Archive for the ‘winter’ Tag

From the Burrow: Hog Wild   Leave a comment

I don’t understand how the gound-hoggies can tell the wind and the snow and the cold-time what to do. The men say (but I think they’re making it up), that when a ground-hoggie sees his shadow that means the cold-time will continue; but if there’s no shadow then flower-time will come early. I’ve never actually met a ground-hoggie, but whenever I see my shadow nothing changes. And if I look for my shadow underground I never see it at all and flower-time still comes.

I’m not even sure what a ground-hoggie is, I’ve never met one, but the men say they’re a lot like a marmot, almost the exact same they say, just living in different areas. Maybe someplace that’s closer to wind and snow and rain, I’d think. The men even brought a pretend hoggie I could look at, but I didn’t see the resemblance. Must be in the way you look at it.

Sometimes they are called ‘Ground-pig’ or ‘Whistler’ or ‘Wood digger’ or ‘Monax’ or ‘Thickwood badger’ (which makes no sense at all), and even ‘Woodsock’ or something like that, which must be very confusing because now they don’t have to worry just about their shadow and where it might be, but with all those names they won’t even know if someone is talking to them or someone else. I would answer to ‘Whistler’ because it’s very musical and pretty, too, but some of those other names start to sound insulting. I’d rather be called ‘hay you’. Particularly if I was being called to really eat, hay.

So if the hoggies see their shadows or not – or maybe just one ground-hoggie, I don’t know how many have to see their shadows for it to work – I”ll be happy whenever flower-time comes. If it takes a little longer I won’t mind, I’ll just be dozing in my nice warm burrow dreaming about flower-time. It’s not like I’m going to go hog wild.


“Doesn't look like anyone I've ever seen” - MM

“Doesn’t look like anyone I’ve ever seen”.

Posted January 31, 2016 by Michonne Marmot in View From the Burrow

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SciSun: Yule Haul   Leave a comment

Santa’s coat never had a chance of making it through the winter. Intended as Christmas decorations for front porches and neighborhood parks, fur-wrapped Santas – as well as scarf-wearing plastic snowmen, plush stuffed reindeer and even the occasional fuzzy abominable snowman – have been found slowly plucked of their warm wrappings. As nights grow longer, temperatures become colder and snow begins to fall, throughout much of the southwestern US; areas normally with little vegetation and during winter, even less; holiday trimmings are not falling victim to an unknown case of Yuletide mange, but the work of small rodents – such as the Antelope Ground Squirrel (Ammospermophilus leucurus), who are collecting fur, string, yarn, and other scraps of soft, warm, and plush material to line their nests for the winter. And possibly add some season decoration inside their homes. There’s no place to hang a front door wreath, on a burrow.

While not related to the deer- like Antelope (which, isn’t a deer, either), the Antelope Squirrel; along with the other more than three dozen types of ground squirrels native to North America; are among the most widely-distributed, variously colored and patterned, and found in the most diverse environments of any other rodent genus. Ranging from just a few inches to over two feet long (Marmots!), various species of ground squirrel can be found living among rocks; in open fields; digging burrows in soft soil or packed dirt; in vacant lots or mountain meadows; and just about any place there’s enough space to fit into. Ranging from dusty brown to tan and gold to deep chocolate with black and white highlights (all natural – that’s the way it grows in!); the squirrels can also sport solid colors or stripes. Many of the smaller species, between six to eight inches long, are often confused with the Chipmunk (Tamias spp.). While somewhat difficult to tell apart, particularly as all rodents usually move quickly and always seem to have somewhere to go or something to do, chipmunks are often seen in trees while ground squirrels seldom leave the ground. A more reliable measure is to observe the dark and white stripes on both sides of their bodies; while found on both squirrels and chips, the stripes continue onto the head only on the chip, while the squirrels head is a solid color with fading color variations and usually a very lightly-colored ring, or eyespot, around each eye. Also, chipmunks are often chased by an angry duck.

Ground squirrel in snow

“It’s like, really cold out here. Are my teeth chattering?”

True omnivores, relying mostly on grass, seeds and other plant material, most ground squirrel species will happily eat insects, lizards, and for some, even gnaw on dead animals. Always ready to accept human left-overs (don’t feed the wildlife), ground squirrels can carry fleas which, themselves, could transmit the Bubonic Plague (Yersinia pestis), the same disease that killed 25 million Europeans in the mid 1300’s, the time known as the Black Death. While this can’t be blamed on ground squirrels (the fleas were probably spread by rats and humans themselves, who weren’t as clean then as most of us try to be now), there are still cases of the disease reported today. So while having a family of ground squirrels digging burrows under your house or taking food from your hand might be cute, there’s over 25 million reasons not to do that.

But the squirrels have to live somewhere, usually just, literally, a hole in the ground, and in the desert there’s very little soft grass or cushioning moss or comfortable left-over hair from other animals to make a home really feel like a home (Best: Bison fur. Worst: Cat hair-balls). Ground squirrels – or most all squirrels, for that matter – don’t truly hibernate (shelter underground for the entire winter, not eating nor drinking; the heart rate and other body functions slow to the point the animal could appear dead), most squirrels do take long naps to conserve their energy and avoid the harshest winter weather. When you’re only a few inches long with short hair, and the humans are nice enough to put out all those fuzzy and furry and fleecy things, just sitting there, at exactly the right time of the year when most squirrel thoughts turn not to holiday parties and gifts but to preparing a safe, comfortable burrow, it’s hard for a squirrel to resist helping herself to some free home improvement materials. And if in the process that makes our front-yard santas and reindeer and plush animals look a little threadbare, maybe that’s a way we, who have a lot, can give to those, who have a little.


Michonne Says: Marmots are the worlds largest squirrels! Sometimes I see the little squirrels and I think they must feel bad being so small and all, but they don’t seem to mind. Some of them have pretty stripes that might be nice to have, and it’s easier for them to hide when hawks come around. But that’s one good reason to be a squirrel, we come in all shapes and sizes. Just some of us are more naturally rounded than others.

Posted November 29, 2015 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in ECOVIA Central

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SunSpecial: Seasonal Snow Furies   Leave a comment

Everybody talks about the weather, but no one ever does anything about it. Due to unexpected foul weather (nothing personal, ducks and geese), this week the schedule’s been interrupted as we dig out and clean up. But we do have this photo of one of our crew at work checking out possible tree damage. Or any abandoned bee hives.

Eugene is disregarding every rule of climbing safety and daring, just daring, anyone to tell him differently

Eugene is disregarding every rule of climbing safety and daring, just daring, anyone to tell him differently

Posted November 15, 2015 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in ECOVIA Central

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From the Burrow: Him and His Shadow   Leave a comment

That groundhoggy that looks for his shadow every year found it this time, and somehow that means the cold-time lasts longer than it would if he didn’t find his shadow. This is the story the men tell and it doesn’t make any sense to me. A shadow is always following me around. Everyone has one, or sometimes even more than one, but not very often. Sometimes it’s big, and other times it’s little, but it’s always there. Except at night when it goes to sleep, just like I do. Then it’s back in the morning. I don’t think there’s anything different about the ground-hoggies shadows. But I’ve never met a groundhoggy so I don’t know.

“You're MY shadow!”  “No, you're MY shadow.”

“You’re MY shadow!” “No, you’re MY shadow.”

Posted February 8, 2015 by Michonne Marmot in View From the Burrow

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SciSun: In with the New   Leave a comment

At the start of each New Year (Happy 2015!), the imminent hour is often depicted as a little baby full of potential, while the year past is an old man ready for rest (which describes a really short lifetime, if you think about it). But what about wildlife in the new year – what changes to they take on, as we move from one year to another? On December 31st animals don’t count the minutes to midnight or throw confetti into the air (usually); but in the depths of winter, how do wildlife celebrate – or at least survive – the season?

For most animals, winter is a difficult time. There’s the frosty temperatures; food can be scarce; and failure to plan ahead could lead to limited choices for shelter. Water is often frozen, and predators are looking for an easy meal. We know some wildlife hibernate – deep sleep where body systems slow down and it takes very little energy to survive; other animals migrate from colder, to warmer climates; and particularly reptiles, amphibians and insects snuggle down into their burrows or other homes, sitting out the winter and waiting for Spring. But some wildlife just continue on their daily activities through all but the most severe climate. Some mammals such as Brown Bear (Ursus arctos), American Bison (Bison bison), and Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus) ‘bulk up’ in the Autumn, eating as much as possible which provides energy to grow dense, thick coats, build up muscle, and storing any extra energy as fat which insulates and provides emergency nutrition if winter gets really tough. The Great Grey Owl (Strix nebulosa) has dense feathers that shed snow and insulate the body; he also sports a fashionable set of ‘snow pants’ comprised of overlapping layers of feathers that cover his legs and tops of his feet. Because no one likes cold feet. The Mallard Duck (Anas platyrhynchos) enjoys the unique advantage of counter-current circulation (well, unique among many waterfowl, that is), which is a system of inter-connected veins that carry cold blood from the extremities – for a duck, that’s usually the feet – toward the heart, and warm blood from the heart back to the feet. So all those ducks swimming in frigid water or walking on the ice really aren’t struggling, they’re probably just fine. They just look like they’re suffering so we’ll throw them a handful of duck food.

“Are you certain the white is helping us blend in?”  “Oh sure, just stay still and it's like we're invisible. It'll even be better once the snow comes over here!”

“Are you sure the white is helping us blend in?” “Oh sure, just stay still and it’s like we’re invisible. It’ll even be better once the snow comes over here!”

Of all the winter adaptations, however, perhaps the most spectacular are animals that change color for each season – standard browns and greys in the warmer months, and stealthy shades of white for winter. Sometimes referred to as photoperiodic transformation, it’s really just a way some animals have evolved to continue on their daily activities without being noticed: Arctic Fox (Vulpes lagopus); Ermine (Mustela erminea) – a type of weasel; the small rodent Collared Lemming (Dicrostonyx groenlandicus) – which, despite urban legend, does not jump off cliffs en-masse but actually bravely stands its ground and probably wouldn’t jump on a dare. The Arctic Hare (Lepus arcticus) is well-known for his seasonal change from brown to white; and even Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) gets in on the act by not turning entirely white, but generally lightening from deep browns to light tans. Reindeer aren’t one to be dictated by fashion. Even the Ptarmigan (Lagopus muta) which is easily overlooked as a rather common brown and tan speckled bird much of the year, emerges as brilliant white for the winter. Which is rather surprising, as this bird normally lives in the arctic and subarctic where snow is common and white would seem to be the preferred ‘blend-in’ color. Maybe she just likes to change things around every so often.

While wildlife might not greet the new year with as much enthusiasm as humans (and most animals really don’t like to wear party hats), nevertheless all of us, animals and people alike, acknowledge changes the new year brings and, in our own ways, prepare for the winter and look forward to Spring. But as humans who must share the world with every other animal, we can try to make good choices that benefit all, and not just the decision to occasionally change our coats.


Michonne Says: Marmots are always marmot-colored. The stories say long ago some marmots tried to turn white but it was too much work, no one could decide exactly what shade of white to become, and there were no flowers to eat anyway. So now we just sleep through the cold time and dream of flower-time.

Posted January 4, 2015 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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SciSun: Find Dining   Leave a comment

In many countries, the day after Christmas is called ‘Boxing Day’. Years ago, this was a day for recognizing and giving presents not to family and friends but to people you saw regularly but weren’t really close to – like your house servants and carriage master (yes, this was quite a few years ago). Later it became a day to give presents to the unfortunate: Box up some food and clothes for donation. That evolved into an opportunity to make space for your new gifts by getting rid of old stuff you no longer needed (after all, someone can use it!); and today, it’s mainly become a day to return unwanted gifts to the store and eat leftovers from Christmas dinner. Yes, times have changed. With the freezing temperatures, blowing snow and harsh weather that accompany the Holiday season, it’s not just butlers and coachmen to think about, but our wildlife friends, also. (And if you are thinking of your butler and coachmen, well whoopee for you).

In most of our neighborhoods wildlife live among us every day, although often working hard to go un-noticed. Some areas might be homes to deer, fox, or even bear; but within most of our backyards, parks, vacant lots, and even city sidewalks, squirrels, chipmunks, and the occasional possum or raccoon are the usual natives. The wild animal virtually all of us see every day is the ‘common’ backyard bird. Robins, Jays, Cardinals, Woodpeckers, Finches, and ‘little brown birds’ perch in our trees, nest in our shrubs and some live their entire lives among our homes, often un-noticed and sometimes considered pests. Yet these little creatures do a big job, eating insects, spreading seeds and pollen, and their songs and calls creating background noise that we might take for granted but would certainly miss if it went away. In the winter feeding the birds, along with deer and other neighborhood animals, is one way many of us try to help our wildlife colleagues. But do these wild animals, who lived and thrived before man arrived in their territories, really need our help, or are our efforts and attention providing more pleasure for us, than for them?

“I'll be happy to take that old, dry fruitcake off your hands.  And any of those chips and cheezy-bites and left over appletizers.  But not the green bean cassy-role.  Nobody likes that.”

“I’ll be happy to take that old, dry fruitcake off your hands. And any of those chips and cheezy-bites and left over appletizers. But not the green bean cassy-role. Nobody likes that.”

Generally, feeding any wild animal is not a good idea. All animals have a specialized diet and specific metabolic needs that vary throughout the year and only wildlife experts can begin to understand exactly what every species does, and does not, need. It’s very easy to make an animal sick, or even severely harm the animal, by feeding food they might eat, but shouldn’t. Sandwich and white bread, for example – which almost all animals will eat (high carb diet?), shouldn’t be the biggest part of anyone’s menu, humans included (high carb diet!). Corn – often left out for deer – can actually ferment in the animals stomach if too much is eaten, resulting in high levels of yeast and bacteria that create bloating, blockage or even death. Table scraps and leftovers might attract wildlife (as well as cockroaches and rats), but cranberry stuffing and marshmallow fruit salad and gingerbread cookies are never healthy for animals, despite how much we might enjoy it.

After years of research, scientists and bird-enthusiasts have discovered that feeding backyard birds (a healthy, balanced, bird friendly diet!) does seem to be beneficial, but not necessary. Through countless hours of observation and measurement, it’s estimated each individual bird does not depend on backyard feeders but uses human-provided food to supplement the natural foods she searches for throughout the day. Many birds will even move from feeder to feeder, only sampling a bit of food at each and not depending on any one source. It was found that for our avian-associates what are more vital than feeders are sources of fresh, clear water. It seems in all but the most harsh of winter food is much easier to find than water, and a birdbath, fountain, or pond is more important to the birds – as well as other wildlife – then any food we think they might need, and these handouts actually turn out to be more for our enjoyment, than their need.

While we might think animals ‘know’ what to eat, the fact is they can be just as eager to try out new and different tastes as we are (watch what people choose as they go through the buffet line. Or on second thought, maybe that’s something you don’t want to look at too closely). Handfuls of corn spread out on the ground is ‘fast food’ to a deer herd; when a squirrel dashes by to grab a kernel of popcorn or piece of breadcrust, it’s his version of drive through (or delivery direct to his door, in fifteen minutes or less. And squirrels are really bad tippers). And while we know better than to eat nothing but junk food, our wildlife friends can’t make that choice. After generations of living among humans, they depend upon us not to feed them anything they shouldn’t have. Which is sometimes more consideration than what we choose to feed ourselves.


Michonne Says: I thought that poppy corn the men left was a flower. It was shaped like a flower. It was white like a flower. It was laying on the ground like a flower. It even has the same name as a flower. It tasted just as good as a flower and I ate all I could find. But later I didn’t feel so well. No wonder the men left it behind.

Posted December 28, 2014 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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SunSpecial: Deer, Me   Leave a comment

As the Holiday season is now upon us, this week we interview one of the actual North Pole reindeer that are so important in many holiday traditions. Due to privacy agreements, we can’t actually mention who this reindeer is or how we were able to contact him, but he does let us in on quite a bit about reindeer which, probably all of us, know very little:

R: Happy Holidays! Or as all us North Pole (NP) Reindeer say, ‘Hoofy Holidays’. But that’s more an ungulate thing. I’m Rud…. uh, RANDOLPH, one of the reindeer who work at the NP and I’m happy to take this opportunity to answer some of your reindeer and NP questions.

Q: Well, Randolph, we appreciate this opportunity. First, can you tell us what’s the difference between Reindeer, and Caribou (Rangifer tarandus)? Although both types live thousands of miles apart, they seem to be very similar.

R: That’s a great question and one I’m happy to settle. We ARE both the same! Our ancestors go back millions of years, to the period humans call the Pleistocene, the time of the wooly mammoth and sabre-tooth tiger (We’re really glad those tigers are gone). Much of the world was in an Ice Age then, but as the weather warmed reindeer and other cold-weather animals moved north until now almost all reindeer and caribou live within the Arctic and Subarctic regions of North America – where we are called caribou – and Europe, where we are known as reindeer. I don’t know why, I think it’s a man thing.

Q: So if all reindeer – or caribou… – Which do you prefer?

R: Oh, reindeer is fine, thank you.

Q: …if all live in polar regions, doesn’t that make for a very cold and difficult life?

R: You might say reindeer are the coolest animals around, because we can do just fine in weather as cold as seventy degrees below zero, or more! Our entire body – except our nose – is covered with a very dense, and I think, very attractive coat made of wooly underfur surrounded by hollow guard hairs that help retain heat. Also our large, broad hooves help us walk and keep balance on snow and ice.

Q: Since you brought it up, isn’t your nose a little…red, for a reindeer?

R: Seasonal allergies. Next question?

Q: We’ve read that usually thousands of reindeer travel and live together, sometimes migrating long distances every year. How large is your herd at the North Pole?

R: Our NP group is fairly small, for reindeer herds. There’s just the core team of nine, with a few substitutes, and some coaches and support deer. We like to keep things lean and nimble. Outside the workplace, some caribou herds number from the tens into the hundreds of thousands, and every season they do migrate hundreds of miles, following the growth of new plants and to keep calves and fawns safe. But other groups – usually the Eurasian reindeer that live in more forested environments – live in small groups and migrate only within short ranges, if at all. Some caribou in North America live on islands, and of course they don’t migrate. Reindeer can swim, but we draw the line at trying to set any long distance aquatic records. And here’s a fun fact: Not all the NP reindeer team are the same members from year to year! To give everyone a chance, sometimes experienced deer step off, often to become coaches or mentors, and allow new recruits in from outside herds. It’s a great honor to be on the NP team, and tradition to keep the same names from team member to member. So the ‘Donder’ of today, might not be the ‘Donder’ that visited your neighborhood last year!

Q: Wow, we didn’t know that! How are new team members selected? Do they need to have special talents or skills?

R: Actually, any deer who’s interested in considered, there are no special requirements and everyone is welcome. Any applicant has to have a great attitude; be a team player but still able to think on his or her hooves; and be able to pull a sleigh. As most adult male reindeer weigh about 400 pounds; and most females around half that, there’s hardly any reindeer who isn’t able to pull a heavy load so that’s not been an issue. Of course years ago things were a bit different, and if you weren’t part of the ‘in group’, or were ‘peculiar’ in any way, the other deer thought you might not fit in, and it was difficult. Those guys didn’t play any games. But now that’s changed and we all appreciate the uniqueness and special qualities of every individual.

Q: You mentioned herds can travel in search of plants; what do reindeer eat? If we want to leave out cookies and milk for Santa, what food should we leave for the reindeer?

R: Excellent question! When we’re not working, we all love Lichen! That’s both fungus and algae that grow together, so the two make a tasty salad.

Q: We have to say, fungus and algae doesn’t sound too appetizing.

R: Well it’s actually quite good. Some men call it reindeer moss. It’s funny what men name things. But in the far north, not many plants grow. Reindeer and caribou, like every member of the deer family, are herbivores and we have to eat the plants as we find them. When we can, we eat grasses and shrubs and flowering plants and sometimes mushrooms and the best of all, BERRIES!, but for most reindeer those are few and far between. The NP team is on a special diet of hay and oats and vegetables with a little fruit for dessert. Also some special ingredients that I can’t mention, to keep us strong and for our…special abilities. We’re actually quite spoiled when it comes to food, but we like to think we earn it. If you want to leave us a treat, just a carrot or few slices of apple will do, but we really don’t need anything as we always have a good dinner and snacks when we return. And speaking of snacks, please take it easy on those cookies and sweets some of you leave out for Santa. He really doesn’t need all that, and it’s just more we have to pull.

Q: Well, we know you have to get back to work. Thank you for your time and all the great answers. Maybe after the holidays, you can talk with us some more?

R: Oh sure, I’m always happy to share. And if any of your readers have questions, send them in and I’ll do my best to reply.

Q: Oh, one last thing – do you have a photo of yourself we can post for people to see?

R: I can’t really share anything too specific, but Santa did have something prepared in case anyone asks. Let’s just say it’s a good representation of all the reindeer, over the years, who have served, and are serving today. Happy Holidays to all, and may your sleigh-load be light!

Reindeer_Wiki_Rangifer_tarandus AUTOGPH

Posted December 21, 2014 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SunSpecial

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