I haven’t seen Rabbit #2 yet this winter, but that doesn’t mean she’s left the area or died. She might be spending her afternoons and evenings in a warm burrow. But I have seen a full grown Cottontail Rabbit grazing on grass on the lawn in front of Brighton’s City Hall. I’m sure it’s the same rabbit that was often seen in the same area last summer as a small, skittish bunny. It’s more confident now and doesn’t flee when it sees me although I can’t approach him as close as I can Rabbit #2 on the opposite shore of the millpond.
There are now at least three Eastern Cottontails residing in Brighton’s millpond park. Two are still classified as bunnies, young rabbits. I don’t know their precise ages since they arrive without pedigrees. The third one is officially designated as the Resident Rabbit, a high honor bestowed to only the species’ finest. She was hand raised and dumped near the pond in May, 2013, and grazes north of the fire station near the spruce trees most evenings.
Saturday night I found her dining in the company of a muskrat; the first time I’ve witnessed an interspecies gathering of this variety. They must have been planning something or complaining about annoying park visitors and unleashed dogs. It’s an odd pairing. Rabbits lollygag when not eating or bounding away in terror from real and imagined predators. They sit and watch the world go by although I’m not sure they comprehend much of it. Muskrats rarely loiter; they are driven. If they aren’t eating, they are swimming toward food or lugging vegetation home to feed the kids or insulate their burrows.
I heard grass roots ripping as I moved toward the muskrat. Without saying good-bye, it scurried back to the millpond with a mouthful of bounty (below). Muskrats are skilled harvesters, and grass is at its most delicious now. The kids in the burrow had a nutritious carry out salad for dinner on this night.
I had a chance to chat with our resident cottontail on Sunday evening. She’s our only dumped rabbit, obviously hand-raised and abandoned at the pond because no wild rabbit would come when it hears the rattle of a jar of pelletized food.
She told me about a Dachshund who chased her (above), and complained about the onslaught of mosquitoes since warm days arrived (right). When I politely suggested she was rather grumpy, she told me the grass tasted pretty good and the fresh buds on the crabapple trees were still tender.
When I had my conversation with the millpond rabbit last night, I wasn’t convinced she was the official Easter Bunny. Now I’m convinced. I caught up to her again on Easter evening and look at the poor thing. She’s tuckered out from shredding all of that colored cellophane, dying the eggs, and then delivering those baskets all night long. Guess the magic wore off, too. She didn’t say a thing to me.
Our resident millpond park rabbit is modeling the latest fashion trend for winter — bunny fur rainwear! She has a thick coat and PETA will be happy to know no animals were killed in its production. Reddish brown underfur is tipped with upscale black and blonde grizzling so appealing to the younger set of all species. Young bucks will find her irresistible next spring when they are ready for a short, but productive, relationship.
Svelte again following her summer of bringing bunnies into the world (right), the hand raised rabbit that was released at the pond this spring comes running if duck chow is served at the north end of the millpond.
Seems she wishes she was a duck. She’ll approach them as they eat (above) but, if they move toward her, she hops a safe distance away. Then she’ll slowly wander back to grab a few nibbles until they frighten her again.
If the ducks are nearby, she’ll gladly accept a ration of duck chow. It’s made from corn, wheat, and soy so it’s good for her. She needs to build a layer of fat for the winter so I make it a point to give her a handful of food if she approaches.
As promised on Septmember 4th, the reason this hand raised Eastern Cottontail Rabbit glows is she’s nursing a troop of bunnies. It’s not surprising since rabbits breed three or four times each summer. Her tykes stay alone in the nest for the first two weeks. Mom only returns to nurse them. They open their eyes in 4-7 days but won’t venture out until they are a couple of weeks old.
By the time the kids are 4-5 weeks old, they are totally independent. It’s a good thing since their mom might be whipping up another batch of bunnies. Rabbits are capable of conceiving in the blink of an eye after their babies are born. Three to eight rascals are in each litter.
A few half-grown bunnies traverse the millpond trail, but there aren’t brigades of them as you might expect. Raccoons, opossums, hawks and owls keeps us from being knee deep in them, not to mention the traffic on the city streets surrounding the park. Rabbits may look ways before crossing the street with their terrific panoramic vision, but they haven’t figured out how quickly vehicles zoom. Probably never will either.
This rabbit hasn’t been seen in a couple of weeks now. I’m not worried she’s met a Ford Fiesta on Grand River. She’s simply too busy with her latest bundles of joy to wiggle her nose at me.
The eye shine from my camera’s flash is intense on rabbits. Wild rabbits are skittish, but this one was probably taken from the wild as a tiny bunny this spring, hand-raised, then released in the millpond park when it reached adulthood. Shallow rabbit nests in lawns are often destroyed during mowing or pets arrive at the door with bunnies in their mouths. Like white-tailed fawns, humans think tiny bunnies are abandoned when they aren’t. Moms leave their babes alone most of the daylight hours.
This one won’t sit in your lap, but you can approach it within 4-6 feet depending upon its mood. The rabbit isn’t only glowing because of my flash. I’ll tell you more in a future post.
Eastern Cottontail Rabbits can produce 3-9 bunnies in each of their 3-4 litters a year. The females (called does just like deer) can become pregnant again on the day a litter is born. You’d think the Brighton millpond would be up to its cattails in bunnies. It’s not. Predation keeps them in check — dogs, cats, hawks, owls, raccoons, opossums, and even the Great Blue Heron that visits the pond nightly.
Bunnies begin to leave their nest when they are only four ounces at two weeks old. They don’t receive much protection from their moms so they are easy pickings. This year, I’ve only seen three. This one scoots from shrub to shrub near the Stillwater Grill which is in Rabbit #1’s territory. I haven’t seen the parent this spring and thought it might have died. Rabbits have short lives, about 3 years. Maybe she’s too busy churning out the next batch of bunnies to say hello to me.
While cottontails anger gardeners in our suburban community with its expansive landscaping, the state actually has a “Rabbitat” program to boost populations on state controlled game lands and timbered areas. Besides being a hunter’s favorite small game, rabbits are an important prey species for our state’s larger mammals and birds of prey.
“Eye shine” is a major problem when photographing wildlife at night. Sometimes, I retouch eyes so they aren’t so distracting. In these shots, Rabbit #2 looks demonic or like he’s internally illuminated. A furry nightlight! During the thaw, I found him beyond the edge of his usual territory (north of the Fire Station) snooping under the leaf litter for green things to eat. It’s not a problem this winter. Grass is still slightly green in most areas instead of its characteristic dried tan.
Since the millpond trail brings plenty of humans through his territory, he’s not particularly disturbed by our presence. Yet, as a prey species, he’s hardwired to never let his guard down entirely. As I moved closer, he evaluated his escape strategies and finally bolted to seek the safety of an evergreen tree on his own turf.
There weren’t many footprints of park wildlife along the millpond trail. With 5-7″ of powdery snow on the ground, the mammals preferred to stay in their burrows until conditions improved. But some had to venture out to find their evening meal. On return trip to the end of the trail, I found wild Rabbit #2 had hopped onto the boardwalk in search of food. He was drawn to it because it had been plowed.
As I walked toward it, my boots crunched the snow against the wooden deck causing loud sounds to reverberate.. The rabbit responded to the noise by hopping in the other direction until he discovered he was between two sets of humans. A father and young son blocked his escape path. For a moment, he considered scooting under the side rail and jumping six feet down, but decided that was a dangerous solution. Finally, he casually hopped past the father and son as they stood still. Soon, he was back on land where he went about his business of finding dried grasses and twigs to nibble on.
A blog can never have too many bunnies. I posted a talented one just days ago. I’m posting another one because I promised Antonio I’d email it to him if he’d text me his address. He did. I was standing beside him when he sent it, but it never reached my phone. So here ya go, Antonio! Here’s the rabbit I photographed on our walk along the millpond path Sunday evening. I’m pretty sure it’s the cottontail I photographed in the same territory last April because of the colors around his left ear and hind flank. He’s pudgier now because he’s bulking up for winter weather. Except when snow is on the ground, rabbits have been posted here often. You can see all of them on one page, if you wish.
Rabbits are fussy models when posing for photographers, but this young one was happy to comply. In fact he willingly snapped into several noteworthy poses without being asked. The top photo was his Heroic Rabbit pose suitable for a bronze statue in the millpond park. Below left, he established a natural seated pose with none of that typical ready-to-flee “tensed hind leg” attitude of other models. His attempt to do a handstand was less successful, but he really gave it his all. I lied and told him it was perfect, but his hind legs never reached the proper vertical position for Olympic competition. If he’ll just work with me to get rid of that “eye shine” when my camera flashes …
The Brighton millpond park isn’t a wild environment. The “wild” residents are used to living near humans. Some of the critters are especially tolerant once they know you. Yeah, that’s right. The mammals and ducks recognize specific people just like dogs and cats can. I’ve photographed this fellow several times this year. As I approach, I talk and whisper to him so he knows I’m not threatening him. I know that sounds crazy, and maybe I’m wrong, but I think it relaxes him. People “baby talk” their house pets all of the time, but it’s different in a public park. I’ve raised a few eyebrows when people watch me talk to ducks and rabbits.
If I make an unpredicted move, even though he knows me, he’s outta there in a flash. Prey species are like that. BTW his eye isn’t red. That’s from my camera’s flash reflecting off of his retina. Sometimes I retouch eyes on this blog so they don’t distract, but I happen to like this glowing red orb on this rabbit. Click the photo to see it larger.
The rabbits near the millpond aren’t typical. There are at least three of them, two adults and one youngster. All of them are tolerant of humans unlike truly wild ones. I suspect a regular park visitor brings them food but I haven’t met him or her. “Rabbit 2” roams the grass near the fire station.
I am able to get within three feet of him if I move slowly as he grazes on clover. As you can see in both of these shots, he’s not a bit nervous and carries on with his usual activities instead of being braced to hop away at one false move.
The Easter Bunny resides at the Brighton millpond during his off season. He spends most of his days munching grass and bark, but does leisurely hopping to keep in shape for delivering baskets on Easter morning. I don’t know where he keeps that colorful suit he wears on Easter. I’ve never seen him wearing it around the pond. It’s probably stored at the dry cleaners so the satin doesn’t get moldy in his burrow.
People who have rabbits as pets might disagree, but I’d say bunnies have expressionless faces. I’ve discovered, however, they express themselves in other ways. Here’s my take: This rabbit (above) is saying “hello.” He just spotted me approaching him. He isn’t stressed, just interested in what I’m doing in his pondside neighborhood. His ears are perked up but his neck is relaxed and his front legs aren’t poised to flee.
The bunny on the left (above) is bored with me. He’s given up trying to figure out why I’m holding that boxy thing that flashes every once in a while and knows I’m of no use to him. But he’s keeping an eye on me just in case I become a threat.
The rabbit on the right was photographed last summer. You can tell he’s ready to bolt if I don’t behave myself. His ears are rigid, his tail flagged upward, his front legs braced for fleeing, and his back ones are ready to bound away in a millisecond.
Below, the rabbit is curious. His stance says,”Do you have anything for me?” He’s comfortably facing me so he isn’t contemplating a quick exit. I have a hunch someone feeds him regularly. A truly wild rabbit wouldn’t be this trusting of humans.
There was a traffic jam last night at Brighton, Michigan’s millpond. After midnight, passersby were stopped in their tracks by a swan paddling around the pond with a wild rabbit on its back.
“They’re not going to believe this at work tomorrow unless I can get a good shot,” remarked a bartender who had just gotten off work as he snapped several photographs with his iPhone.
“That goose’s nose is the color of a carrot. Maybe that’s why the rabbit jumped on,” a college student suggested as she sat shivering from the cold night air. Her obviously intoxicated friend corrected her, “Don’t be a fool. That’s not a goose. It’s a swan, and it’s a bill, not a nose.”
Swans mate for life unless they have irreconcilable differences. This one arrived with his beloved about a week ago. They are nest building at the northern end of the Mill Pond so there might be baby swans, called cygnets, by early summer. The rabbit is a year ’round resident of the park and, in all likelihood, will have a few babies of its own for you to see if you walk along the Mill Pond trail.
The chances of you seeing the rabbit hopping on the swan are slim, however. He only does that once a year. While the rabbit had its midnight ride, you’ve been taken on one, too. Happy First of April, everyone! :-)
There may be other bunnies on the millpond path, but I regularly see two of them in their own territories. After winter kept them hidden, they have now reappeared. I saw bunny 1 a week ago. The second one made its 2011 debut to me last evening and posed for this pondside portrait before leisurely hopping off into the darkness. The fire in his eyes is from my camera’s flash. He’s actually quite relaxed and often nibbles on twigs while I photograph him.
Even though rabbits remain active all winter, I hadn’t seen any along the Brighton millpond path for several months. I saw their tracks in the snow on occasion. My first sighting of the year happened yesterday when I spotted this very healthy eastern cottontail. It may be the same one that gave me directions in November, 2009. Note the markings on his right cheek and right hip. Both photographs were taken in the same territory. In captivity, rabbits can live 7-12 years, but wild ones aren’t so lucky. If they survive their dangerous first months, their adult world isn’t much more forgiving. It’s filled with foxes, owls, feral dogs and cats, and fast moving cars.
I try to make the Brighton millpond appear bucolic, but it’s not. Sometimes, signs of the park’s urban surroundings are within a dozen feet of the shots I take. One of my favorite spots to photograph muskrats is within 40 feet of the 5-lane highway running through town.
Pictured here is one of the few postage stamp “fields” along the path. It’s the rabbits’ stomping ground. There is a 5′ wooden fence behind it shielding piles of scrap metal, auto parts, and lumber. Tiny flowers grow on this plot between mowings by the city. Now, it’s covered with bright golden flowers less than an inch in diameter that look like miniature sweet peas. From an online picture I found, I think it’s “meadow vetchling” with the scientific name of Lathyrus pratensis.
As I’ve previously reported, the millpond has at least two residential rabbits that I see weekly. They stay in their general areas and aren’t too afraid of the people who walk by them. This week, one of those two introduced me (not willingly) to its offspring. It’s already half-grown. Baby rabbits are independent very quickly after birth so I’m surprised I haven’t seen this one and its siblings earlier. Unless predators got them, I’m sure I’ll see a couple more soon.
“Go past the first park bench and you’ll see a clump of wild currants. Don’t touch them. They’re mine. Hang a right where the grapevine twines about the young maple.”
This rabbit greets me at least once a week on the Brighton Millpond walkway. In the spring he was a tiny fellow but he’s had plenty of greens to eat and has grown into a fine adult. The pointing is real, but the eye is fiction. Retinas shine brightly on critters flashed at night so I often rebuild eyes so they don’t distract. Hey, I’ve got Photoshop and I’m not afraid to use it! The original is at left.