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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Silly Groundhog

Late yesterday afternoon I met my friend Marge at Green-Wood Cemetery. We were planning to stay until sunset hoping to spot some Common Nighthawks soaring over the meadows. We were wandering around near Crescent and Dell Waters at approximately 5pm when I noticed something a little odd.

Unlike the other ponds in the cemetery, the Dell Water's clay liner leaks, so the water level ranges from overflowing the coping wall to a shallow puddle at the center of the impoundment. Right now the water level is very low, with a small patch of muddy shoreline at the rectangular pond's northeast corner. When the water level gets this low wading birds and Spotted Sandpipers can usually be seen in that corner. Yesterday, as I scanned from the opposite side of the water I noticed a Green Heron there. Several feet behind him was a small, brown furry animal slowly walking along the base of the stone retaining wall. It was one of the cemetery's resident groundhogs. I had no idea how he managed to get down into the pond, but it was pretty clear he couldn't climb the wall and would need some help.

My first plan was to find a thick tree branch from the woods and create a little inclined bridge for him to climb up. With a long section of wood in place I waited for him to figure it out. He didn't and, as I watched the young animal, it became clear that something was wrong. It was extremely hot, near 90 degrees, and the groundhog merely used the shadow from the branch as respite from the blazing sun. He also seemed to be having trouble with his balance. I wondered out loud how long he had been stuck in the pond. Perhaps he hadn't eaten in days and, with no shade in that spot, he could be suffering from heat stroke. I decided to lie down on the top of the wall and to try and pull him out.

He was much smaller than the potbellied, ground sweeping adult groundhogs I usually see around the cemetery. I assumed that this cat-sized individual was very young, which might explain how he ended up in the pond in the first place. He was small enough, I figured, that I could grab him by the scruff of his neck where (I hoped) he wouldn't be able to bite me. I started by lightly petting him on the nape, to see how he would react. He didn't seem to mind, so I dove in, grabbed him by the scruff and literally tossed him up over the wall and into the grass.

It took a moment for him to straighten out, but then immediately began eating grass, violet leaves and mugwort. This little guy was literally starving and didn't stop eating for the 10 minutes or so that we continued to monitor him. He eventually began to wander away towards the west end of the pond, stopping occasionally to rest in the shade and nibble some more. I left the little wooden "bridge" for him just in case he decides to go exploring below the wall again.


Sweenya said...

You are amazing! How is the catbird faring?

Rob Jett said...

Last time I heard the catbird was recovering. I'll find out now and post an update.

Cindy said...

Great work Rob. Poor thing, glad you were there to rescue him. I love watching them muddle around the cemetery.

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