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Posts Tagged ‘rabbits’

A fresh cover of snow on the ground usually reveals where snowshoe hares have been travelling.  Their numerous tracks often overlap in the woods where ‘bunny trails’ lead to and from favorite resting and feeding areas.  But not this year.  There isn’t a snowshoe hare track to be found. 

Snowshoe Hares

It’s been several months since I’ve caught sight of a single hare in the yard or along the Salt Marsh Trail.  Up until this past summer, it seemed like their numbers were growing.  They were visible on lawns and in the woods and parks.  However, snowshoe hare populations are known to rise and fall, usually every ten years or so.  This phenomenon takes place all across Canada.  In northern regions, their cycle coincides with that of the lynx.

Over the past year, bobcats have been sighted in Cow Bay.  Like the lynx,  they too prey on snowshoe hares, as do coyotes, foxes and eagles.  With so many predators in the area, as well as loss of habitat due to deforestation, it’s no wonder that hare numbers are low.  

Another factor that may have affected hare populations is that we didn’t have snow until recently, making any hares sporting winter coats easy targets for predators.  Hare coloring becomes whiter as daylight hours decrease in number.  

Next month, February 3rd will mark the first day of the Chinese New Year.  The 12 year cycle of animal years makes this coming year one of the rabbit.  Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll be seeing many bunnies this year.   At least not in Cow Bay.

Each thing is of like form from everlasting and comes round again in its cycle.
~  Marcus Aurelius

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male and female pheasant

 In the past week, pheasants with a death wish crossed my path twice on separate occasions while I was driving.  The first time, the corner of the vehicle caught a female who continued her flight into the woods after leaving a flurry of feathers in the air.  The second time, an enormous male came within inches of the windshield as he flew to safety across the road.  

Female Ring-necked Pheasant

There is an amazing wildness to the look of these large ground birds when seen up close.  Feather patterns are strikingly beautiful and eye and beak colours assumed to be a dull grey from a distance, are anything but.  

Although pheasants are visible year-round in Cow Bay, and are often seen crossing the roads in a leisurely manner, they seem even more out in the open at this time of year.  I don’t recall seeing so many females along the side of the road in years past.  I’m either getting better at spotting them or they’re getting bolder.  Maybe they’re just trying to get out of the woods where hunting season is in full swing for their species until December 15th.

Earlier this week I noticed a male working very hard at directing a female’s movements in the front yard.  I’m not sure what that was all about.  Mating season is over and males usually congregate by themselves as the winter approaches.   Maybe he was trying to tell her to stay here where it was safe, instead of wandering into the more dangerous woods.

Yesterday a ruffed grouse that didn’t want its picture taken suddenly appeared in the yard.  They are much more secretive than pheasants and quick runners.  Their feathers certainly help them stay well camouflaged, so it may have been hanging around for some time before I managed to see it. 

November’s shorter daylight hours bring about a change in the colour of snowshoe hares, making them easier to spot on the landscape.

Snowshoe Hare in November

A favorite resting area for them during the day is under the spruce and fir trees.  Although they’re visible year round, their lighter fur in the fall is more eye-catching than usual, even on grey rainy days such as this one. 

This particular one looks quite rounded and ready for the winter.  But if the snow doesn’t fly soon, it will have to be extra careful to keep itself hidden from predators.

Snowshoe hares, ring-necked pheasants and ruffed grouse are all hunted in Nova Scotia at this time of year. 

For more information on regulations regarding hunting small game in Nova Scotia, see http://www.gov.ns.ca/natr/hunt/smlgame.asp

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autumn through living room window

Sometimes, even when sunny skies beckon, we still have to stay indoors.  Sometimes it’s because there’s house or office work to be done.  Other times, it’s because we’re sick.  Such is the case with me this week with a diagnosis of pneumonia.

From behind glass, there’s still much to see of nature outside.  Trees continue to change colour and some of the vines on the house have turned red and pink.  They adorn the edges of the living room window.  There’s no time like the present to appreciate them as the wind will soon blow them all away.  In the summer months, they make drapes in the window unnecessary and bring nature’s colours up close.

second storey vines

Vines can also be seen from one of the second storey windows.  Although their colours are still bright through the screen, they’re even prettier seen from the outdoors, as in the photo taken on the weekend. 

leaves through front door windowSilhouettes of leaves can be seen trembling in the wind through the glass of the front door’s window as well.  By the time witches and goblins show up at the door in a couple of weeks, they’ll be all gone.

I’ve been so accustomed to stepping outdoors several times a day.  There is something about fresh air and sunshine that makes us feel better just by being outdoors. 

So why do we tend to stay in when we’re sick?  I wonder if perhaps we would recover more quickly outdoors.  The challenge would be to not engage in too much tiring activity. 

From the kitchen window I can see a large snowshoe hare that’s decided to come close.  Its ears are perked and it’s sitting just below the window, posed perfectly still for a photograph.   Sometimes, when you can’t go out into nature, nature knows, and comes to you.

hare from window

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deadly star of bethlehem

Last summer I found two young snowshoe hares dead on the lawn one morning.  They were curled up in the fetal position and showed no outward sign of trauma.  They were the cutest little creatures and it was so sad to have to bury them.  I had seen them hopping around the rosebushes just the day before.  I couldn’t understand why they had died so suddenly.  A fox would have carried them back to its den.  If a cat or dog had attacked them, they would surely have wounds.

young hareHares have made nests in my wild rosebushes for years.  They didn’t this year.  In years past, young bunnies have often hopped out of the bushes as I’ve mowed the grass nearby.  Adult hares still graze on the lawn in the open, usually dining on dandelions and plantains.  In the winter they reach up to eat the green needles on the lower branches of balsam fir trees.

Recently I learned that most plants in the lily family of flowers are poisonous.  Plants in this family all have bulbs, flowers with parts in 3s and parallel leaf veins. Many of these bulbs are often planted in the fall in North American gardens for spring blooming:  narcissus, tulips, irises, hyacinths, crocuses and daffodils.

Although I”ve never planted any of these in my garden, a couple of years ago, a friend gave me a clump of Star of Bethlehem blooms to transplant.  I put them right next to the rosebushes.  At the time, I didn’t realize that their bulbs would be deadly if ingested by pet cats, dogs, rabbits or wild hares.  Could these have caused the death of the young bunnies last summer?  I’ll never know for sure, but I will be removing this beautiful plant and its numerous bulbs from my yard before next spring.

snowshoe hares

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summer hare

Though tame rabbits might prefer carrots, the wild ones in my yard leave the wild carrots alone.  Instead, these snowshoe hares prefer eating dandelions and plantains throughout the spring and summer months.

hareAlthough there is a great diversity of plants for the hares to choose from, they repeatedly eat the same ‘weeds.’  During the winter months, I often see them sitting up on their back legs eating from the low branches of young balsam fir trees.

One of the plants that I’ve never seen the rabbits eat is the Queen Anne’s Lace, also known as wild carrot.  This plant is in the same Parsley family (Umbelliferae) as the carrots whose orange colored roots we eat.  The plants in this family have compound umbels, tiny umbrella-shaped clusters radiating from a central point.  Their flower stalks are usually hollow.

queen annes lace

There is such variety among wild carrot plants that it’s very difficult to tell the difference between them.  The Daucus carota growing in my yard, shown above, has elongated green stalks covered with fine hairs, while the marsh growing species shown below, which I’ve yet been able to identify, has reddish stalks.  Their leaves are also different, but since the flowers are so similar, it might be easy to mistake one type for the other, especially if they’re not growing side by side.

marsh carrots

Discerning one species from another becomes even more difficult when plants are found growing in the wild intermingled with other varieties, as shown below.  Water hemlock, which also has similar flowers, is the most poisonous plant in North America.  It’s so toxic that children have died just from drinking liquids through the plant’s hollow stalks.  Although some of the species in this family are edible, such as wild fennel, I don’t think I’d be brave enough to eat any of them. Dandelions and plantains seem like a safer choice and come highly recommended by the local rabbits.

wild carrots in marsh

For more information on snowshoe hares see The Hare Whisperer and The Advantages of Being Harebrained.

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Snowshoe Hare in Spring
 
Wild hares don’t seem too intimidated by my presence.  They let me get within a couple of feet of them while they’re eating and seem fairly comfortable, as shown by the photo of the scratching hare below.   It’s not just the hares in my yard.  A few days ago while walking along the Salt Marsh Trail, I was just thinking about hares when one jumped out in front of me on the path.  Hmmm…. Could I be on the road to becoming a ‘Hare Whisperer?’ 
 
An animal whisperer is usually a person who is in-tune with the needs and motivations of an animal.  Where the hares are concerned, I know what they want:  to eat my Dandelions and Plantains in peace and quiet.  Intuitively, I try not to get between them and the weeds.  I also tread lightly as every little sound is picked up by their huge ears.  Since their eyes are super sensitive to changes in light, I also refrain from making any fast moves, especially ones that might suddenly block the sun in their surroundings. 
 
I’m sure it also helps that we no longer have a dog and our indoor cat observes the hares from behind glass.  I try to chase away any cats that I do find here, as hare kits (baby bunnies) are often found in the rosebushes next to the house during the summer months. Their presence is first made known when they hop out as I’m mowing the grass nearby.  I’ve easily caught them and placed them gently back into the rosebushes.  They’ve fussed and made a little growling sound whenever I’ve handled them, but seemed to stay in the bushes once I put them back.  The grass is usually left to grow long in that part of the yard until they’ve grown up and moved elsewhere.   
 
The other afternoon as I was unloading groceries from the car I noticed a hare sitting still under a tree nearby.  The sound of the car coming into the driveway must have frightened it into hiding.  There are many places for them to hide here:  areas with tall grass, thick with young trees;  beneath sweeping low evergreen branches that will offer new growth for them to nibble on in the weeks ahead.  
 
There’s no voodoo involved in hare whispering.  Anyone can do it.  It simply requires the practice of  being hospitable and making these wild creatures feel at home and unthreatened.   
 
Look at the size of those back paws!

Look at the size of that back paw!

For more information about hares, see The Advantages of Being Harebrained and Hare Snares.

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