Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), and several Kindle ebooks.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Roadkill Diversity

Recently I drove by four buzzards (vultures to y'all northerners) chowing down on the remains of a recently deceased groundhog. Since the groundhog was at the edge of the road, the buzzards temporarily relocated to the nearest fence to let me pass. As they flew fenceward, I noticed that three of them were black buzzards and the other was a turkey buzzard. I’ve seen plenty of buzzards before, but this was the first time I’d seen an integrated flock of buzzards.

Buzzards are not things of beauty, but they are useful critters. They do a remarkably efficient job of cleaning up carcasses. Two days later, there was no trace left of the dead groundhog.

I’ve noticed something else strange about roadkill this spring: possums are missing. In the last two months, I’ve seen a total of two squashed possums on the county’s roads. Usually, possums are the most numerous type of roadkill around here, and it’s rare to go a day without seeing at least one every few miles. I’ve seen raccoon, skunks, groundhogs, rabbits, and the occasional deer or squirrel—but where have all the possums gone? I haven’t even seen any live ones, either, for a couple of months—not since one hissed at Maggie near the creek in early March. My deck used to be a major possum thoroughfare, but no more.

Possums are the cockroaches of the mammalian world. They seem to survive anything. So where are they?

Have the coyotes gotten them? Coyotes have become more numerous in the county. A dog doesn’t have much trouble killing a possum—my now-deceased old border collie could dispatch a possum in 10 seconds. A coyote should be able to do the same.

Or did Appalachian Electric Power Company’s herbicide spraying do them in? A couple of months ago, AEP sprayed all foliage under its lines—regardless of whether lines crossed creeks or went through pastures. Consequently, vegetation that was once lush and green is now brown and ugly. Did whatever they sprayed eliminate the possums?

I checked with my animal communicator friend, Karen Wrigley. She reports the dynamics are changing in the county, and there are indeed fewer possums than there used to be. The drought this spring has affected them—some have moved to moister areas where there’s more vegetation to act as cover. The increasing coyote population has eliminated some possums who can’t move fast enough to get away from swift-running predators. The possums didn’t like the smell of the spray and avoided those areas, which are usually along the roads (plus—before the recent heavy rains—the roadways have been dry). And now I feed my cats in the garage, not on the deck, so my deck provides no tasty leftovers for scavenging possums.

I guess the possums will survive. Just not around here.

1 Comments:

Blogger Leslie Shelor said...

The possums are all over here; I see at least one a mile these days. Wetter here, I guess, no spraying (that I know about) and so far coyotes are rare. So I think Karen is probably correct in her assessment of the possum situation!

1:21 PM  

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