In Search of Spring

Although our winter here in the Blue Ridge has actually been pretty mild, I find myself longing to see green fields and hillsides once again. With only a few weeks of winter remaining, I set out to look for signs that winter is loosening its grip on the land and giving way to the season of renewal. My last walk was several days ago and I was amazed at how much the landscape had changed.

The growing moss pays no heed to the frigid temps of the water

The growing moss pays no heed to the frigid temps of South Buffalo Creek

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Another type of moss growing up through the leaves

Immature cones forming on terminal ends of Virginia Pine

Immature cones forming on Virginia Pine

Still another kind of moss

Still another kind of moss

The birds are also giving clues that spring is on its way. The Eastern Phoebes can be heard issuing their phoebe, phoebe calls as they check out our porch rafters for the choicest nest sites. I’m also seeing the Eastern Bluebirds once again that had retreated to lower elevations to escape the worst of winter, and a Northern Mockingbird pair is busy chasing intruders out of their favorite tangle of vines.

Although the nights are cold, it’s the breeding season for many animals. Last night, my husband and I were awakened by the shrill cries of a fox in the front yard. The cries, a little higher-pitched than a coyote, went on for about a minute. My first thought was of the chickens, but I knew they were safely locked up in the coop. Possibly, the fox was calling to attract a mate. 

The lengthening of the days is obvious to our hens, who have started laying again, so it’s just a matter of time until winter blows its last gasp. I just need to be patient.

There is a way that Nature speaks, that land speaks. Most of the time we are not patient enough, quiet enough, to pay attention to the story. — Linda Hogan

Protected Travel Corridors are Important to Wildlife

On my walks around the farm, I often notice places where the ground is soft and spongy. The softness of the turf is caused by underground mole burrows running between the mole’s den and their hunting grounds. Most of the runway system is made up of shallow tunnels one to five inches below the ground surface. This maze provides protective cover and a travel corridor for not only the moles, but also other species such as voles, white-footed mice, and house mice that move through the runways, helping themselves to grains, seeds, and tubers along the way.

Other wildlife species living on our farm also have a relatively small range. Box turtles, for instance, generally live within an area of less than 200 meters in diameter as they move around to find a mate, lay their eggs, and find food. We came across this Eastern box turtle several times last summer within an area about half the size of a football field. I knew it was the same turtle by the pattern on the carapace as each one is different.
Easternbox turtle
Similarly, rabbits live out their lives on just a few acres, moving between shrubs, briars, and fencerows to avoid detection by predators. A fox, on the other hand, claims a territory of from one to five square miles, traveling through wooded areas and hedgerows that provide protective cover.

Larger mammals such as the Eastern coyote travel longer distances as they go about searching for food and finding a mate. The size of their home range depends on the food and cover resources available and the number of other coyotes in an area, but it generally averages between 8 and 12 square miles. Black bears, which are fairly common in the Blue Ridge, have even larger territories. Females have a home range of up to 50 square miles, while males who often roam large distances to find a female can have a home range of up to 290 square miles. Source: Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

Black bear cub. Photo by beautifulfreepictures.com

Black bear cub. Photo by beautifulfreepictures.com

I’m lucky to live in a state that is proactive in wildlife conservation. The Rockbridge Area Conservation Council, a non-profit organization, is developing a new conservation project seeking enhanced awareness of and protection for a critical wildlife corridor in western Virginia. The project will determine where corridors exist within the Buffalo Creek watershed that provide cover and forage for large mammals as they move between the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountain ranges. These linkages will provide safe passage for them to move through the watershed and under Interstate 81.

Landowners within the boundaries of the corridor that volunteer to participate will be considered by the Virginia Outdoor Foundation for purchase or donation of a perpetual conservation easement. In return for a donated easement, landowners receive a tax deduction for some or all of the value of the easement, reduce their property taxes, and sell some or all of the tax credit for cash.

Protected wildlife corridors are important to the survival of our largest mammals, often forced to travel great distances in order to find food and survive in a human-dominated world. These natural linkages will help keep motorists and wildlife alike safe.