Friday, August 29, 2008

Woodchuck and Other Critters

The Woodchuck

While working in the yard one evening earlier this summer I noticed this guy up a tree in the front yard. I think the dog had scared him up there. Though my old dog is not the type to sit uselessly at the base of a tree barking hysterically, this creature was very aware of the dog and remained absolutely motionless. I had time to get my camera. I needed photos for identification purposes because I had no idea what this creature was.

This photo is not the best. The creature's head is at the top, his eye a point of light. He has a little bushy, curly tail, and impressive front claws.

As soon as I could, I researched the internet for Kansas mammals. Thanks to information on a great web site, I determined it was a woodchuck. I was born and raised in Kansas but I did not know woodchucks lived in Kansas. Two of my hunter friends did not believe I had seen a woodchuck, either. After I provided my photos, they each researched and came to the same conclusion. I was not the only bonafide Kansan surprised by this creature.

All I know about woodchucks I learned on this web site:

They are the largest member of the squirrel family in Kansas, growing up to two feet long and weighing as much as twelve pounds. They live in dens in the ground, but can climb trees quite easily. They are vegetarians and they hibernate. This one likely lives close to my house, along the creek.

I am delighted that I share my little corner of the world with critters like this guy. He goes about his life and I go about mine. If he had never gone up that tree, I would most likely have never seen him and never learned woodchucks live in eastern Kansas.

The time I have been here at Spirit Creek, I have seen many animals: deer, fox, coyote, bobcat, several types of hawks, kestrels, eagles, wild turkey, prairie chickens, muskrat, prairie voles, a variety of snakes, insects, butterflies, spiders of unimaginable variety, and a list of birds too long to write here. I count each sighting as a gift. I am always amazed that despite our best efforts otherwise, these creatures have managed to live alongside humans.

The holy grail of wildlife sightings for Kansans is a mountain lion. Just about everyone I know in Kansas knows someone-who-knows-someone who has spotted a mountain lion. Officially, there are no mountain lions in Kansas but there is an enduring "urban legend" that wildlife officials released mountain lions at various places around the state several years ago. Each time I hear the release story, it is always just two people removed from whomever is telling the story.

Now, I do not know about the secret release of mountain lions, but I do believe some of the people who have told me personally they have spotted a mountain lion. My neighbor said he saw one crossing the road about two miles from here. I believe him. I do not believe the story of a mountain lion having her kits under a junked car in Willard, Kansas, though.

I hope to see a wild cougar some day, but from far, far away. If my good old dog is with me, I will be perfectly safe. No body messes with the Duke - not even woodchucks.

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