Monday, April 25, 2011

U is for Under Ground

My theme for the A to Z Challenge: Desert Canyon Living

When we first moved here our yard was overrun by rabbits, both cottontail and Jack rabbits, at least 20 to 25 were in our yard every day and many more all over the property. They had their warrens under the junipers and seemed to be healthy and thriving. Then they disappeared. We saw very few, even when we hiked. It was very strange and I have no explanation for it. For several years very few animals lived in our yard. Then this year, it exploded with activity. We had a mild and rainy winter, maybe that's why so many burrowing critters have decided to come and live under ground here. My husband dreams of a garden; I think we have our work cut out for us. 

Gophers make these mounds

and this year our yard is full of them. It will be difficult to mow even. I think many gophers will decide to leave once we start to work outside, mowing and trimming grass and weeds. Pocket gophers have pouches in their cheeks that are used for transporting food. I also learned that their lips can be closed behind their incisors so that they can use their incisors to loosen dirt and roots without getting their mouths full of dirt.

Here is that cute little gopher baby that popped up earlier this spring. 

This is a hole made by ground squirrels under some rocks in our yard. There are several entrances to their burrows around these rocks. 

This is the same rock that the sentry quail used for his lookout. It seems to function perfectly for this purpose. This California ground squirrel will sit up, pull his front legs up against his chest, and give warning if he senses any danger. 

This box sits away from the house and contains some leftover building materials. A family of ground squirrels has decided it makes for a safe and comfortable home. These photos of a mother and two or three youngsters are from last summer. I took it from inside the house and used both zoom and enlarged it to get something of a photo, and this is the best my camera and I could do.

Here she turns around. I have been spotted! Most ground squirrels hibernate during the winter months; these guys did not. Instead, they would come out on sunny days, even when snow was on the ground, and sit on the roof of their box home and sun themselves. 

Cute as these guys are, they do a tremendous damage to crops and gardens. They are also carriers of disease, including plague. We have a lot of ground squirrels right now. I will keep an eye on them and see how many will just move out after we become more present outside.

They have already figured out that the dogs are no threat while in their dog run. Samson and Soldier charge them a lot, barking fiercely, but the ground squirrels know they are safe and will only move away when I come out.

We have other holes as well, all kinds of holes. Some covered up with fine webs, belonging to tarantulas. You don't see them very often, but they live here too. Snakes and lizards take cover under ground as well. And then there are the ants, those nasty little ants with their distinctive holes, looking like doughnuts. If you consider they are such tiny little critters, the perfectly formed round mounds they make are pretty amazing. But they bite something fierce so they are not welcome here. It's still too cold for them, so I have no photos to share.

I imagine a network of tunnels and burrows down there, under ground, with animals sleeping, eating, mating, and raising their young while we walk in ignorance above. 

(I lost my formatting on this post and I don't have time to fix it. It's hard for me to let go when it doesn't look right, but maybe there is a lesson in there for me.)


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