Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Weasel, Rabbits, Possum, and a Blackbird

We spent the weekend visiting my parents and celebrating my niece's birthday in western Massachusetts, about 120 miles west and 50 miles south of where we live here in New Hampshire. The difference in latitude and longitude is noticeable in the timing of sunrise and in the types of plants and animals. The sun rises later there, so we wait a bit longer to take Kodi out for an early morning walk.

My parents farm is a mix of pasture, cropland, hardwood forest, and shrub thickets along wetland drainages. Coyote sign is usually abundant, something that makes Kodi wary of venturing too far into the back forty. Surprisingly, on this visit we saw little sign of coyotes, including no tracks in the snow. Kodi, therefore, was more adventuresome. It helped that he spotted several eastern cottontails that squirted out from thickets of multiflora rose. Fewer coyotes means more rabbits, and we saw rabbit tracks in several places, as well as two rabbit kills.
Eastern cottontail tracks
The only tracks around the remains of the two cottontails, was a network of small prints, smaller than the rabbit tracks. After some sleuthing in the field and research in references, we concluded that the predator was a long-tailed weasel. The weasel's erratic track pattern looped here and there along a field-shrubby wetland edge, typical of the long-tailed weasel's haunts. Their primary foods are meadow voles and field mice, with rabbits third on the menu. So, despite being about one quarter the size of a rabbit, the weasel hunts and kills bunnies.
Long-tailed weasel tracks
We saw lots of turkey tracks and one tom turkey displaying to a harem of three hens. An opossum wandered past the shed during the night, leaving behind its signature tracks in a dusting of snow.
Opossum tracks
The most significant sign of spring was the lone male red-winged blackbird that had staked out its territory in the same wetland drainage where the weasel hunted. That is my first blackbird sighting of the year. Mud, maple sugaring, and other signs of spring are here too. Although when we arrived back home there was another four inches of heavy wet snow in the driveway, the third weekend storm in a row. Winter lingers here.

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