Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Whistle the Train Chasing Krider's Red-Tail, Late Cardinal, Hyperphagia in Chipmunks, and Friend Appears

As it had been for two days, it was raining. In fact as I found myself in the car braking to a stop at the red flashing lights of the railroad crossing, it was pouring. The train whistle hooted, and suddenly a Red-tailed Hawk zoomed past flapping with speed and purpose. It's WHISTLE, the clever local Krider's Red-tail Hawk!

She flew over the waiting cars, past the big oak, did an immediate 45 degree turn , then headed up High Street, with a slight trajectory toward the NE. And just then, the train started rumbling past the crossing at which I waited.

She's doing it! Whistle is racing the train to the crossing on the far side of town. That's the place where I've observed her clever hunting technique. She arrives at the far crossing, just as the train does, then perches on an adjacent pole, at the ready to swoop on the rodents flushed by the train.

Not only was the land earlier in the season a grain field, but now earth moving equipment has also been at work, no doubt further disrupting the rodent burrows.

Though the train is long and she'll be on her way home with dinner by the time the barrier lifts here, I'm delighted to have seen her fling herself into racing the train in the rain.

Photo Karen Anne Kolling
From contributor Karen Anne Kolling, who lives in the east, a very late Cardinal fledgling appears with her father at the feeder to be fed .

Photo Karen Anne Kolling
The chipmunk(s?) has been around the last two days, unusual since s/he is a rare visitor. Maybe because it is getting colder. The groundhog I hardly see any more. I wonder when groundhogs start hibernating.

First off, let's talk groundhogs. It turns out that woodchucks are only Spring and Summer residents in areas near tasty vegetable gardens and bountiful feeders. Come September, they prefer a burrow in a more woodsy area. Ten days to two weeks before going underground to hibernate, they stop eating and slowly begin to go into full hibernation. By the middle of October, they'll be soundly hibernating in their woods burrow and will sleep through to January or early February. Males emerge in early February and females late February or early March. Mating takes place from late February through March.
From mid-March through April, ravenous groundhogs eat anything vegetative they can get hold of, mate, and hurry to raise the litter by June. Because in early June, the groundhog's metabolism begins to slow and though food intake decreases, their weight increases by 100%.
July is the month of the largest weight gain. Their metabolism slows even further and most of their food energy goes into producing fat deposits for the months of hibernation and for the time when they emerge in late winter when grass and fresh vegetables are not yet available.

In September it all begins again.

Photo Karen Anne Kolling
And why do Chipmunks who may not regularly visit feeding areas earlier in the year, suddenly begin visits with a vengeance in October?

Hyperphagia, that's why. They are hungry like nobodies business and they are after food. Lots of it. The more in one area near their burrow the better. They'll often locate a new convenient entrance if they haven't one already.

There has actually been a good bit of research done concerning Chipmunks and their seasonal ravenous hunger by researchers attempting to figure out what causes it. Why this sudden fascination with gluttonous chipmunks? Because some humans also have bouts with irrational all consuming, seasonal hunger, which isn't terrific for them as they tend not to hibernate, though they do tend to get less active and depressed and just keep eating themselves into oblivion. It is a form of affective seasonal disorder in humans. Why does it happen?

In chipmunks HPc protein levels suddenly begin to rise as Autumn progresses. They are madly obsessed by the eating, collection, and storage of food. The protein levels then continue to increase and concentrate in the spine and the Chipmunks soon retire to their burrows for the winter.

Whereas Ground Hogs store their winter provender as fat, Chipmunks gain some weight but also make a jillion trips back and forth to their burrow with their cheek pouches stuffed with seeds. They tend to stash the seeds in a storage area and consume them over the winter though they do go into a true hibernation it is lighter than their buddies the groundhogs. During the winter chipmunks wake up on and off, go to the pantry, fill up, and then go back to sleep again.

Photo by Karen Anne Kolling

Chewy the Chipmunk also showed up today but as I've this photo of Karen's Blue Jay here. Lets talk about that. Karen said she'd only seen a limited number this year and suddenly she saw four.

Do you know why?

It's one of the oddities of Blue Jays. The Jays that are local in the spring and summer or not the Jays that are around in Fall and Winter.

How so?

Because all Blue Jays migrate.

Then how do I have Blue Jays year round?

Because they all go a limited ways south of their summer grounds for the Winter. And the Jays that spent the Spring and Summer north of where you are, are now your Winter Blue Jays.

Strange but true.

What's the evolutionary advantage to that do you think?

The only Jays that have a territory that wasn't used by other Jays just recently are the ones that are on the leading Jay edge in the Spring, the furthest south, and on the opposite migration, the farthest North.

And what do we have here? A hyperphagic Chewy the Chipmunk who is leaving no stone unturned in this mad quest for food.

Actually I'd come out the door without seeing Chewy so typically he took off like a shot toward the can crusher. But not typically, he only scampered off about 10 feet, gave me a looking over, decided it was really me and began to frantically forage back in my direction again.

It's bizarre, he's still coming. And he's getting very close to me. Snuffing the ground, shuffling the leaves, stuffing his cheek pouches.

During all this I'd actually gone into the house, gotten the camera, slid the door back and forth twice, and stunningly he was still coming my way. I stand on the step of the patio ,clicking away. Though as it's very dark and rainy, the photos won't rise to the level of anything but documentation.

Still coming. I know he knows I'm there. He's watching me.

He can't even see what I'm doing. What if I reached down and grabbed him by the tail? Well I'd probably loose the tip of a finger, but he'd still have been grabbed. He's oblivious.
Good grief. Hyperphagia can do strange things to a Chipmunk. That's my foot in the foreground. Chewy couldn't get much closer. I realize that the squirrels have been here and Chewy is having to forage for scraps as the sunflower seeds are actually just hulls at this point.
I turn to go back in the house for more seed.
And suddenly Chewy seems to come back to himself. He makes a mad run for the can crusher tarp, and then bounds into the leaves of the kindling pile beyond.
Very odd, this behavior. Poor dear. I go into the house, put more sunflower seeds out, and leave him alone to continue his quest.

To be honest I didn't remember having seen Friend since I'd gotten back last week and had, I realize now, subconsciously begun to worry that something had happened to him . Therefore I was greatly relieved to look out the door...?
Yes , it is Friend!! Whew. That feels better.
And there's Doorstep too. Busy eating a last minute snack before sleep in the pouring rain.
You know what? I think she's going to have some trouble seeing the sunset on this particular evening.
Donegal Browne

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