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Monday, April 25, 2011

The Wiley Woodchucks!

The woodchucks I got to view were the courtyard area of off-campus student housing at FLCC. They were in a small mowed yard that was edged on one side by some tall weeds and saplings, with a few trees thrown in as well. Their den was in the more woody area, with two openings that I could see.


Description of the sighting: My friend Becca and I were just returning to her room one afternoon, and as we pulled in we noticed a commotion in the yard. As we got out of the car we could hear the crackling and snapping of twigs and brush. Intrigued, I approached and discovered it was not one woodchuck but two. They seemed to be in an amorous game of tag. I’m not sure if they were a male and a female, but I only assume that they were. One was definitely more clearly the chasER and one was definitely the chasEE. As I walked towards the grassy area, the male, or the chaser took off down a hole (which I have shown in my pictures), but the other one, the one I’m dubbing the female stayed put out in the open. She was breathing heavily, and I could tell was tuckered out. She let me get within probably 10 feet, which allowed me the cool picture I was able to snap. I don’t think I’ve ever been so close to a live woodchuck!

As I learned in class, the woodchuck is the largest squirrel in New York, which was at first a surprise to me. I think of squirrels as having life among the trees and a big bushy tail. This encounter with the woodchuck showed me neither. Because I experienced this sighting before officially learning about the woodchuck in class, I was able to digest this sighting in my head and think about what I saw, and then made connections with information learned in class. According to my Stokes book, the woodchuck was originally a “forest dweller”, hence his name. Because human beings have cleared so much land and made beautiful, rolling, green hills that are perfect for woodchucks to munch on grass, they now spend a lot of time in meadows, cleared fields, or yards. This is exactly the type of location I had my sighting.
Woodchucks are also terrific diggers. The holes I was able to observe (and maybe there were more), were large enough for the woodchuck, and expertly cleared. I could see a few feet into it and it appeared dry and free from debris. I also observed a “plunge hole”.  The one I dubbed the male disappeared into this hole. This hole was perfectly camouflaged, and if I hadn’t seen him disappear into it, I would have never there was a hole in that spot. The hole I snapped a picture of is what I’m going to assume the one I dubbed the male disappeared into this hole. This hole was perfectly camouflaged, and if I hadn’t seen him disappear into it, I would have never there was a hole in that spot. The hole I snapped a picture of is what I’m going to assume was the hole that all the innards of the den came out of. There was soil strewn about, and vegetation was clipped back. It was an obvious hole in the ground, where as the other one was not.


For future study: Do these woodchucks live together? In the Stokes book, it states that these animals are typically solitary and aggressively territorial. Was I witnessing someone over stepping their boundary? I would have thought yes, had I written this a day earlier. But the other day (4/19/11) I observed these woodchucks munching in the yard where they were first spotted blissfully and content. They were within feet of each other. Stokes goes on to state that recent research has suggested that the woodchuck may live in “loose association” with each other. How loose is loose?

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