Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Winchester Phil, our Local Furry Forecaster

On Saturday Janice and I went to Winchester to meet one of the town's newest celebrities, Winchester Phil. He was going to be predicting the length of winter on Monday and had been gradually woken up by his keeper for the event, being moved from his 40° hibernation temperature to a 50° environment. It took him 30 hours to wake up. By then he was starving and ready to meet his fans. Usually groundhogs start hibernating just before Christmas and then awake around now. But Phil doesn't know he's a groundhog. He was raised illegally by humans and then confiscated by animal welfare and is looked after by Valley Wildlife Care. At about 7 years old, he's spent his life as an education animal and is well used to being around humans. He should live to about 10 years while in captivity but in the wild with the risk of predators, his life span would be around 3 years.
Phil had pulled in a large crowd of people to the library in Winchester, and books were laid out for the kids as well as a puppet show. I spotted Janice near the front photographing the activities but I hovered around the area where I could see a large covered cage which I just knew was housing our furry star. I chatted with Lynn, Phil's keeper, and she gave me a peek under the blanket. Phil immediately responded by reaching up for attention, not the least bit put off by the presence of a stranger. I was delighted, I've always adored groundhogs and seeing one this close was a real treat.
Lynn picked him up and he sat on the table sporting his homemade harness and immediately wanted to be fed. He had a stash of muesli cookies but he was really enjoying a peanut butter and hay sandwich.
I couldn't stop watching him, he was simply gorgeous, and I never knew that they were similar to hamsters with cheeks that became food pouches. This guy was seriously tucking it away and I stared in wonder as his cheeks got larger and larger and larger. He stared back at me quite a bit too and seemed to accept my unwavering gaze of admiration as par for the course.
Even with cheeks fit to bust he didn't stop stuffing. I guessed he might be giving us a clue as to his weather prediction on Monday as he was certainly packing it away, probably to store as fuel for another 6 weeks of hibernation.
As the crowds began to disperse Janice and I still stood and continued to chat with Lynn and the volunteers. Phil continued to bite and chomp and gorge his cheeks, somehow pushing the food back almost to his shoulders but when viewing him from the side, he didn't look so bloated. He decided he wanted his bed so Lynn heaved that up on to the table for him and he rummaged around in there for a bit and I think he offloaded a few pounds of fodder into a deep corner. He unearthed a plastic carrier bag which Lynn grabbed, looking a little embarrassed. Apparently he likes those and will steal them and then hide them in his bed. He doesn't eat them but I guess he likes the crinkly noise. I thought he was burrowing about trying to get comfy for a snooze but no, he sat up and started snacking again.
After a few minutes he was back out on the table to see if any fans were still standing and adoring, but it was really only me and Janice, so he climbed back in to his box and curled up, grabbing his blankie. Lynn said he's always loved sucking on his blankie and that made him even more cute and endearing. So as he nuzzled and held his blue fleece we quietly wished him a pleasant doze and left him to sleep off his lunch.
Janice spotted this photo on Facebook showing her and myself in Phil's adoring crowd of admirers.
And bless his heart, he must have loved his attention that day as on the 2nd, he predicted that spring would come early to VA, see here.

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