Sycamore Grove Farm, Madison County
One of the most valuable techniques that I learned from a fellow ORMN birder – Lynne Leaper – is to make regular stops during your bird walk. Stop on a regular basis and just watch and listen. Lynne recommended 5 to 15 minutes and I have found this technique to be an amazingly effective way to see more birds and other animals in nature.
On September 4th of last year, I was standing at one of the fence lines on our property. I regularly put a small amount of seed on the top of the fence posts and scatter some on the ground to attract birds. All the seed is usually eaten within 10-15 minutes and I move on. On this morning as I was standing very still and observing the birds, I saw something move to my right. It was a small, immature groundhog which had come out of nearby undergrowth. It may have been drawn to the bird activity. Since they also have a keen sense of smell, it may have smelt the seed. It cautiously walked to the scattered seed and began to eat. My slightest movement, however, sent it scurrying back into the thick brush.
After several weeks of this behavior the groundhog became acclimatized to my presence and associated it with a food source. For the next month and a half, it came almost every day. October 17th was the last day I saw it. Since groundhogs have a lot of predators (including hawks, foxes, and coyotes, all of which we have seen on our property), I assumed it had been killed and eaten. Then this morning the groundhog appeared – over three months since I last recorded its presence – and started to eat seed just as it had last fall. It was a little more skittish but not like its first few weeks last fall. Apparently this groundhog had been hibernating and is just now coming out of its burrow. What I found after researching is that groundhogs, while primarily herbivores, are opportunistic eaters and will actually eat small birds. They can also climb trees! I have seen this more than once here on our farm.
I look forward to journaling many more interesting observations during my morning bird walk.
Birding tip of the day:
Keep a written journal so you can look back and find information on birds’ behavior (when and if they migrated into or out of your area) and the behavior of other animals that are a part of the habitat. It will prompt you to use your observations to do research and learn more about your own property. I also record weather (cloud cover, air temperature, chill factor and humidity). I note if there is dew, frost, or snow on the ground and any other unique things (i.e. the date our field is cut, raked, and bailed). I started journaling during Basic Training Class and have found my observations to be an invaluable and specialized source for information on the natural world right here on our farm.
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