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Something extra to watch for this Groundhog Day


The Pocahontas Times

This young albino groundhog went into hibernation fattened a bit with sweet potatoes and rabbit pellets. Not all young chucks survive their first year, but hopefully he makes it. One sighting will tell the tale.
(Pocahontas Times photo by Candie Magill)

GREEN BANK, W.Va. — If an albino groundhog sees his shadow on Groundhog Day would it be dark or white? The answer may or may not be clear this February 2, when I keep a close eye on my shed to see if the beautiful albino chuck will appear.

It all started last year when I took in a very weak baby groundhog into my Green Bank home, naming it Harvey. Harvey became quite spoiled and lived to rule and reign over the property. The world was, without a doubt, Harvey’s oyster. Soon, however, Harvey began to go places he did not belong; namely under the hoods of vehicles.

Once Harvey started exploring vehicles, he had to find a new home, so he was rehabbed to the wild and set free with some other youngsters; but the absence of Harvey broke my woodchuck heart, for he was missed to no end, and no amount of tears would bring him back.

Then, late one afternoon, a strange new creature was spied near the outbuildings. It wasn’t a plane, bird or frog but upon closer inspection proved to be an albino woodchuck. I took several photos of the chuck as I found it unbelievable to actually see one – much less on my own property.

When discussing my discovery with the locals at Trent’s General Store in Arbovale, I discovered that Dewey Cook, also of Green Bank, had some albino chucks under his shed, as well. I paid a visit to Mr. Cook to discuss his albinos and found that he started out with two albinos and a brown mom.

“The two little ones came barreling out from under the shed one day and almost ran into me,” Cook said. “I took some photos of them when they were little.”

However, after a few weeks of moving around the neighborhood, the groundhog family disappeared altogether.

I have been in touch with Dan Blumstein of UCLA, the leading authority in the US on marmots and, after comparing notes with Cook, Blumstein was of the opinion that it very well could be the same chuck family. He and I are both looking forward to spring to see if the Albino survives hibernation.

Blumstein noted that he had once tracked a chuck for thirteen miles.

So, it would not out of reason that these two chucks, one brown and one albino, could have migrated just under four miles.
It is possible that one albino did not survive as the albinos from Cook’s neighborhood were near a lot of dogs. The many dogs could have been a motivator for migrating to my property.

I had been trapping and relocating some pesky skunks when I accidentally box trapped the albino. I took several photos and a video of it. There is no doubt it is a true albino for its eyes are a deep red and tissue is very pink.

The white color of the albino makes it an easy target for predators and even people who delude themselves into believing killing an albino would be a great trophy. In all actuality they would be killing a very special little chuck, as only one in every 10,000 chucks is albino, and Green Bank has their very own.

Several years ago, Artie Barkley, of Arbovale, had some albino chucks on his property on Buffalo Mountain Road. Tragically, somebody killed the rare chucks and the next reports of albinos came about last fall.

It is a fear in the back of my mind that somebody who is ignorant to how special this little white chuck really is may kill it for whatever reason they may conjure in their minds.

I have alerted my neighbor Mr. Egan, so he would not be surprised if he saw it. As a scientist himself, I believe he will help protect it. I also chase away any loose dogs that come on the property.

Approximately 65 percent of all baby groundhogs do not survive their first year. They must accumulate a large amount of fat to survive hibernation. If they do not have enough fat stored they will not survive the winter.

I fed my groundhogs sweet potatoes and rabbit pellets once I realized that the albino needed as much fat as it could get. However, it was late in the fall and I only got to feed them for a few weeks before a cold snap hit and they disappeared. I have not seen them since, so I believe they are hibernating.

Groundhogs, otherwise known as wood chucks, are very docile creatures. Their diet consists of greens, roots and vegetables they might scarf from a local garden. A chuck tunnel can be several feet deep with at least two openings – an in/out door – and a spyhole make up the tunnel system. You will often catch glimpses of them at dawn and dusk.

Watch for a shadow report sometime after sunrise Groundhog Day, February 2.

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