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Home for the Summer: Chipmunk shortage

From Jan Kent

We have an unusual situation at our cabin this summer. It's one we've never experienced before – a chipmunk shortage.

Every year when we arrive, carry load after load of things from the car to the cabin, walk around, haul in firewood and build fires in the fireplace, play music, etc. We've always figured that the chipmunks living under and near our cabin get scared off. They've had eight or nine months of peace and quiet, and suddenly, humans are overrunning the place.

But, after a week or 10 days, they seem to adjust and begin insinuating themselves into our summer lives. First, they locate the feeders for the birds and scavenge under them for the sunflower seeds that the messy birds have dropped to the ground. It's quite a bonanza. The next step is to try to get to the mother lode, the feeders themselves. Chipmunks are clever little critters, but I'm happy to say we're still outsmarting them. They try to do a tightrope walk on the long wire on which one feeder is hung. They're successful for a few feet, but then always lose their balance and jump to the ground. They never seem to be hurt and continue to do this for a long time.

When they've given up on that approach, the chipmunks go for the aerial route. One will climb to the top of the dead birch to which one end of the wire is attached. A lot of calculating seems to be going on as the little guy eyes the feeder and jitters around to get the best perspective. Then comes the giant leap – always too short.

A second seed feeder hangs from under the eaves on a rope and pulley system. The best a chipmunk can do with that arrangement is to sit on the ledge of the porch beneath it, munch on the few seeds that lie there, and look longingly upward.

Meanwhile, under the cabin, sounds of chipmunk life are heard. They scuttle across the supplies of lumber and firewood that are stashed there. They pop out from under and hang out on the path around the cabin. They climb up on the wooden step outside the kitchen door. There are a multitude and they are everywhere. No one has ever stepped on one, but there always seem to be close calls.

But not this year. After a week we started looking around for chipmunks. After 10 days we really began to wonder. Finally a chipmunk appeared. Okay, we thought, we're settling into the routine. We saw two of them together. And then, that was it. Two chipmunks! You've got to be kidding. But that's as far as it's gone. Two chipmunks hanging out under the feeder. No chipmunks patrolling under the second feeder. Two chipmunks zipping past the kitchen door.

We muse about what has happened to our little rodent friends. Was the winter so severe that many didn't survive? Did they give up and move to Florida? Is there a chipmunk virus going around? Does that bald eagle who sits up at the top of our highest dead tree have anything to do with the chipmunk shortage?

Chipmunks give us some problems, but also a lot of laughs. We look for the stripes moving through the tall grass. We listen for their chirpy little noises. Well, maybe next year.