Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Crazy flight, Autumn dispersal #phenology

Fifty years or so ago, when I was first learning about ruffed grouse (not ruffled grouse, although the neck ruff often looks somewhat ruffled) I encountered a description of Autumn dispersal called "crazy flight." As local populations of young of the year spread out into suitable habitat, on occasion, uneducated grouse try flying through windows. Autumn is relocation time so that, with luck, food and shelter can be located before Winter's snow, cold, scarcity and sleep.

I also learned over the years that chipmunks hibernate during the Winter. I don't recall learning or even wondering anything about chipmunk dispersal until today. Based on our experience here at "The Property," I have discovered that some chipmunks are highly prolific breeders and disperse into locations under the front porch, nearby wood piles and into tunnels under what passes for lawn around here. The local population has already gnawed holes in the front steps and created erosion around the back patio as our Summer rainstorms wash out their underground tunnels. For these and related reasons, we've been helping members of the local population(s) find alternative arrangements. Consider it involuntary dispersal.

a "two-fer" of chipmunks
a "two-fer" of chipmunks
Photo by J. Harrington

Two years ago we translocated about 16, one at a time. Last year it was only 7 or 8. This year remained in single digits until yesterday and today. Yesterday we moved one of the crew (number 8 or 9 for the year) out of the back yard. Today, we had a first. Two chipmunks (9 and 10 or 10 and 11)  got themselves caught simultaneously in our have-a-hart trap. They were moved to the same release location  as yesterday's relocatee. I'm hoping that we don't have too many more sightings (or trappings) this year before they head for hibernation. I feel better about the "extraditions" when I'm sure they should have time to locate alternate food and shelter sources before the snow flies. When it comes to excess chipmunks, I'm definitely a NIMBY. On the other hand, thinking about crazy flight, I'm still trying to imagine what went through the minds of today's pair as they rode together in the back of the SUV for 10 minutes or so and then had an opportunity to scamper into new territory. I wonder if Adam and Eve shared similar feelings as they left their first home.

As I did some background checking for today's posting, I came across a paper that suggests Autumn is a neglected season in climate change research. That fits with what I've been seeing as I've searched various phenology sites. Your thoughts?

Susan McCampbell Ring – Chipmunks Of Trial Lake

Ever since I was a little girl I fantasized
about little wild animals running up to touch me.

A steely-cold High Uintah morning:
and I’m twenty-six, sitting on pine duff waiting

for the sun. When finally it peeks
over the far mountain and through

the canopy of tremendous old firs dripping lichen
it wakes an excited tribe of chipmunks.

I decide that if I can sit still
enough–and THINK like

a boulder–they won’t mind me and they’ll
just go about their October morning

rituals. I am stone, I say to myself,
over and over, clearing my head

of artificial chatter and the “civilized”
things upon which I dwell. I am stone.

I keep my eyes lowered, trying not
to watch their striped antics and

velvet acrobatics, trying not
to smile when one is chased into my leg,

and trying not to laugh out loud when one
hops to my Levi-clad knee, jumps to my

sweatered arm, scurries up to my
neck and tickles me with tiny

flicking hands. Soon the others
catch on: a grand idea! Running

laps on my shoulders and back,
across my elbows and cross-legged

lap, and once or twice even perching
high on my winter wool cap.

I don’t dare blink. I try to breathe
slower than the trees and I try to stay

as still as granite. The chipmunks frolic like
tiny clowns–testing me, mocking me?–

and then chase each other away. Now I feel
lonelier than rock and I think

I understand how the Earth must be taking
the news of mass extinction.

15 VII 94
Susan McCampbell Ring


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