Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

February 12, 2009

Do Bunnies Line Dance?

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 10:36 pm

Right now, smack dab in the middle of winter, is as good a time as any to step back and reflect upon the past few months. Snow conditions for the first half of the season have been very conducive to tracking. They have, in fact, been way too conducive. Six inches of white stuff would have been plenty, thank you. Given that it was so cold that every single solitary flake of snow hitting the ground was preserved, the levels built up incrementally from deep to very deep.

All this leads up to the fact that I’ve been accumulating track photos as fast as the snow has piled  up. I’ve not been able to make use of many of them as Naturespeak subjects, however, so I feel this is as good a time as any to pull a few out of the bag. There are a number of reasons why I will opt not to publish a track. The first and foremost reason is that I may have already featured a particular species – there are so many really really good squirrel tracks I can show you, in other words. Bad picture quality, a specialty of mine, and the lack of anything interesting to say are other factors. Finally, if I don’t know what animal made a certain track, I won’t display it either. Doing this would reveal my true ignorance.

There are a few tracks that rise above the level of the ordinary when it comes to story-telling. With that thought in mind, I would like to present a few leftovers for your consideration.

Some tracks are interesting solely because they were made by a creature that doesn’t usually have the opportunity to leave a track in the snow. A set of Iguana foot prints or a jellyfish trail would certainly be worth reporting, but I only have a set of woodpecker tracks (see below and a detail view here) that meet the requirements of this category. A detailed look at these snow marks reveals the  distinctive “X” pattern made by members of this tree-climbing clan. These birds have two forward pointing toes and two backward pointing ones that assist them in gripping vertical perches. Woodpeckers are common winter birds, but they rarely come to earth unless there is a compelling reason to do so. I can’t tell you what compelled this one to descend snow-ward. It took about a dozen hops and entered back into the air space without leaving any feeding evidence. There is a chance he did it just because it could be done!

Based on the size of these tracks, I would have to say they were left by a large woodpecker such as a Red-bellied or a Yellow-shafted Flicker. My money is on the Flicker simply because they spend a lot of time on the ground during the summer and I know that several of these guys are overwintering in the area.

The next set of tracks begs the question posed in the title of this piece: Do bunnies line dance?  Take a good close look at the set of Cottontail tracks pictured at the start of this column. I encountered these in a patch of new-blown snow along a paved path. What is especially fascinating here is that the longer hind foot tracks clearly indicate a sequential, and side by side,  foot placement right next to a series of small ovals where the snow was blown away to reveal the dark pavement underneath.

I quite simply have no idea what was going on here. Either this was the starting line for some kind of race – you know, as in “on your mark, get ready…” –  or we have evidence of rabbit line dancing. The small cleared patches could have been where the critter was licking snow or snorting out a blast of nostril air on the third and forth step of the dance. I do know that as the sun rose a bit higher on that day the whole thing became a receding hare line due to the rising air temperature!

My final exhibit  involves an opossum. These hardy marsupials sleep through the roughest part of the winter and emerge during brief thaws or breaks in the weather to search for food – or at least that’s what they’d have you believe. The set of tracks pictured below were made last week just as the current thaw began to set in. It appears to be a place where a hungry opossum grubbed through the snow for some hidden morsel. Although the deep snow obscures the identifying ‘possum “thumb” marks, a tail mark can clearly be seen. What is not so clearly seen is that there is a bottle cap sticking out of the snow at the far left side of the disturbance.

Take a look here, and you’ll see what I saw.  There was a crisp clean Budweiser bottle cap sticking out. Further investigation uncovered an identical bottle cap on the far right edge of the cluster of  ‘possum pad marks. The location was along a boardwalk running through a lowland woods and was far from any parking lot or road. I find it hard to believe that a sane human would uncork a couple of cold brews along a frigid nature trail in the middle of the winter. No, I’m afraid the only conclusion to be drawn here is that opossums drink beer and that they prefer Budweiser. This same animal left this set (see below) of tell-tale tracks in the snow leading away from the bottle cap site. You don’t have to be a traffic cop to notice that he was not walking in a straight line.

I do see some dangerous trends here. We have woodpeckers trying to walkpeck, bunnies line dancing, and marsupials engaging in frosty midnight drinking  binges. Earlier in the winter I came across another set of rabbit tracks which ended in a freshly extinguished cigarette butt.  What is nature coming to? I know for a fact that opossums and cottontails don’t carry money, so they have to get their booze and Marlboros through some illegal means. Scary stuff, eh?

There is a little bit of good news here, though. Apparently, given the absence of the bottles at the binge scene, ‘possums believe in recycling.

3 Comments »

  1. Clearly rabbits do not line dance. They prefer hip hop.

    (Sorry. But it had to be said.)

    Comment by Monica — February 15, 2009 @ 1:48 pm

  2. What template are you running on this site ? I really like it. Could you post where you got it from ?

    Comment by iguanas health — May 16, 2009 @ 9:29 am

  3. As a tracker (of sorts), I found this post highly enjoyable!!!

    Comment by Ellen — September 2, 2009 @ 11:37 am

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