While on the road to Chillicothe last Saturday, I succumbed to the irrestistable temptation to stop by and see a colony of Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrels that has long been a fixture in a place right off U.S. 23. It was bright and warm, and I knew the little prairie dogs would be in full whirl, digging, tussling, eating, and lazing about.
Just south of Circleville lay the former Pickaway Plains prairie, and the best place to get an idea of what this place must have once looked like is to stop by Charlie's Pond and vicinity. Prairie remnants persist here and there, but a few years ago one of the landowners - who deserves a medal - put about 1,000 acres into prairie grasses, primarily Big Bluestem, Andropogon gerardii. It is impressive.
The tall grasses stretch to the horizon in the above shot, but it's the cropped short grass of the roadsides where Spermophilus tridecemlineatus hangs out. Drive these roads on a warm summer day and keep an eye sharp, and you'll see 'em.
Like chipmunks on steroids, the chunky little beasts race about and forage where the grass is low and the visibility is good. I probably saw ten or twelve this day, and the guy above allowed for an extremely close approach - something they normally don't permit.
I spotted this one from a few hundred feet off, and painstakingly, quietly, sidled closer and closer. It took about 15 minutes, but I eventually got within 15 feet without spooking him. He probably felt pretty safe; that's his burrow directly behind him. Sure enough, I took one step too much and quick as a wink the gopher shot into the hole. For kicks, I lay on my belly in the grass, about eight feet from the hole, to see what might happen if he re-emerged. After about ten minutes, I saw the grass rustle ever so slightly, and that flattened anvil-head with the huge almond eyes appeared, took one glance at me and vanished.
Here's a short video of the ground squirrel. Sorry it's a bit shaky here and there. I was ever so slowly advancing as I shot the video, trying my best to be one with the squirrel, sending telepathic thoughts of peace and love so that he wouldn't wildly flee at the sight of the 250 pound bipedal monster.
Should you find yourself in the Circleville area and like to see the Pickaway Plains and perhaps the Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrels, I've outlined a "gopher loop" in blue. Turn west on Radcliff Road off U.S. 23 a few miles south of Circleville. At the end of that turn left on River Road which will eventually return you to 23. Squirrels might be seen anywhere along the roadsides and around the county airport.
Get 'em wil you can. Ground Squirrels are among our few mammals that truly hibernate. Come October, they disappear into those burrows for keeps, and like furry Rip Van Winkles down there they stay until April.