Little Things Can and Do Mean a Lot

Submitted by Art & Barb Straub

Frances the frisky Ford Focus has taught us so much. For instance, when her driver gets her stuck, she admonishes us to stop ‘revving’ her engine. The snow sucks her only further into its grip. A tiny tinkle in her innards is signal that she needs some power-steering juice, we mustn’t ignore. Lately, due to the deep but ‘light fluffy precipitaton,’ she has been interested in stories told by tracks in the snow. On her daily inspection of the bird-feeding stations in the hills, there are many deer, turkey, squirrel and bird tracks, yet there has been a lack of wee paw prints of white-footed and deer mice. For those readers who live in cities and in country homes, we are not writing of house mice, those bossy little critters that leave their tell-tale pellets behind in your cabinets, cupboards and the like. Those are the tiny mammals known to contaminate food and displace native mice and voles. Instead, we are speaking of the gentle creatures who dwell in woodlands, fields, and around dwellings, some known as deer mice, others as white-footed mice.

Frances has been concerned with the absence of their tracks in the white stuff, as well as their little gray or reddish-brown bodies. In the wild, these omnivores eat seeds, vegetation, fruits, nuts, insects, worms, baby mice, bird seed and carrion.

On the other paw, however, mice provide food for carnivores such as coyotes, foxes, opossums, etc., and when mice are absent, carnivores become more brazen, moving into urban areas for garbage, rabbits, and in the countryside, calves, lambs, poultry…the premise is all part of what is termed the food chain. Thus, shortage of mice-- other segments of the cycle are affected. But readers knew all that, and they know that the tiny quadrapeds carry a virus, (oh, oh, there’s that word we’ve come to be wary of.) Hantavirus is its name; sickening humans is its game. Blue bird house tenders have the most to contend with, as the virus is found in the dust of a birdhouse having been occupied by mice, that is a common occurrence. Birders, like most of the rest of the world, always take precautions while dealing with nature, be it by washing hands, wearing masks and gloves, using disinfectants, this is ‘old hat precautions for lovers of the blue jewels,’ but nine months of education for others.

A final mouse thought; perhaps with the ice crust in the forest, mice are ‘lying low,’ using food they’ve stored for winter months. How well we recall pulling the shades in our ancient shack, then being showered by stored seeds, the tedious work of whiskered mouselings; or the time we were arranging the pillow on a bunk, and were greeted by cupfuls of millet, sunflower seeds, plus Niger seeds. Please DO report on mouse observations.

In the meantime, Bucks’ Lake eagles are apparently on the nest! You may recall their tidying up their aerie on Christmas Day, while January 24th found white feathered heads peering from inside the sticks and branches across from LeRoy Nagel’s farm. Large flocks of wild turkeys continue to amaze Bev and Eileen Brandt west of Henderson, while deer have begun to band together. Of special note is the fact that some buck white-tailed deer have lost their antlers, others are missing one antler, while yet others are still boasting of their eight, ten, and six prongs. Raccoons continued to creep out of their dens as of January 16th, along with a skunk friend, but opossums seem to ‘lie low,’ lest they lose the tips of their tails and ears due to sub-zero chill. Beaver navigating in Ney Creek off Easter Henderson Station Road, carrying willow tips back to its den. Temperature? Twelve degrees Fahrenheit!

Best news of all is that when the sun isn’t covered by gray clouds, we are gaining precious minutes of light for all to enjoy! Jim Gilbert reminds us that since the winter solstice, we’ve gained 40 minutes of beloved sunlight. Snow evaporating on shoveled side-walks is another sign daylight is extending itself, hence, shovel your walk!