Birds of the Western Slope February 3, 2016

By Evelyn Horn


Birds of the Western Slope February 3, 2016 | Birds of the Western Slope, Evelyn Horn,

Dollar photo

Groundhog Day

The second day of February was "Groundhog Day." I've wondered for years about the groundhog and I just found www.stormfax.com/ghog.htm so now I know a bit more! Since this common rodent hibernates for the winter, its appearance indicates spring (well, sometimes).

And it turns out that there are many stories and more groundhogs. There's "Pothole Pete" in the New York area and the albino Wiarton Willie in Canada. Of course there's Punxsutawney Phil who lives in an air-conditioned burrow near the library in the town of Punxsutawney, Pa. He's a bit larger than average (22 inches long and he weighs about 20 pounds). The website includes a record of predictions and their accuracy as well as a listing of other groundhog celebrations (seems that everyone wants to get in on the act!).

The history is complex and fascinating. The first day of spring in our hemisphere is in March (after Groundhog Day) and I've wondered why February was chosen. It's suggested that people were weary of the cold and snow, so they had a celebration at the mid-point between winter solstice and the equinox. (Sounds good to me!) When I checked this out online, this was an ancient celebration and it is now practiced by modern-day pagans.

And the Delaware Indians made a camp (called Punxsutawney) halfway between the Allegheny and the Susquehanna rivers. The current town is 90 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, at the intersection of Route 36 and Route 119.

Punxsutawney is properly Marmota monax and is common in our eastern states (our western variety is the yellow-bellied marmot, marmota flaviventris). If you have a bit of time, check out Groundhog Day on the Internet. There's more than you would guess!