Out and about with Scout – 02/26/2017

Rabbit tracks in fresh snow

I have an 18-month-old American Brittany named, Scout. He’s a boy scout, not a girl scout. I take him for a run almost every morning around our 35-acre property and we see all sorts of things. Today it was the Rabbit Highway – why I worry about my wild cacti! http://nancyrileynovelist.com/?p=116

Possible bobcat tracks.

We also spotted these tracks. We think it could be a bobcat! We have observed a bobcat roaming across our land twice this winter. Pretty exciting stuff for wildlife biologists!



Rabbits eating cactus – continued …

Nylon hedgehog cactus (Echinocereus vridiflorus).

Last summer I marked the locations of over 250 nylon hedgehog cactus plants (Echinocereus viridiflorus). I planned to start a study of some kind on these plants. As time passed, I removed many of these flags and replaced them with roof nails with bright orange plastic collars. I could push these into the soil and the plastic collar was flush with the ground. Easy to mow around, when necessary for weed control, and would not hurt if one of our horses stepped on it.

Bare spot with white root stump of a nylon hedgehog cactus eaten by rabbits.

As noted in my previous post  http://nancyrileynovelist.com/?p=116, rabbits have taken a toll on these marked plants. In several spots, I found a depression where the plant had been – just the marker left to show a cactus had been there. Just a random observation of 12 markers showed only two plants remaining.

When I was surveying for the Colorado hookless cactus (Sclerocactus glaucus), botantists from the Bureau of Land Management told me that around 2008-2009 many individual cactus disappeared, probably eaten by rabbits. Most of the plants they were finding in current surveys were no more than approximately five years old. This is important information when working with a federally listed (Endangered Species Act) species. The goal with every listed species is to recover it to the point that it can be removed from the list. If rabbits are decimating a local cactus population, it would be beneficial to know methods to protect plants, deter rabbits, and propagate more cactus.

Later this spring, when the cacti are most visible, I will conduct a survey of my marked plants and estimate the amount of rabbit herbivory or predation. This will give me a starting point for studies on my property.

I have not been able to get close enough to video rabbits eating these cactus. The largest nylon hedgehog cactus on my property are about 1.5 inches in diameter and around 2 inches tall. Below is a video I found on YouTube video of a rabbit happily munching a much larger cactus to illustrate my point of how much damage one rabbit can inflict.



Do rabbits eat columnar cactus in Colorado?

Yes, rabbits eat columnar cactus in Colorado. Darn it!

Nylon hedgehog cactus in bloom.
Mountain ball cactus in bloom.
Spinystar or pincushion cactus in bloom.






When I moved to my current home north of Fort Collins, Colorado, in September 2015, I discovered three species of columnar or globose (round) cactus growing on our land. I found hundreds (really) of nylon hedgehog cactus (Echinocereus viridiflorus), a dozen or so mountain ball cactus (Pediocactus simpsonii), and three spinystar, pincushion, or

Colorado hookless cactus in bloom.

nipple cactus (Escobaria vivipara). I was very excited because I’d spent the previous two summers searching for another small columnar cactus, the federally threatened Colorado hookless cactus (Sclerocactus glaucus), over near Debeque, east of Grand Junction.


Last year, I located all these plants on my 35 acres. I flagged them, began to collect field information, I watched them grow buds and bloom. I practically named them! Then, the spring snows and rains ended and the summer heat arrived. Little moisture came with it. As summer turned to fall, my cacti began to disappear, gnawed by rabbits. One day a nibble, the next a bloody root stump left, often with a pile of droppings left as Peter Rabbit’s calling card.

Mountain ball cactus eaten by rabbit.
Same cactus two days later, looking like a bloody stump!
Colorado hookless cactus nibbled by rabbits.






Are there others who have suffered the same ravages to their cacti or garden plants?




I Love that New Book Smell

Whenever I frequent a bookstore and thumb through the pages of a new paperback, I’m transported back to elementary school and Scholastic Books. The Scholastic Book Club program was a highlight of my school year. My teacher sent home the list of available books with their descriptions and pricelist. I’d badger my parents about how much I could spend for books and then figure out how many books I could get for that amount.

The day the book boxes arrived in my classroom was like Christmas. My teacher carefully opened the boxes and arranged the books into stacks. The new paperback smell permeated the air overpowering the smell of chalk, sweat, and dirty sneakers. She gave each of us a list of the books we ordered and one by one we walked past the piles, grabbing the ones off our list. The final stop was back at her desk, where she double-checked our list and books.

Back at my desk, I admired the cover pictures and read the story synopsis on the back of each cover. Then, as I opened a book, the paper and ink smell of adventure carried me inside.


Ask Dollie

Just finished my latest children’s story, Chaska and the Cataclysm, my retelling of an Inca great flood story. Here is an excerpt from it:

Lightning crackled across the night sky startling Chaska awake. Booming thunder rang in his ears. Rain pelted down as he galloped for cover, his colorful ear tassels flying in the wind.

“Chaska, stop!” a voice commanded above the storm. “Do not let the thunder god frighten you.”

The young llama skidded to a stop, mud covering his legs to his knees. He squinted into the storm. A mighty llama strode from the fog, his fur the colors of the rainbow. …

Do you want to keep reading? Let Dollie know!

Ask Dollie

My 15 year-old granddaughter called last night with a question. Her teacher mentioned that the groundhog wasn’t always the animal used to predict when spring would arrive, but my granddaughter couldn’t remember what animal came before the groundhog. This is a perfect question for Dollie!

Dollie’s answer: Long ago, people watched nature and animals for signs of spring coming. Animals that stay in their dens during extreme cold or winter storms such as bears, European badgers, or hedgehogs emerge from their dens to check to see it is warm enough to stay out. If they sense that it is still too cold and they can’t find food, they return to their burrows until it is warmer. People watched for these animals to be up and around and knew spring was coming earlier or later than normal.

The European badger was the animal my granddaughter’s teacher has mentioned!