Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Groundhog Up In a Tree

Marmota monax up a tree
It was 37º F this morning, but the weather forecasters promised we'd get our first day in the mid-60s (about average for this time of year).  I left the house at 7am, hoping to see some warblers on Rustic Road 107.

Despite the early cold temps, we spotted a Red-eyed Vireo and Blue-headed Vireo sitting high up in the trees along the road, soaking up the early morning sun.    Insects started to fly around 10am - and so did the warblers:  several hundred Yellow-rumps hawking insects, a dozen Palms bobbing to and from the road and water, and Black-and-Whites spiraling up and down tree trunks.

Recent Prairie Burn at Tyrone

Near the pine stands on the Tyrone Property (the largest privately owned property along the Lower Chippewa River) we noticed a recent prairie burn.  As we cut back to look for birds along the pine stand, I noticed an odd "lump" in one of the naked deciduous trees at the edge of the burn.

The "Lump" in the Tree

It looked like an animal.  I stopped the car and focused my binoculars.  It was a groundhog!   But what was it doing in the tree?  I walked over, stood under the tree and asked him.

Groundhog up a Tree

The groundhog wasn't talking.

He looked down at me, then out at the burned prairie.  I snapped a few photos and left him alone.

I stopped back to check on him about an hour later.  I was relieved that he was "gone."  But I was still curious.  It was so strange to see a groundhog in a tree.

When I got home, I hit the books and discovered that groundhogs, also known as woodchucks, are quite the climbers.  Why do they climb?  To get away from predators, to forage or to get a bird's-eye view of their neighborhood (in this case, perhaps to survey the prairie burn).

I'm glad I resisted the temptation to help the chubby rodent get down from the tree.  They can bite.

And how did they get the nickname "woodchuck?"  It has nothing to do with "wood" or "chucking."

It comes from the Algonquians:  "wuchak."

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