Of Woodchucks and Titmice…

Yesterday I saw three cute, little woodchuck babies emerging from the brush pile at the edge of our yard. They wandered around, climbed on some fallen limbs, and foraged in the grass. This afternoon I took a camp chair and sketching supplies down to the path where it goes into the woods near the brush pile, settled myself more or less comfortably, and waited. For a while there was no sign of the woodchucks, so I watched and sketched a vociferous House Wren who tirelessly spills his son through the woods nearly all day long.

After a half hour or so, I saw Momma Woodchuck’s head appear from the hole under the brush. She stayed motionless, just her head showing, for a long time, while I ever so slowly lowered my binoculars, avoiding any sudden move that would alert her to my presence. After a while I saw an adorable little baby woodchuck appear under Momma’s chin, then another baby on the other side of her. They looked around briefly, then lacking the highly suspicious nature of their mother, they emerged fully and began to climb on the piled up branches. Momma remained motionless and alert. A third baby appeared beside Momma, then ducked under her chin and began nosing at her mouth. She still didn’t move, and finally Baby #3 moved away to forage in the weeds. At that point I noticed a fourth baby approaching from the direction of another hole I’d noticed. Maybe Baby #4 is more independent and had decided to make his own way out into the world?

I sat as still as possible, only barely moving my right hand to sketch the woodchucks, occasionally glancing down to see my page. Suddenly I heard a whirr of wings behind my head, then again, this time so close I could feel the air moving against my hair. And then I felt a bird land on my head! I resisted the temptation to move, and the bird began yanking at my hair. I felt a couple of hairs get pulled out, and from the corner of my eye, I saw one of my white hairs floating to the ground. At least whoever it was had the decency to pull out white hair and leave my few remaining dark hairs.

I continued sketching the woodchucks and the bird continued to yank at my hair for a little while, then seemed to be trying to rearrange my hair with much twisting and scratching, but no more yanking. I was a little concerned he was checking out my head as a potential nesting site, since obviously that would prove disappointing for him, but after perhaps five minutes he hopped off my head and onto the back of the chair beside me. I turned slightly, curious to see who this was who so appreciated my hair, and he took off, landing in a nearby tree– a Tufted Titmouse.

Meanwhile, Family Woodchuck continued to roam, climb, and explore, with Momma watching closely. Finally, after I had been sketching for an hour (sitting for an hour and a half), I heard a quick whistle, and all the babies and Momma ran into the burrow. I came in and added color to some of my woodchuck sketches and did a quick memory sketch of a Common Yellowthroat who had landed briefly right in front of me. I had already sketched the House Wren in watercolor, while waiting for the woodchucks to appear.

Field sketches of House Wren and woodchucks (click image to see it larger)

May Her Burrow Be Long and Warm and Dry…

It turns out the woodchuck is probably a female, so I guess she isn’t “Charlie Brown” after all.

My little friend went home to what may be her forever home with a rehabber
last night. The rehabber and I both think she has something neurological going
on, plus she’s way too habituated to people to be releasable, so Robin (the rehabber) will
most likely be keeping her. Robin LOVES woodchucks and was so
excited to get her from me. She already has seven woodchucks, two of which are
long-term members of her family, because they are not releasable for
various reasons. One of those is litterbox trained and roams around freely in her house! I can hardly wait to go visit and see them

Anyway, Robin took my little woodchuck last night, so hopefully she is settling in now and making herself at home. I really enjoyed having her here for a few days, but am not set up for long-term woodchuck hospitality, so am glad I now know someone whose door is always open to another woodchuck.

Here are some of my sketches from the woodchuck’s time here (click on images for larger view).

 I wish my little friend well, and, whether her life includes chucking wood, or forecasting weather, or simply eating to her heart’s content (no gardens, please), may her burrow always be long and warm and dry.

Winter Woodchuck! Will Work for Warmth

What is that??!!

I was watching birds out my window, when I caught sight of something dark and furry moving in my snow-covered garden. Grabbing my binoculars, I searched till I saw it again– a woodchuck? But they go into a deep, true hibernation all winter. How could one be out now, and WHY would it be in my garden, where all is white and cold?

(Click on photos to see them larger.)

I headed down to the bottom of the yard and looked over the fence to see a young, obviously confused and very cold woodchuck. He looked at me and held up first one front paw, then the other, as if telling me he was cold and miserable and needed help. After doing a few very quick sketches, I tried to herd him out through an opening in the fence, but he kept skittering past it. Finally cornering him, I pulled off my jacket (and yes, it was indeed cold!), threw it over him, and scooped him up. I dropped him over the fence, and, without looking back, he hurried off in the direction of a nearby brush pile. I hoped he had a den there, though I couldn’t imagine why he had emerged in such unseasonable weather.

I thought I had seen the last of the woodchuck for a few months, but four days later I found him wandering in my driveway. I got out of my car for a closer look, and he came right toward me! Alarmed, I jumped back in my car and consulted with the county health department rabies expert, who said that sounded liked aberrant behavior and could be rabies, but, since I thought his coat looked healthy and he didn’t actually seem aggressive when he approached, maybe it was actually an escaped or released pet looking for help. He cautioned me to avoid exposing myself to a bite at all costs, but said I could consider capturing it.

I grabbed a couple of towels and a small dog crate and headed back out. I put the crate on the ground, whereupon the woodchuck immediately investigated it– it looked as though a crate was not something new to him. He approached me, and when he was right in front of me, I dropped the towels over him and bundled him, towels and all, right into the crate. He won me over completely when I held a finger near the front of the crate, and he tried to reach his cute little paw out to touch my finger.

Now Charlie Brown is comfortable ensconced in a larger crate, eagerly eating kale, apples, carrot peelings, and guinea pig food. In exchange for food and lodging, he poses for sketching sessions.