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Chipmunk hiding in the undergrowth

The Thanksgiving Chipmunk

Source: Personal experience

Read this and other stories in the book, Noticing Nature, by Chuck Bonner. Also available in e-book format for Amazon Kindle.

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I was hiking down from Arethusa Falls one day, when I heard a wild turkey clucking in the undergrowth. Now I know, turkeys are not as rare as they once were, even becoming suburban pests in parts of New England (though not in my neighborhood yet). Still, I thought it would be interesting to see a turkey in a truly natural environment. I had seen their tracks a few times, but never an actual turkey here in Crawford Notch.

So, I started stalking. I crept through the bushes and kept a close eye out for any movement ahead of me. There was an agitated chipmunk on a boulder a short distance away, but I was concentrating on the leaf litter and undergrowth beyond, where I heard the turkey. Seeing no sign of the bird, I crept a little closer.

The chipmunk took off, and I was glad to see him go. I waited and listened for the clucking. Soon it began again, this time off in a different direction. I turned and stalked toward the turkey again, and soon saw the same chipmunk, again on a line between me and the turkey. Ignoring the annoying little rodent, I scanned the forest beyond, and continued to move toward the sound of the turkey.

Again the chipmunk scurried away, and again the turkey fell silent. I waited a moment, and heard the clucking from yet another direction. As soon as I turned toward the turkey, I saw that same chipmunk on a boulder between me and the clucking sound.

Then I noticed something odd. Although I could see the chipmunk convulsing his little body and barking with all his might, I didn't hear the usual "Chip! Chip! Chip!" chirping of a chipmunk. Instead, the "Putt - Putt - Putt" that sounded like a turkey was coming from this chipmunk!

Immediately, I saw what was going on. I could see that the chipmunk's cheek pouches were bulging, and each time he opened his mouth to bark at me, I could see what was in those pouches: Beech nuts still in the husk. The prickly husks of the nuts meant that the chipmunk's cheek pouches were mostly full of air. They formed a resonant chamber that lowered the pitch of his alarm barks from a piercing "Chip!" to a clucking "Putt."

Though in recent years, turkeys have begun to appear in Crawford Notch State Park, I still have never seen a turkey along the Arethusa Falls Trail. But every fall when the chipmunks are gathering beech nuts, their muted alarm barks remind me of a time when I felt like a turkey!

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Copyright © 2007, Charles J. Bonner, All Rights Reserved