GOODLAND TWP. — Just in time for Groundhog Day, Goodland Township’s ambassadors of all things woodchuck related have released their newest book, A Most Unusual Groundhog Story.
The book, by Sue and Joe Sam, is the story of a groundhog named Ash as she takes a mate, suffers a loss, and has babies. What follows the birth of Ash’s babies is an extraordinary account of a groundhog’s commitment to raising the young. The tale is told by Wilhelmina, who was the original groundhog that piqued the Sams’ interest on their property in 2003, and prompted their first book, The Amazing Groundhogs of Woodchuck Wonderland in 2018.
The Sams have been studying groundhogs on their property for nearly two decades, using photography, trail cameras and video recordings to monitor the coming and going of generations of woodchucks. They have a Facebook page, Woodchuck Wonderland, a YouTube channel (look for chuckland2009) and a website at www.woodchuckwonderland.com, where they share photos and videos of the woodchucks that call their property home.
In recent years, said Sue, 71, the groundhog population on their property went extinct. They would watch for the critters, but no one was sticking around. Last March, a yearling they named Ash showed up, and had four males courting her. The newest book tells her story, tragic at times, and documents something that hasn’t been found before in woodchuck research, as far as the Sams can find — a male groundhog taking over care of the young.
“It was amazing because males are not considered to be part of the family,” said Sue. “It was a really phenomenal thing to watch… nothing has been written like this There is nothing in the research about the males taking care of the young like this. It was an amazing thing to watch. It’s just really, really cool.”
It was seven years into their research before they saw any actual interaction between a male and the young, she said, which they found fascinating.
While groundhogs are kind of an elusive animal to watch, thanks to a lot of their activity being hidden by brush, the Sams’ property has proven to be an ideal location. They even watch the comings and goings using a baby monitor in their barn.
When Wilhelmina showed up in 2003, Sue made a commitment to watch her because people were saying how destructive groundhogs are, and she wanted to see if the negativity was warranted.
“We agreed, Joe and I, that we were just going to watch and see what happened and deal with whatever came up,” she said. “We just both started watching her and we were intrigued.”
Wilhelmina had her babies that year right in front of the sun porch window, and Sue said it was a moment of real connection with the creature. The love for woodchucks was born, and it has persisted.
A Most Unusual Groundhog Story and The Amazing Groundhogs of Woodchuck Wonderland are both available on Amazon, featuring captivating images of Lapeer County groundhogs, captured over the years by the Sams. The books are a great introduction to the lifestyle of these often-misunderstood animals.