| Jan 12, 2006

NatureReflections - January 12, 2006

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Nature Reflections

January 12, 2006

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Gray MerriamLegaleseGeneral information and opinion on legal topics by Rural Legal ServicesNature Reflectionsby Jean GriffinNight Skiesby Leo EnrightTastes oftheOttawa Valley Courtesy of the Fall RiverPub & Grill, Maberly

Ghostly Visitor

by JeanGriffin

What was that blur of white that zoomed across my lawn? It was the Snowshoe or Varying Hare. Not often seen in the daytime, this one was in its winter whites while the ground was still not covered by snow, and was therefore very visible. What had made it take what for it was a dangerous junket? Had it been disturbed from its daytime hideout, and had to make a quick getaway from a possible predator? I probably would not have seen this late fall visitor, already in its warm, white coat and prepared for the coming winter, except for the contrast with the dark ground.


Now with the snow on the ground I keep watching for this elusive animal, but while I see many tracks, most obviously made during the night, I have not seen the animal. Usually the tracks come from an area of alder bushes, come loping across my driveway, and either around my garage, or sometimes up one or the other side of my house. The way the tracks are made indicates the animal has come from and has returned to the protection of cover. The tracks have at times ended under my porch, which is close to the bird feeders, and I wonder if the owner is interested in the seeds that have dropped to the ground, though my sources indicate a winter diet of conifer buds and alder and willow bark.

This animal is superbly equipped for the winter, not only by its white camouflage, but also by its feet - large hindfeet with well-furred soles - its snowshoes! Widely spread toes and the extra fur the feet have in winter give it an advantage in snow over predators that may be slowed by deep snow. This hare will also elude predators with bounds of several meters, and speeds of up to 50 kph, switching direction instantly or by running in circles, sometimes returning close to the area where it was disturbed.

While its winter whites do not hide his black eyes and ear tips, it is an effective strategy, but as the daylight lengthens in spring the white coat will be shed gradually and its summer browns will appear. This molt is not related to the snow cover, but rather by lengthening daylight and if there is a late snowfall, the animal may be quite conspicuous, and seems to instinctively know that it should remain inactive, hiding in suitable cover. There will be two or three litters per year of one to six young, which can run within hours of being born and the doe will nurse the young for about a month.

It has a short lifespan, with many predators such as the Great Horned Owl, the Canada Lynx, Bobcat, Mink, foxes and coyotes, and as well has a cyclic population, which may be very plentiful one year but plummet dramatically the next. These cycles seem to occur every nine to ten years, and the causes are not fully understood. So the animal or animals that have been making the tracks near my house may not be here next winter - I will keep watching!

Observations: There was a Northern Shrike on Armstrong Road on December 30. Share your observations: call Jean at 268-2518 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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