I teach an introductory course on mammal identification and natural history. This blog serves as a place for all of those stories, photos, facts and fun stuff that simply won't fit in the course. Type in your email below to follow this blog!
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Monday, March 19, 2012
Woodchucks in love -- ?
(Seneca Falls, NY 3/12)
The weather. The weather has just been amazing. Saturday was another warm and sunny day. Unfortunately, the cameras haven't been as cooperative. The set on the wetland hadn't produced a photo in about a week (but that WAS a nice merganser...). I tried one set with the camera pointing up the trunk of a shagbark hickory and that too was a bust. Finally, a third camera in the back yard has only been giving me run of the mill cottontail photos. On Saturday I decided to change them all...
So I determined one camera would go to the northern hedgerow where I hardly ever trap, one was destined for a metal post driven in the field where we see woodcock every year about this time (I tried this last year without success) and the third camera was going to go in the walnut tree in the back yard (the one with the knot hole in it) in hopes of a flying squirrel. But that all changed as I stepped out the back door and FROZE at the sight of two woodchucks on the edge of our mowed lawn.
(Seneca Falls, NY 3/12)
One was reddish and sat still. The other was browner, gruffer and was constantly moving. I assumed that was the male. Twice I watched him approach the female, nose to nose and twice she vocalized and he jumped and backed away. After being rebuffed he would proceed to gnaw on branches and vines around the holes. This is a marking behavior, common to other squirrels besides woodchucks, where scent is deposited from glands at the corners of the mouth. The third time the male approached, he circled the female and tried to approach from behind but she would have none of that either. I slowly backed into the house, ran for the Nikon, changed lenses and eased the back door open only to find my wife standing in the driveway, having just returned from a bike ride. I managed the one photo above before the two woodchucks departed. That gave me the chance I needed to both set the camera trap and get some photos of the bite marks the male had left. This first photo shows some marks on the trunk of the shrub at the entrance of the hole. I watched him make these marks so they are nice and fresh. They are a little hard to see so I have another photo of them only closer.
In this photo, it is a little easier to see the bites. Again, it isn't the biting or the visual mark left behind but rather the scent that is most important. A few hours later I checked the camera, hoping for some photos of this behavior or perhaps some interaction between the two woodchucks. I got neither, but I did get some good photos such as:
and this expressive one:
and my only photo of the pair:
Seeing the pair together is a sure sign that it is breeding season as woodchucks are the least social of all the marmots in North America. The nice photos didn't stop there:
and a regal shot in the sun:
Sunday and Monday produced more photos but no photos of the scenting behavior. But I remembered a photo I got a few years ago, not 20 yards from this spot. At that time, I did not know about the scent marking behavior and wondered why this woodchuck would gnaw on such a thick branch. I now believe he was marking it with his sublingual glands...