by Barbara Walvoord
In our East campus wetland, bobcat tracks often follow our snowshoe tracks for long distances. But the other day, the bobcat left the trail rather quickly and headed straight off, very purposefully, breaking new snow, its paws sinking sometimes 6 inches deep, over a little hill, through bushes, under pine trees, on and on. I followed its tracks on my snowshoes.
Finally, the bobcat came to an area with huge thickets of multiflora rose. It’s rabbit city: rabbit droppings, rabbit tracks in the snow, and rabbit burrows everywhere.
One of the main foods of the bobcat is–rabbit!
Our bobcat dodged through the dense, thorny thicket from one rabbit hole to another, doubling back and twisting around. Rose thorns hooked my pants as I tried to follow.
I kept looking for pounce marks, snow flung around in a struggle, some blood or fur. Nope. As far as I could tell, Bre’r Rabbit escaped this time, and Bre’r Bobcat went away hungry.
Sister Hawk (or was it Sister Owl?), however, did not go home hungry. A set of rabbit tracks stopped short, with a scuffle in the snow and some telltale wing marks. This photo by Sharon Grace tells the story.
Impervious to their neighbor’s fate, small birds were fluttering and chattering away amid the roses.
The Asian invasive multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) that so dominates this piece of our land crowds out native plants, creating a monoculture. It is not palatable to many of our native insects, so it fails to offer the bugs that birds need to raise their young. Its branches are spaced inappropriately for many of our native birds to safely nest. Multiflora rose is listed by the government as one of the “least wanted,” and it is illegal in Massachusetts to sell or propagate it. (http://www.nps.gov/plants/alien/fact/romu1.htm)
So someday, we’ll beat back those roses. But when we do, we’ll make sure that the rabbits, birds, and rodents still have a home in thickets of native shrubs such as dogwood, blackberry, bramble, high-bush blueberry, and winterberry that will support a diverse, healthy ecosystem.