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    A COMPENDIUM FOR THE DRY GARDEN

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The Snowshoe Hare

My latest interest is in the smaller animals around here.  Winter snow tracking can help find the critters and I’ve started keeping my eye out for Marten tracks, which I’ve yet to find.  Today was a beautiful clear day running around 17 degrees when I started out on a snowshoe trek.  I’d heard from a hunter friend in October that he’d seen a lot of snowshoe hare tracks up Camp Creek, an area closed off in winter except to foot traffic.  Since most winter visitors up here are interested in snowmobiling, this is a quiet and steep hillside with no traffic.  Being a north facing slope, the forest service road had accumulated over 3′ of snow.  A recent snow storm left the snow soft and snowshoeing was a work-out.

Looking over the habitat in a summer photo from a viewpoint--'88 burn, some clear cutting, older douglas fir forests

Just as my friend said, I quickly saw a lot of snowshoe hare tracks.  What I really am interested in is lynx activity.  I’m not familiar with lynx, but I can recognize a cat track.  The snow being so soft, the large loping tracks I saw were difficult to identify, but appeared to be a lone coyote.

There were hare runs all over the place.  It was interesting to see how long the runs were, and how far out into open areas the hares ventured.  With the deep snow, areas under roots and limbs made for good cover.  This is a typical snowshoe hare habitat–fir and spruce forest.

full set of all four feet slows to go under a fir root

Sit down track

 

Back foot length

Track group size

Two years ago the Forest Service hired a contractor to look at snowshoe hare habitat in my valley.  The company was doing a vegetation study for snowshoe hare to see if this was good lynx habitat.  I don’t know if the results are out yet, but just down the road a few miles I can say for certain that there is good hare habitat with lots of hare.  Now, to see if I can find a lynx!

Hot off the press. More Pika news film footage!

Pika news

So my cute little friend has continued to hang around.  He/she has eaten most of the wild tomato plants around and seems to be gathering grass seed heads.  I’ve been testing him on a few foods.  So far he likes lettuce, a lot; carrot greens, why of course, he’s a lagomorph; and kale; but he doesn’t care for arugula!

Pika in my front yard at 6800'

I’m betting he’ll like sprouts, but not sure about bean sprouts or, considering he shunned my arugula, radish sprouts. He’s getting ready for winter.  Most mornings I see him meditating on a little rock by my back corner.  If he hears me snooping on him, he’s off.  But his evidence is everywhere and I have to wonder if he wonders where all this extra unharvested food is coming from.

Pikas are sooo cute

 

Pika at my door

 

Well folks, truthfully I’ve only seen Pikas in talus at about 10,000 feet, scampering about, making their characteristic whistle-calls.  So when I saw this little lagomorph at my new back door the other day, I was confused and thought it was some tiny bunny or something.  Some bunny species I wasn’t familiar with.  I ran and got my camera.

 

So incredibly cute!!!

 

The first mystery came when I found loads of wild tomato cuttings at my new back door step.  I didn’t know what this plant was at first.  It looked like a green cherry tomato and the leaves had that typical Solanum family look.  But I don’t grow tomatoes up here, nor had I eaten any.  Besides, I don’t compost (because of bears) and all my trash is in bear-proof bins.  Where had these plants come from.  I hunted around and sure enough, in the disturbed area behind my new addition was a weedy plant with these little ‘tomatoes’ on it. (a little research and found they are Solanum triflorum. Wild Tomato).  The Pika is cutting them up and leaving them on my rock doorstep to dry for the winter.

 

Dehydrating food for winter

This little guy is just the cutest.  I check sometimes several times a day what’s happening with the dehydrating area–my back step!  Lots of days I’ll put out lettuce.  He’ll move things around, or take some of them to his cavern below in the rock.  Other times new pieces of vegetation will appear–sometimes grass seed heads.  But mostly he’s working on the tomato.

Pikas are not yet on the endangered species list, but they are certainly endangered.  Climate change is going to wreck havoc with their niches.  I hope this little guy sticks around all winter and makes it through the winter.  Maybe even finds another pika in the spring and have lots of pikas around.  I’m happy to have a chance to share my home with a species that might not be around that much longer.