Thursday, February 2, 2012
In Defense of Groundhogs
Punxsatawney Phil is making his annual appearance, that is, dragged out of his den by a bunch of crazy people in a little Pennsylvania town of the same name. Supposedly, Phil predicts whether we'll have a short winter or a long and severe one based on his shadow. One news item this morning says Phil's predictions are less reliable than a coin toss. Well, I want to point out that Phil isn't doing any predicting at all. He's just trying to sleep. The ground hog, also know as woodchuck, is the East Coast version of what we in the Sierra call a marmot. Our Yellow-bellied Marmot is hibernating up at the 7,000-foot level on Mt. Hough and other area peaks of similar altitude. They're fun to watch in the summer. One of my favorite marmot-viewing sites, besides the rocks surrounding the Mt. Hough fire lookout, is the area around Rock Lake in the Buck's Lake Wilderness. There are many places where one can establish a picnic blanket viewing station and wait for marmots to appear. If they don't appear, you can be sure many other critters of interest will. Lots of bird life, lizards, ground squirrels, chipmunks, and occasional nocturnal creatures that are confused and out in the daylight. If you don't make any sudden moves or startling noises, the marmots will casually graze fairly close to humans.