Friday, December 16, 2016

Why don't pocket gophers hibernate? #phenology

Despite a week or so of subfreezing and lower temperatures, the pocket gophers in the back yard are still obviously active. Apparently, they didn't read Kansas State University's Managing Pocket Gophers observation that
"Shallow or sandy soils limit pocket gophers due to tunnel cave-ins, and provide poor insulation from warm summer and cold winter temperatures."

Winter pocket gopher mounds near brush pile
Winter pocket gopher mounds near brush pile
Photo by J. Harrington

Perhaps I should be grateful that the number of those critters tearing hell out of the yard during a Minnesota Winter is "limited?" From my perspective, it's grossly unfair that plains pocket gophers stay active during the Winter, while many of the creatures, especially snakes, that are their predators, become inactive. One of the differences between warm-blooded mammals and cold-blooded reptiles seems to give an advantage to the mammals.

close-up of fresh pocket gopher mound
close-up of fresh pocket gopher mound
Photo by J. Harrington

We've seen few hawks or owls around here over the past year or so, to my dismay. Then again, we've seen no skunks in the entire time we've lived here (great horned owl population?), and I am grateful for that. I find it hard to picture a hawk or owl capturing a pocket gopher, since on the few times I've tried, I haven't been able to shoot quickly enough to hit one as it sticks his/her nose out of its mound of dirt.

My vehement dislike of pocket gophers is only partially based on the mounds they leave behind to break mower decks and blades. By my estimation, they've "rooted" (eaten the roots) or girdled (eaten the bark) six to twelve fruit trees we've tried to grow on the hill behind the house. One pear tree is the only survivor and the deer are doing their best to love that to death.

whitetail deer doe eating pear tree
whitetail deer doe eating pear tree
Photo by J. Harrington

Maybe, in keeping with the Christmas season, the 6 to 10 inches of snow we're forecast to get tonight and tomorrow will at least keep any more new mounds from being discovered until Spring. If I can't see them I might forget about them and then stop fussing and fuming about them, right? That's sort of like getting the Christmas spirit, isn't it?

My Dad, in America

By Shann Ray

Your hand on my jaw
              but gently

and that picture of you
punching through snow
              to bring two deer, a gopher,

and a magpie
to the old Highwalker woman

who spoke only Cheyenne
              and traced our footprints

on leather she later chewed to soften.
              We need to know in America there is still blood

for forgiveness.
Dead things for the new day.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.