How many rocks could a Rock-Chuck chuck?

Rock Chuck or Wood Chuck, both are marmots. The correct name however, for our local marmot, is the Yellow-Bellied Marmot. The marmot is the only mammal to have a USA holiday named for it (Ground Hog Day).

This large (14” to 20”) rodent loves rocky terrain where they can lay in the sun and also escape predators when alarmed. One individual always stands guard and gives an alarm call. The call will vary according to the type of predator (hawk vs. coyote, etc). It may be a “chuck”, whistle, or a trill. Rock habitats must be close to greenery, as the animal lives entirely on green vegetation of all types.

Yellow-Bellied Marmots spend 80% of their lives in burrows – this includes nighttime, as well as hibernation which lasts from August through February. They are meticulous about keeping their den and bedding clean. Their hearty appetite allows them to put on a good layer of fat for their 7 month hibernation. Sleeping late, then eating vigorously, and finally resting on a rock in the sun conserves the energy that turns into a layer of fat.

The males are “harem-polygymous” and litter sizes average a bit over 4 pups. Males leave the colony, but females tend to stay with their mothers and become reproducers at 2 years of age.

This “bear-like” rodent has a golden to rufus coat, brown head, and a yellowish-red belly. Wood Chucks are found in the east, but Yellow-Bellies are a western, intermountain species.

They are most interesting to observe, whether sunning on a large rock or scurrying across a road or trail into the closest cover.

(A big one sunning – a favorite pastime)

Wildlife Sentinels

by Dave Hanks

There is a constant need for all animals (human animals included) to be alert to dangers – whether it is in the form of a predator, or other individuals trying to usurp their territory. Armies always post lookouts, and so do animals. As a former cattle breeder, I became aware of baby-sitting cows. The cows would take turns watching over a large group of young calves – thus providing the other mothers the time to graze and take care of their individual needs.

Creatures that live in grasslands make highly visible prey. Prairiedogs are famous for always having a sentinel to give the signal for all to take to their burrows. Likewise, I’ve read accounts of White-Tailed Deer and Bison always staying vigilant. When resting, they may lay down tail to tail and, between them; they can see a 360 degree scope of the countryside. A sentinel is the last to flee the scene, and so is in the greatest danger, but the interest of the group is paramount – especially if the group is comprised of offspring that a parent is concerned about. Geese flying in their famous V formation are depending on the leader to lead the flock safely. If that goose is delinquent, the group will noisily vent their frustration and a new bird will move to the front.

I know that it is much easier to sneak up on an individual to photograph if he/she is alone. It’s very difficult to do so if there’s a group. The group’s many eyes will result in some individual sensing your presence and the whole bunch will suddenly be gone.

The HOARY MARMOT (pictured) is found at high elevations, or in northern latitudes. I have observed them in Canada’s mountainous parks, Alaska’s Denali Park, and Colorado’s Rocky Mountain Park. They are referred to as Whistlers. The nick-name is in reference to the shrill alarm they sound to warn their companions. Contrasted with their cousin, the Yellow-bellied marmot; they are not as dark, and their silvery color blends well with their rocky habitat.

Taking his turn as look-out