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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Woodchuck VII: The Groundhog takes to the Trees!

Whether you call it a woodchuck, groundhog or whistle pig, it is all the same thing: Marmota monax. It is not unusual for an animal to have more than one common name. Some are regional while others are more widespread. The woodchuck is even called "gopher" by some, but that name is particularly confusing since there is already another animal called gopher... This is my seventh post since I began monitoring this particular woodchuck burrow with a Cuddeback Attack. Just when I think I have blogged about everything, this critter does something different! Read on...
(Seneca Falls, NY 4/12)
Many people are surprised to learn that woodchucks and other marmots are members of the squirrel family. I tell my students that there are two things that will help them remember that woodchucks are squirrels. as mentioned in a previous post, the first thing is the tail. Check out this first photo and note the bushy squirrel tail. Sure, it isn't as fluffy as the gray squirrel for example, but the woodchuck spends far more time on the ground (and under it!) than the gray squirrel. Which brings us to the second point regarding woodchucks: they climb trees just like other squirrels.
I have only seen two woodchucks in trees myself. Both times, I happened to be with students and both times the woodchuck were in fruit trees. Seeing a woodchuck in a tree will forever remind you that it is a big ol' squirrel. I still have the Cuddeback Attack set up on the woodchuck burrow in my backyard. I checked the camera last week and had 214 videos captured. That is 107 minutes to watch! About half way through I hit the jackpot; my woodchuck decided to climb. Here she is just before the video starts. She looks to be sizing up the situation...

When you watch the video, note that the woodchuck remains arboreal throughout the entire 30 seconds. In the next video segment recorded, she is down. I have been monitoring this particular burrow nonstop for weeks now and this is the first tree climbing noted.
Enjoy the video and remember to keep your eyes on the trees, watching for New York's largest squirrel.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Woodchuck VI: Stretching and Yawning with Groundhog Yoga

(Seneca Falls, 4/12)
The Cuddeback Attack continues to produce some interesting video. Did you know woodchucks yawn? Yawn and stretch? In a way that makes them look like they are doing yoga? No? Well then! Check out the video below. As you watch, think about the purpose of the stretching. Woodchucks are known for spending a lot of time underground. Is the stretching simply a reaction to being up and out in the open? Or is this more of a reaction to waking up after a winter-long hibernation?

The video is a montage of several yawns and stretches but I saved the best one for last

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Northern Short-tailed Shrew nest unearthed!

Northern short-tailed shrew young
(Seneca Falls, 4/12)
Today was the day I was finally going to dig up the drain pipe that has been giving me fits for several months now. I anticipated several hours of digging, poking and prodding ahead of me. Well, I was only into it about five minutes when I unearthed a nest of young short-tailed shrews. Their were four in all. I grabbed them up and brought them to Laura to hold while I took photos.

Have a good look at these guys on the left. Shrews are often mistaken for mice even though they are not close relatives. Mice are in the Order Rodentia while shrews are in the Order Soricimorpha. On the inside, there are some dramatic differences between shrews and mice, but let's judge this book by its cover. First, shrews have five digits on the front feet while mice have four. Secondly, shrews have very small eyes and external ears while mice often have prominent ears and big eyes to match. These shrewlets are showing their external ears because their fur is still not to full length.
As mentioned above, I scooped up the little guys and brought them to Laura. She held them as I took a few photos.

(Seneca Falls, NY 4/12)

Although they were all active, one in particular seemed to want to explore...
Northern short-tailed shrews
(Seneca Falls, NY 4/12)
He even crawled up Laura's sleeve. You can just see his tail in the photo...
Northern short-tailed shrews
(Seneca Falls, NY 4/12)

These guys were so photogenic that I could have done this for hours. But that would not have been in the best interest of the shrews. I wanted to get them back to the nest site quickly. I placed them back down on the ground where I first found them. There were only a few remnants of the nest remaining. Some leaves and shredded plastic were all that was left of their natal den.
Laura gathered up some fresh grass clippings and we covered the shrewlets up. I hoped that mom would come back to take care of them I have done this with mice before and watched as the mother came and relocated the babies.
Make-shift shrew nest
(Seneca Falls, NY 4/12)
I busied myself with other tasks and tried to forget about the little shrews. Would mom come for them or would I end up trying to hand-rear four baby animals with some of the fastest metabolisms of any mammal on the planet? Finally, I could take it no more and gently peeled back the grass to find a re-excavated tunnel heading. Mom did indeed return and whisked off her young. So this is a story with TWO happy endings. The shrews survived and I have to wait at least a few more weeks to tackle that drain pipe to assure they have left their new nest :)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Woodchuck V: Groundhogs in the Mist

(Seneca Falls, NY 3/11)
Today I deployed nine camera traps with my students at our East Hill Campus. We plan to pull them in two weeks. Until then, I will continue with my series of woodchuck posts. I have two cameras out on two different but very close woodchuck holes. I believe I am only capturing images of a single animal on both cameras, but that is the subject of another post. Today, let me share a few images form the Cuddeback Capture. Unfortunately, the camera picked up some moisture inside and the photos all have a little foggy tint to them (Camera is currently in a plastic bag with some rice to soak up the water).  This first photo is just to set the scene so you can tell where the hole is.

Vigilant woodchuck
(Seneca Falls, NY 3/12)
I really enjoy the photos with the woodchuck standing tall on sentry duty. According to Elbroch and Rinehart (2011), up to 15% of a woodchuck's time above ground is spent in "vigilance behaviors" searching for predators or trespassers. I learned years ago that a sharp whistle can often get a woodchuck to pop up like this. Hunters often use this technique to get a 'chuck to reveal itself. The whistle is so effective because woodchucks whistle as a form of communication (one folk name for groundhog is "whistle pig").
I have no quarrel with my woodchucks. I do not farm. I have no livestock that could step into their holes.

Climbing woodchuck
(Seneca Falls, NY 3/12)
Woodchucks are rodents in the squirrel family. People are usually suprised by that. All squirrels have a pointed post orbital process on the skull, but that is hard to relate to and I don't always have a woodchuck skull handy. So I direct people to look for the bushy tail. In addition, I tell them that woodchucks climb trees like other squirrels. I have only personally witnessed this twice in my life, but the ever watchful camera captured this behavior in a mere few days time. Granted, this 'chuck is not scaling the heights or reaching the nosebleed section, but she appears to be completely off the ground.

Tomorrow, I hope the camera is dried out and ready to be put back out. In the meantime, I hope this woodchuck is enjoying her two days of privacy...

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Woodchuck IV: I get by with a little help from my friends

Feral cat inspects woodchuck hole
(Seneca Falls, NY 3/12)
It has been a week since I posted anything about the woodchucks in our backyard. I have accumulated some interesting stuff that will be the subject of upcoming posts. Today was reserved for trying to learn how to use basic video editing software. So I cobbled together some footage of the OTHER critters that have been showing up at the woodchuck burrow. This guy gets more visitors than we do! I had a hard time uploading the video to this site so I have provided a link to it on YouTube. Hope you enjoy!