Originally published in the Lathrop Lamp Post Jan. 20-26, 2018
Lathrop residents are probably not supposed to just go out and build new homes on our land without master planning, Quakerly consensus, building permits, and all that, but I have to admit that’s what Sharon and I have done.
The new homes are located on Huckleberry Lane, behind the current homes. The new townhouse unit is nestled into the woods, right on the edge of a lovely wet meadow. It contains multiple homes all in one structure–very efficient.
People occasionally ask me if I have gotten any photographs of the bobcat or bear lately. I have to say, “no, not for two years.” But recently I did have an experience which I think is worth reporting.
For some reason in my wife’s family – and now in ours – on the first day of the month the first person to say “rabbit, rabbit” wins! I’m not sure what they win, or where this came from, but years ago I heard it used in a play we were attending so I know it has some legitimacy. Now, I am always aware of the rabbits populating Lathrop’s lands. Recently – May 24th, to be exact – while cleaning last year’s refuse around my “gladiola patch” (probably not, I admit, native) I first felt a handful of fur and then noticed a full nest. I thought they were mice, but quickly realized they were rabbits.
Last week’s column featured two of our pregnant Lathrop predators–the coyote and the bobcat. The column ended by asking, “What are all these hungry predators and their babies going to eat?
Well, one of their favorite foods is — Rabbit!
Talk about pregnant. Our rabbit moms–whom we ALL see in our lawns and gardens–will give birth 3 or 4 times this year, each time to 3-8 babies. The babies are sexually mature in only 2-3 months. This could be a math challenge for the students that Cranberry Lane resident Roger Herman tutors at the Williston School. Rabbit populations, notes one source, “are able to grow with staggering speed.”
Except, of course, that all our bobcat and coyote babies, and their moms and dads, will be eating rabbits. Without these predators, we could look like the Australian outback with every green shoot eaten, and, for population statistics, we would have to call in Huckleberry Lane resident Roger Howe’s math students at Yale. With average predators, however, only 15% of baby rabbits survive their first year. Aha! You students–multiply by decimals.
So Mama Rabbit, how do you protect your babies?
The mother rabbit usually feeds her babies under cover of darkness in early morning or evening, when a predator cannot easily “see” the mother returning to her nest. She feeds two to three times within 12-hour timeframes. The babies flip over onto their backs and nurse upside-down. The mother stands over them, ready to flee the nest at the first hint of a predator. Her milk is so rich that it takes only a minute or so for the babies’ stomachs to fill and for the feeding to be complete.
After 3-4 weeks the babies leave the nest. By then, they know by instinct how to camouflage themselves, what foods to eat, and what a predator is. They automatically know to run away from a predator in a “broken path” pattern, thus making it hard for a predator to catch them, or to freeze in the “you can’t see me” position.
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.