One more footnote from my trip west might be appropriate, given Querencia’s recent pack rat-related posts, here and (Yum!) here. Reid reported on the value of the Neotoma as archeo-climate-geological index and even as a human food item. The natural history of the pack rats (or wood rats) deserves plenty of attention, and maybe we can get Darren to supply us with some cool data. That there is also a sporting angle to this silky-furred rodent shouldn’t surprise any Q. readers…
Although we have a version of this animal here in the southeast, and sometimes encounter it hawking rabbits or squirrels in mixed woodland, I still think of the pack rat as a quintessential “western” critter. Their large dens, spiked with prickly pear and deep set into thick cholla cactus bushes make safe havens for rabbits, quail and small desert birds, in addition to the rodents who build them. My right hand (ungloved while hawking) has numerous embedded spines now from the painful but commonplace work of flushing game from pack rat mounds.
The funny thing is that we rarely catch the builder of the mound while trying to flush the rabbit or quail that took refuge in his home. There must be a cozy antechamber or two for the rats to bunker down in when under attack.
Nonetheless, in pursuit of a scaled quail with our friend’s good goshawk, Vinney, we happened to flush both the quail and rat. Ordinarily, the hawk would only account for one quarry at a time (and this gos would probably choose to chase the bird). But on that day our efforts were bolstered by another falconer’s gamehawking terrier, who leaped at the chance to do the job for which he was bred.
Here are a few pics from the hunt. In the first, you can see Jimmy holding the gos, who leans forward in anticipation of the flush, while we poke at the den with long-handled hoes (only partially effective at saving hands from spines). At some point the action gets a little more chaotic; there’s a complicated reshuffling of the players in this drama, then the curtain closes for two of them.
Coincidentally, we caught another pack rat later in the week, this time with a Harris hawk, a bird with little preference for fur or feather and plenty happy with both. Though neither rodent made it into the “rat brine” recipe Reid shared with us, both made good meals for the hawks (served, rare).