Tuesday, August 20, 2013

July 2013: Road Eaters

Like any naturalist worth his salt, I hate roads that cut through woods and fields. While I could probably sit patiently along the road on our land and get an unobstructed photo of every animal around, as Richard Nixon often said, that would be easy but it would be wrong. But who could blame me for doing the wrong thing when I saw a bobcat walking down our road on sunny July afternoon?

Fortunately it didn't walk there long. The wily predator sauntered over to a pond to scare some beavers.

This July I kept bumping into young animals not only walking on the road but butt down resting on the road. At least that’s what it looked like the small geese in the flock that waddles to and from White Swamp and our neighbor’s pasture were doing.

Worse still I saw a live swallowtail butterfly flat down on the road.

I’ve noticed that swallowtails are attracted to pink flowers, but pink stones?

The animals I most saw on the road this July were hares. Many used the road to get from garden to cover but the smallest hare I saw looked as though, having been just weaned from its mother, it was sucking the road.

I got that close-up because I was closer than I’ve ever gotten to a wild rabbit. And it was in the middle of the road.

The video shows how close I got.

A few days later, I saw an adult rabbit on a patch of dirt at the edge of the woods.

That seems natural enough and surely twas forever thus because much of the ground in the woods is bare of vegetation. I suppose that rabbit was getting the true grit, while that baby hare was cheating. Road crews do salt the road in the winter, and there is no salt in the woods, but by July isn’t all that salt dissolved away?

Animals also scratch up low vegetation, especially moss, and make themselves luxurious dust baths, grouse especially.

Stony roads don't make for a good dust bath. 

The trouble with July, when vegetation and all the distractions that engenders are at their peak, is that trying to get around anywhere except on a road or in the deep woods is exhausting, especially for animals who are only a few months old, and especially this very wet and verdant summer.

However while that might explain why animals come to the road, it doesn't explain why they eat it. 

Maybe they are hypnotized by the simplicity of the road. In the relatively simple pattern of stones, gravel and dirt, animals might get relief from the complex depths of leaves and grass. Well, that thought cross my mind when this insect landed on my pants.

We humans think we are so complex. What must be curious about us to other animals is how we simplify the complexities of their lives with things like roads.

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