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Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Painter and the Sculptor

I took advantage of the thaw yesterday and placed two camera traps out in new locations. The first is in some thick pines. The weather forecast calls for some nasty weather and I was interested to see if I could get some photos of critters seeking shelter. The second I put on a woodchuck hole. There were muddy tracks leading out of the hole and I am hoping for a photo or two of a woodchuck in the snow.

Both of these locations are about a half mile from the house and on the way I poked around hoping to find a shed antler or something else of interest. I discovered two works of art...

Meadow vole tunnels revealed in melting snow
(Seneca Falls, 3/11)
THE PAINTER: In The Sand County Almanac, Leopold calls meadow voles engineers because they create tunnels. They tunnel underground, under vegetation and under and through the snow. And as the snow melts, these last tunnels are revealed. I found numerous examples of them on the walk yesterday but one series in particular struck me. The long squiggly lines made by these rodents looked random and erratic. I smiled as I thought of how a true engineer would have a fit over the inefficient design of these tunnels (I wonder of the voles at East Hill are held to a higher standard). Instead of well thought out blueprints, these designs reminded me of finger paintings. If I could just add some color to his canvas, it would be hard to tell the difference between his work and the preschool creations we saved from Danika.

Rodents have stripped the bark from this
tree (Seneca Falls, 3/11)
THE SCULPTOR: The second artist left his work unsigned (at least to my eye... more experienced naturalists may know for sure who created this) but I am certain he was a rodent of some kind. Many animals will eat the bark of trees for food. Beavers will cut down an entire tree to get at the cambium layer and newer stems. Elk use their lower incisors to gouge hunks of aspen bark. Rabbits will also take bark, but only has high as their long hind legs and snow banks will let them. Rodents, however, can climb, so they often strip trees and limbs. I have seen it before but I cannot remember seeing it so extensively. From a distance, this tree stood out in stark contrast to its neighbors. It looked so pale. I was reminded of driftwood. As I got closer I realized this was a living tree that had been recently barked (not de-barked... the correct term is "barked", so de-barking a tree would technically be putting the bark back on :) and was not the result of the bark falling off after being dead and drying out. It is the work of a rodent, but which one? My first thought was gray squirrel. But that one limb sure looks thin and I wonder if a gray would be too large to do the work. We have red squirrels, so they are another possible candidate. Chipmunks could do this, but if it is truly fresh, they spend most of the winter sleeping. Flying squirrels are another possibility, but they are so small I doubt if they would have tackled the thick bark of the trunk. So I am left with a mystery. I wonder if careful measurements of the chisel marks in the second photo would reveal the artist.

Most of the wood was smooth, but here is a spot with many "chisel"
(incisor) marks. (Seneca Falls, 3/11)

1 comment:

  1. This is pretty cool! My guess is red squirrel, maybe midden is gone and he took advantage of warm weather, but you are a better naturalist than I am


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