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Friday, October 21, 2011

Species Spotlight #8: Marsh Rabbit

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – one of my favorite parts about birding is discovering the non-avian aspects of nature while I’m in the field. As far back as I can remember, I grew up with Eastern Cottontails everywhere – in my backyard, in the park, on the side of the road. But little did I know that a second species of rabbit lived in my midst, in complete secrecy, and remained unbeknownst to me until just a couple years ago.

James and I decided to visit local birding site Mason Farm very early one morning in June, and as we traveled up the sun-drenched corridor, I spied a small dark rabbit in our path. Assuming cottontail, I put my binoculars up to my eyes and noticed an all-together different creature, with a stubby bulldog-esque muzzle and short, rounded ears. I’d heard these guys lived at Mason Farm, but I refused to believe it until I saw one. I called out to James – “Marsh Rabbit!” and he snapped the picture you see below.

Marsh Rabbit - Mason Farm, NC; 06/14/2010

We tried to get closer for a better shot, for as you can see the sun shone in our faces. However, just a couple steps closer and the rabbit bolted for a nearby canal. We searched for it, but the Marsh Rabbit had disappeared – apparently they’re not called Marsh Rabbits for nothing, and he’d jumped right into the water-filled canal and swum away. It’s one of the coolest sightings I’ve ever had, and a pretty good one – Mason Farm lies right on the western terminus of the Marsh Rabbit’s range, and is about as far inland as you can possibly find these guys. It’s not the first time I’ve had a surprise mammal sighting like this, and by all accounts it won’t be the last.

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