Traces of Tsukuba`s Mammals- Past and Present
Though now we imagine them as being confined to Japan`s mountainous areas, it should come as no surprise to learn that LARGE MAMMALS once roamed the Kanto plain, the vast (by Japanese standards), and now heavilly developed, and mostly flat area surrounding Tokyo. The bones of DEER have been found among the discarded shells and pottery shards unearthed at many of Ibaraki Prefectures numerous KAIZUKA (貝塚), the shell mounds which were the garbage dumps of this areas prehistoric inhabitants ( a large deer skull was actually found just behind my house at the Asahi-Dai Kaizuka- 旭台貝塚), and there is at least one clay figurine (HANIWA) which has been found in Tsukuba ( at the Taki no Dai Kofun Burial Mound in Kamizakai), depicting the same animal, which has not been spotted in REAL LIFE in this area for a VERY LONG TIME.
No longer do large mammals inhabit Tsukuba`s lowland woods and fields ( but there are wild boars in the mountains). However, there are still PLENTY of smaller, warm-blooded critters (besides cats and dogs and domestic animals). The only problem is that they can be more than a bit difficult to catch sight of in action. You ARE very likely , though, to see TRACES of these small creatures. By that, I mean mostly, footprints, scat, and unfortunately, road-kill.
I have written before how Tsukuba is one of the place in Japan where residents are most aware of the presence of moles (mogura)- http://blog.alientimes.org/2009/01/making-a-mountain-of-tsukubas-mole-hills-mogura-zuka/ .
As I walk the paths between fields in my Tsukuba neighborhood each day, I try to identify the different footprints left from the night before. There are Tanuki, Weasel (itachi), hakubishin (paguma larvata), rabbit, mice, and I believe………..FOX. There are also lots of BATS of different species.
In all my years of Tsukuba nature watching I have been able to catch at a least a quick glance at each of these mammals going about their business ( even the fox!), though these sighting have been EXTREMELY infrequent (except for the bats!).
In order to best appreciate and identify the creatures living around me, I bought two highly usefull field-guides ( by now very well worn)- one for foot prints and one for scat (poop).
Over the next few weeks I will occassionally share some more aboout my encounters with Tsukuba`s little mammals, many of whom will be violently driven out of their homes when the bulldozers come to Konda for the big proposed development project. There should be a major increase in ROADKILL (this trend has already begun).
The words of a great Joni Mitchell song come to mind-
Dont it always seem to go
that you dont know what you got till its gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
You guessed it. The footprints and scat in the pictures I have posted above are those of the Japanese hare ( no-usagi), also common in tsukuba (though rarely seen!).