Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Chippy Hole

The one-inch or so round hole goes nearly straight down 11 and a half inches. It is easy to miss in the greening lawn. The entrance is not marked by piles of excavated dirt. Aria goes straight for the hole. She takes a strong sniff, trying to force her Shepherd nose farther down the narrow hole. These are her favorite - the chippy holes.

Chipmunks are active now. It is mating season. They've emerged from their winter rest period. From mid-November to mid-February they are mostly unseen, spending those months underground in light hibernation. During this winter torpor they feast on nuts and seeds and other foods that they stored in their burrow the previous fall.

An individual chipmunk constructs a network of chambers and tunnels that may go 3 feet deep and extend 20 to 30 feet or more. The chipmunk starts by digging a working entrance. As it continues to dig it back fills this entrance, eventually emerging some distance away. This new, clean hole, excavated from below, becomes the "real" entrance. Along the way, the chipmunk creates a nest chamber, several food storage chambers, side pockets, and various escape tunnels.

Listen for loud chips, a series of chips, or a chip-trill. These are the calls of the chipmunk. They are busy now, refreshing food stocks and looking for mates. Soon the females will retreat below ground and await the birth of their young after 31 days. This cycle is repeated in July, when chipmunks breed for a second time. 

Chipmunks are active only during the day. Despite this, Aria never quite catches the chippy popping out of its hole. They are always too quick for her. She still revels in the game. Now that spring is here, the game is afoot.

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