Monday, January 26, 2009

A TOUGH WINTER


A few evenings ago I watched Canadian TV program on the flora and fauna of the Carolinian forest. For those who aren't familiar with this term, the Carolinian forest is the Canadian appellation for the eastern deciduous (broad-leaf) forest that once covered a huge stretch of eastern United States, from the Carolinas up to parts of southwestern Canada. Much of the original forest is gone, and what remains if very fragmented in both countries. In Ontario, the remnants of this once-great ecosystem embrace several preserved areas. Perhaps the most important of these is Point Pelee National Park, just down the road from my place. In Canada, this ecozone occupies less than one percent of Canada's land mass, but has one quarter of the population, so development is always a threat. Some 60 species have been officially designated as "at risk" but a number of others are also in trouble. Some of the rare and endangered species in tiny Point Pelee Park (just 15 square kilometers, or less than 6 miles) include the the southern flying squirrel, the five-lined skink, the common hop tree, the prickly pear cactus, monarch butterflies, red-headed woodpeckers, and the bald eagle. Many naturalists know Point Pelee as a world-class migration spot, both spring and fall for birds, and for the monarch butterflies in the fall, but it's a great place to visit all year.

I live right on the lake (Lake Erie) so there's not a lot of natural habitat in my backyard, but I do get some cottontail bunnies, and the occasional raccoon and once, an opossum. This winter has been particularly tough. The normal mild winter temperatures of the Canadian Carolinian zone have taken a beating from the Jet Stream. It's been colder for longer than usual, and that takes a toll on all the resident species. One critter in particular is especially vulnerable, I learned from the TV show: the opossum. I've only seen an opossum a couple of times; they aren't plentiful, and I'm not often out on the roads at dawn and dusk,when the 'possums are active, but I do see many poor opossums dead by the side of the road, killed by cars that were out early or late. One quiet morning I did see a mother 'possum cross my yard with a sweet pointy-faced little baby clinging to her back. The TV program said that opossums don't hibernate, and must be abroad in any weather to find food. They also don't have fur covering their sensitive noses, tails, ears and paws, so they are especially susceptible to frostbite. I feel badly that this cold spell will probably mean that some of these creatures may not survive. They may not be the cutest critter you could name, but as Canada's (North America's) only marsupial, they'd be entitled to a special place, if it were up to me. Here's hoping spring comes soon!





Photo from Wikimedia Commons

13 comments:

Shellmo said...

I have sympathy for the opossum as well. I hope spring comes soon!

Lin said...

well i learned something about the opossum...we are lucky we can be inside and warm in the cold winter.

Sylvia K said...

Oh, poor little guy! I do hope spring comes soon! Believe I can relate as I know you can, too. And I shouldn't be complaining! Love the photo!

Betsy from Tennessee said...

Hi Deb, I finally got a map out trying to locate you in Canada. If you are on Lake Erie, are you closer to Detroit or Buffalo??? We were on the Canadian side when we visited Niagara in 2002. I couldn't locate Point Pelee.

Isn't it sad that the harsh winter is hurting so many of our critters? That little possum is just so cute!!!!

Hope Spring gets here soon--for our sake and for theirs.
Hugs,
Betsy

Kallen305 said...

I have an opossum living on my land with a skunk. Both have been here since I moved in which was four years ago (at least I think it is the both of them). I put out dog kibble every night for them and have never had a problem.

My kids are petrified of it because it's so ugly. I told them that as long as they kept a respectable distance from it and didn't bother it any it could co-exist with us in our yard and would not bother them. So far so good.

Rose said...

We live in a small town--population about 5,000. And I have seen possums in our yard and the neighbor's yard....

Wren said...

Great photo, but sad news about the possums. They are cute in an ugly way, and certainly irreplaceable.

I didn't realize you lived that close to Point Pelee. Wow!

magiceye said...

survival of the fittest..

me ann my camera said...

I find the mention of an Opossum fascinating. I didn't know they were native to Canada and my only, one-time-ever sighting of one was quite close to your area I think, at Port Dover, sometimes in the early 2000's. So the sighting makes sense to me now.

We were all sitting on benches outside a motel and an Opossum came around a corner of the porch. My daughter and I both saw it at the same time, and wordlessly both stood up on the bench at the same time not being sure at first what it was. At the time we wondered if it somehow had accidentally caught a ride on some delivery truck up from the States. It was a delightful looking creature I thought. Thanks for the info in your post; very helpful and useful!

Avid Reader said...

we had an opossum living in our yard just after the bulldozed the side of a mountain and a large forest at the bottom of it. All sorts of animals wandered through looking to re-settle. Hope you get a Jan-Feb thaw so the animals can get a break.

Quiet Paths said...

We see the possums in WA state sometimes. I feel the same about creatures during the winter or during drought. I think we are supposed to care and I am so glad you do too.

Kathiesbirds said...

Very interesting info here. I feel for the poor opossum too. When I was 15 yeas old I once met one in the dark in the woods when I was sneaking to my boyfriend's house late at night. It scared the be-jesus out of me! I almost stepped on it and all I could make out were those dark round eyes against the lighter fur.

Annie said...

I feel so badly for the little guys. Is it possible to create a feeding station for them?