Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Phoebes, Peepers, and Possums

It's been a long haul, this winter, that seemed to end just last week. The deep snows were nice for snowshoeing, following wildlife tracks, keeping subnivean mammals safe from hungry predators. What I seem to remember though were the persistent cold temperatures, roof ice dams, a lot of shoveling, and helping my parents navigate three months of icy steps and paths.

With great relief the last of the snow piles are melting away. Spring peepers fill the evening air with their chorus of loud peeps. A pair of phoebes returned a week ago to begin again a nest under our deck. The first of the warblers--pine warbler--has returned to the pine trees in our yard. Bluebirds are singing from the field edges along Bald Hill Road. Red-winged blackbirds and song sparrows sing from their territories around wetland edges. Tree swallows soar overhead. This emergence and re-birth in spring is a blessing to us all.

And then there is the Virginia opossum, which prior to 1900 did not occur in New England. Now they live here year-round, despite some difficulty serving cold temperatures. So, when I saw four opossums together last week in my parents backyard, I was surprised. It was a very cold winter. Also, I think of them as solitary. But, they breed from January to July and I watched one big possum chase a smaller possum so assume they were in a mating ritual. The other two were big and hung together nearby in a thicket. Maybe they were still a family unit that had not dispersed. Here are the two that were just hanging around.
Opossums are odd creatures: the only marsupial in North America; the young, born the size of a lima bean, crawl into their mother's abdominal pouch where they continue developing; they have 50 teeth; they can play dead; and they survive by eating just about anything. These four were living on birdseed and suet in my parents yard. As much as I am not sure they are suited to this climate (except that it keeps getting more suited to them), it's fun to see these unusual animals among the other spring sightings. 

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