Wednesday, January 27, 2016

More Animal Sign

This morning I took a short wander around the field beside the Conservation District office with hope of finding some more animal sign to photograph.  Here is what I found...

When I arrived at the office this morning I noticed a domestic cat at the edge of the parking lot.  With several nearby homes this was not much of a surprise.  

The cats are drawn to the area by the presence of small mammals (voles and rabbits) and birds in the nearby field.  I decided to follow one set of cat tracks to see where they led.  The tracks meandered all over through the field.  At one point I did see where a cat had paused to examine a tunnel going down through the snow.  Freezing rain earlier this month transformed the surface of the snow into a thick layer of ice.  This ice protects the mice and voles that us the space below (called the subnivean zone) quite secure from predators above the snow - for more info on the subnivean zone check out "Next stop, the subnivean zone!" from February 2014

Nearby I noticed a single Black-capped Chickadee preening itself in an Autumn Olive bush.  Chickadees have several winter survival strategies including bulking up with fatty foods, puffing up, and even entering a state of torpor - see "Chickadees in Winter" (January 2013) for more information.

Many of the Autumn Olive shrubs in the field have been severely damaged by rabbits (and to a lesser extent, voles) over the past few winters.  This year is no different.  Because rabbits are almost exclusively vegetarian, their food options are limited during the winter months.  One reliable food source that is available is the tender buds, bark, and small branches of trees and shrubs.  Rabbits snip off the buds and branches and strip the bark with their sharp chisel-like incisors.  If enough bark is removed the tree or shrub can potentially die.  This can be a problem for people that own orchards or have recently planted small trees.  It's not a problem when the rabbits are munching on invasive species like the Autumn Olive.

Did I find anything more exciting?  No, not really.  I did see a vole scurry under the snow near a shrub, but was unable to get a picture.  I keep checking the snow in this field hoping to find a coyote track or even a deer track, but so far I have been disappointed.  That's really okay.  I got to get outside and away from my desk for a few minutes and was able to interact with nature.  It gave me a slight recharge that I needed.

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