least one of the two albino Fox Squirrels was a male. I did not get a look at both of the squirrels together in a way that would allow me to vouch for the gender of both of them.
Burying a nut.
A parting shot. What an exciting urban wildlife observation!