Location: Red Lodge, Montana
Whenever my sweetheart slams on the brakes, I instinctively reach for my camera. A large animal or raptor deserving of a photo is often the reason for the sudden stop. The other day, as we drove through our neighborhood toward our house, my seatbelt suddenly tightened across my chest, but I couldn’t see any big beasts.
“Over by the red osier,” he said, pointing to a small clump of leafless reddish twigs that sprouted in a haphazard clump from the snow.
I peered intently at the clump catching a slight movement its base. A cute little mountain cottontail (Sylvilagus nuttallii) crouched quietly, twitching its nose now and again as it peered cautiously in my direction. Sometimes called “Nuttall’s cottontail”, mountain cottontails have rounded, black-tipped ears with fur inside, and tweedy brown fur. The underside of their tail is white. Mountain cottontails also have a distinctive light brown patch on the back of the head and neck, which, along with their smaller size, is a good way to tell them apart from snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus).
Mountain cottontails are a Rocky Mountain rabbit. Their range begins at the foothills on the eastern side of the Rockies and extends west to the eastern side of Sierra Nevadas. They mainly eat grasses which is probably why I often spot them munching contently near my house. I live near a golf course that used to be ranchland. There are still fields around the houses and fairways. The landscaping shrubs give these little bunnies cover from predators and provide another food source when the snow buries the grass. Cottontails spend over 50% of their waking hours eating!
Click. Click. This mountain cottontail was the perfect photo model, still as stone, though I’m sure he was hoping if he didn’t move we would miss him. Perhaps we would have if he were perched on a pile of sticks or beside a large rock, but not against the white snow. Unfortunately for him, he doesn’t turn white like his jack rabbit cousin.