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Posts Tagged ‘snowshoe hares’

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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Red foxes are sometimes visible early in the morning as they return to their dens after a long night of hunting.  Here in Cow Bay, I’ve seen them at dawn in my backyard, along Dyke and Cow Bay Roads and near Rainbow Haven Beach.

This morning some fox kits could be seen wrestling outside their den.  They were born earlier this spring and appear curious about the big world beyond the fox hole.  They were likely waiting for their mother to return from her hunt and are probably near the age when live food is brought back to the den for them to practice killing prey.  If you’ve ever returned from grocery shopping to a house full of hungry teenagers, you can imagine their anticipation.

Recently I saw and heard  a lone adult fox screaming loudly near the entrance to Rainbow Haven Park.  Though ‘screaming vixens’ are known to announce their availability during mating season, this usually takes place in winter, so there had to be some other reason why it was screaming so loudly.  Was it proclaiming its territory?   Coyotes and bobcats will both compete with foxes for food.  Residential development in the area is likely encroaching on everyone’s territory and food supply.

A quarter of a fox’s diet consists of invertebrates such as grasshoppers and beetles.  They are omnivorous canids that will also eat berries, grass, mice, birds and hares.  I’ve found caches of seagull and hare carcasses near their dens in past years. But a hungry litter of four to eight kits, that are regularly expending energy by wrestling, wouldn’t allow for too many leftovers. 

However, the woods are full of creatures at the bottom of the food chain and these are reproducing as well.  A vole scurried ahead of me as I was walking in the woods yesterday.  This hare also leapt across my path.  Considering how frequently small rodents and snowshoe hares are finding themselves on the menu of not just foxes, but coyotes and bobcats these days, I’m surely the least of their worries.

By August, the fox kits will have left the maternal den and be out on their own.  Which should give their mother a nice long break as she’ll only have to hunt for herself.  Until next spring.

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Spring’s longer days bring about a change in the color of hare fur. A hare gradually loses its winter white guard hairs as daylight hours increase.  While a white hare may be well camouflaged in a snow covered landscape, if it still has that white fur after all the snow has melted, it becomes an easy target for predators.

This year, an earlier spring has been enjoyed across Canada.  The ground is completely bare of snow earlier than usual in the season.

Recently, I’ve noticed two hares in the yard that seem to be at different stages of shedding their winter coats.  One is much whiter than the other.  The whiter hare is barely camouflaged while sitting on light colored grass.  The browner hare seems to blend in well either on the grass or in the woods among browned leaves.

Snowshoe hares play a vital role in the ecosystem of the Northern Boreal forest by providing food for such carnivores as  coyotes, foxes, bobcats, lynx, weasels, fishers and eagles.  There’s concern in the scientific community that fewer days of snow cover due to global warming may pose a negative impact on the hare population.

Both hares have been grazing regularly in my yard together for the past couple of weeks.  I’ve often found nests of baby hares in the wild rosebushes in past years.   Having survived the winter, hopefully these hares will also survive long enough to reproduce a litter of kittens later this spring.

For more information on the effects of climate change on snowshoe hares, see:
White Snowshoe Hares Can’t Hide on Brown Earth at Science Daily

For more information on Nova Scotia’s hares, see:
The Hare Whisperer and The Advantages of Being Harebrained

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You never know what you’re going to find in the woods… especially on Saint Patrick’s Day.  The Little People, or leprechauns as they’re more frequently known, are in the mood to have fun on this, their favorite of days. 

Unwilling to part with their treasure, it’s understandable that leprechauns have a natural fear of humans.  It’s no wonder that they keep a low profile in the woods throughout most of the year.  But today, they’re so focused on their dancing and merrymaking, that they could possibly let down their guard. 

Leprechauns are solitary creatures, if they’re out at all in the open during the day.  However, if taken by surprise by a cat or human, a leprechaun can always rely on clever evasive tactics, such as transforming himself into the shape of a hare. 

I spotted these two hares this morning in the front yard.  

At first I thought they were the usual snowshoe hares found in Cow Bay, but as I approached, I noticed a mischievous gleam in their little eyes.  Could they have been leprechauns in disguise? 

Now hares can easily evade predators by running in a zigzag fashion and changing direction on a dime.  They can also sit very still and conform to the landscape.  It only makes sense that a leprechaun would choose such a form in order to escape detection. 

If you do get lucky and manage to see a leprechaun today, it’s best to leave him alone.  The Little People are far too clever to be outsmarted of their gold by humans, and one may just take a notion to put the come hither look on you.

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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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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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